Rural development strategy needed

The Census 2011 report on the state population highlights the enormous migration deluge into Bangalore and other cities. The other report ‘Injury and Violence in India: Facts and Figures’, jointly authored by NIMHANS and WHO, provides a stark picture on the increasing number of suicides in cities due to high levels of stress experienced by people, especially teenagers and women. The rapid deterioration in the standard of living in cities across Karnataka should compel the state government to map out a comprehensive rural development strategy that will boost job creation and development in rural areas while ending migration into cities.

The population of Bangalore grew by a whopping 46 per cent, essentially doubling in number from the last decade. Although Bangalore’s size has increased, it is migration of job seekers from rural areas as well as from other parts of the country that has essentially contributed to the increase in numbers. With a population of more than 90 lakh and a density of 4,378 people per sq km, Bangalore is witnessing a population boom like never before creating a myriad of problems for the local government and citizens. Other cities have seen a more steady increase in population.

Severe competition

The two reports in tandem highlight the need for swift action on rural development. Dilapidated infrastructure, lack of investments, shoddy schools and sub-standard hospitals has forced large scale rural migration into cities. Crowded cities have thrust severe competition on parents and children forcing them to work long hours leading to high levels of stress and suicides. Municipalities, already under severe financial crunch, are unable to provide basic services to the population. The state government should delineate a policy that will invigorate the countryside and create gainful employment opportunities for the youth in their own backyards.

Government efforts to improve investments and increase incomes in rural Karnataka have mostly been half-hearted measures. The just-released integrated agribusiness development policy which promises jobs and higher incomes in the farm sector is old wine in a new bottle. The creation of special economic zones (SEZ), while failing to meet targets on job creation, has increasingly become a land grabbing exercise for industrialists. Encouraging IT companies to invest in rural BPOs have not been successful. Hence future policy measures should focus on promoting rural areas to become growth centers by providing a fillip to small- and medium-size manufacturing businesses.

Bangalore’s Peenya industrial area offers an excellent model that can be easily replicated throughout the state. Peenya, which started in the 1970s with a job creation goal, has been a success and today is home to many small and medium-scale manufacturing industries. There are about 4,000 companies employing more than seven lakh unskilled and semi-skilled workers in a land size of little more than 500 acres. By using public procurement to spur investment and offering incentives like land at a reasonable cost, low cost loans along with tax benefits to local entrepreneurs, the state government can facilitate the development of new industrial townships in each district.

Moreover, such a policy will provide much needed diversification of the state economy which is overly reliant on growth in IT-BT and real estate sectors. It will also recognise that it is easy to move unskilled and semi-skilled workers into manufacturing than services sector. Liberalisation and lack of investments in rural areas have destroyed small- and medium-scale manufacturing around the state. Unless the state government takes immediate measures to address the population deluge into urban areas, living conditions will worsen over the next decade.

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