Resources Research

Making local sense of food, urban growth, population and energy

Big cities, large appetites, fewer farmers

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By March or April 2016 the populations of several of our smaller Class I cities (those whose populations are 100,000 and more) will pass certain marks. These marks mean little by themselves, but ought to be used by city administrations (municipal council and civic services departments) to judge for themselves how essentials are being provided for and used: food, water, sanitation, electricity, waste.

There are now 152 towns in the National Urban Information System, which is – if I have understood this national urban administration maze – under the Urban Infrastructure Development Scheme for Small and Medium Towns (which goes by the utterly unfriendly acronym of UIDSSMT). This is described as: “a component of JNNURM. The Mission aims to encourage reforms and  fast track urban infrastructure and services delivery, community participation, accountability of ULBs/parastatal agency towards citizens.”

As you can see, the Ministry of Urban Development likes dreadful acronyms, and likes keywords such as ‘component’, ‘reform’, ‘fast track’, ‘services’, ‘infrastructure’, ‘PPP’ and anything else that sounds large, technical and expensive.

The JNNURM which got all this going in the first place (the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission) turned ten years old in December 2015. Its ideas, assumptions and performance ought to have come under careful scrutiny at least on this occasion. It didn’t because there’s so much else to be distracted by when it comes to smartening up cities and towns in India these days.

The JNNURM favoured 65 cities for what it called a “higher level of resources and management attention” and with typical confusion also said these 65 ‘mission cities’ are under the Urban Infrastructure and Governance (UIG) programme. But, as I have written about here earlier, there are many towns in India whose populations are growing quickly, because of which ‘services’, ‘infrastructure’ and more modest levels of ‘resources and management attention’ all become programmes (with complicated balance sheets, naturally).

And so we have the Smart Cities Mission and the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) – I’m still working out how it fits together with everything else going on in the Ministry of Urban Development.

Here’s what the officialese says: “Smart Cities Mission is based on the idea of developing the entire urban eco-system on the principles of complete and integrated planning.” Leaving aside the question of whether non-Smart cities (and towns) are destined to remain unsmart and unacronymed, 100 cities have been selected to become smart.

Nor is that all. There is an Urban Rejuvenation Mission (which goes by the, erm, unprepossessing acronym of URM) which the ministry says it is finalising which seems to have very much to do with infrastructure development, but on a much larger canvas of 500 cities, “to be implemented over a period of 10 years from 2014-15 to 2023-24”.

Nowhere in this plethora of programmes and schemes and grand visions have I seen anything that remotely refers to foodstuffs that city populations need, every day, week, month and year.

And so to return to March or April 2016 when the populations of several of our smaller Class I cities (those whose populations are 100,000 and more) will pass certain marks. Using the 2001-2011 decadal growth rates for the urban centres, and adjusting for lower growth rates for the most recent three years (to account for factors such as fewer work opportunities in these centres, rising urban costs of survival compared with the slower increase in wages for informal work, and the benefits of the MGNREGA, here is a summary that shows the sort of change we continue to see in towns and cities.

Chhindwara and Guna in Madhya Pradesh, Nabadwip in West Bengal, Bhusawal in Maharashtra, and Modinagar and Sitapur in Uttar Pradesh will all have reached or crossed the mark of 200,000 residents. Likewise, Vadakara in Kerala, Ganganagar in Rajasthan, Haldwani in Uttarakhand, and Karur, Udhagamandalam and (all three in Tamil Nadu) will all have reached or crossed the mark of 250,000 residents. And moreover Farrukhabad-Fatehgarh in Uttar Pradesh, Satna in Madhya Pradesh, Jalna in Maharashtra and Navsari in Gujarat will all have reached or crossed the mark of 300,000 residents.

What is the impact of these increases in the populations of these cities? Using the recommended dietary allowance (prescribed by the National Institute of Nutrition) this is what the population increases mean for the provision of food essentials. Every day in 2016, Sitapur in Uttar Pradesh will need 92 tons of cereals, 8 tons of pulses and 20 tons of vegetables. Compared with the city’s needs in 2001 (when the previous census was done) Sitapur will consume 23 tons more of cereals, 2 tons more of pulses and 5 tons more of vegetables – every day.

In the same way, every day in 2016 Navsari in Gujarat will need 137 tons of cereals, 12 tons of pulses and 29 tons of vegetables. Compared with the city’s needs in 2001 Navsari will consume 31 tons more of cereals, 3 tons more of pulses and 7 tons more of vegetables – every day. Then there is Hosur in Tamil Nadu which every day in 2016 will need 115 tons of cereals, 10 tons of pulses and 25 tons of vegetables. Compared with the city’s needs in 2001 Hosur will consume 77 tons more of cereals, 7 tons more of pulses and 17 tons more of vegetables – every day.

This is an indication of the food dimension of the population change that we are seeing – of ever greater quantities of the bare essentials being needed, but fewer agriculturists and cultivators – that is, fewer farming households growing these and other food essentials in their fields – remaining to support nearby (and distant) urban populations.

These equations are simple enough to understand for the Smart city lot, the JNNURM technocrats and the engineers and financiers running the PPP treadmills. Why then hasn’t daily food budgets of our towns and cities made it to the top of the urban renewal charts of India?

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