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India cannot rely on its metros alone. Tier 2/3 cities need to be economically viable too

Campus Voice is an initiative by ThePrint where young Indians get an opportunity to express their opinions on a prevalent issue.

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As per recent government data India is about 36 per cent urbanised. This is leagues below other major countries of the world, even developing ones like China. Even though only a fraction of Indians live in India’s megacities they contribute the lion’s share of GDP and economic output, growth within the national economy. I’ll illustrate this further with the example of two states, West Bengal and Karnataka.

Kolkata has a population of 1.6 crores, about 16 per cent of West Bengal’s 9.9 crore. Bengaluru has a population of 1.4 crores which is 20 per cent of Karnataka’s total. While these megacities contribute a sizable portion of their respective state’s population, their share of state GDP is just staggering. Kolkata and Bengaluru contribute about 50% of their respective states’ GDP. This is to say nothing of Mumbai and Delhi two regions which contribute 30 per cent and 14 per cent to the total central tax collection including direct and indirect taxes. To think that over 40 per cent per cent of tax revenue comes from just these two regions. The point that I am trying to illustrate is that India is overwhelmingly dependent on its few megacities to act as its economic engines.

It is true that metropolitan agglomerations act as the economic drivers for just about any country today. What should be a reflection of these statistics is just how underdeveloped India’s tier 2 and 3 cities are. While think tankers lament about the dire state of governance and management in metro cities, very little attention is paid to the tier 2 and 3 cities that house most of India’s city-dwelling population.

Megacities like Bengaluru and Mumbai have become synonymous with the new strain of Indian industrial and service sectors like IT services and Pharma manufacturing. India certainly needs these regions to be at the forefront of the national momentum for economic development, whether in the form of research and education of new unicorn startups. But these cities alone cannot bring about the mass economic transformation of the entire country to lift India from the state it lies in today. India’s GDP per capita is only a fifth of China’s, a twentieth of the UK’s, and one-sixtieth of the USA. India is by far the poorest major country in the world. Even after 75 years of independence our share of global GDP is the same as it was in 1947.

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Indian cities of every size suffer from major administrative and urban planning problems. The immense bottlenecks in transportation, water and power infrastructure can be seen in just about any Indian city, large or small. Lucknow, Bhubaneshwar, and Indore traffic can be just as nightmarish as Mumbai, Delhi, or Bengaluru for the public and commercial transporters alike. The recent push for constructing intracity metro rail in many cities has certainly been a positive push in the right direction and has borne fruits in cities like Kanpur and Jaipur. It is up to the state governments as well and not just the center to invest in and incentivise growth in tier 2/3 cities and better governance in their tier 1 cities, instead of their current model of treating tier 1 cities as cash cows to bankroll freebies to mass voters in tier2/3 and rural areas.

Urban sites have been the crux of human society since the earliest days of civilisation, and the engines of economic progress since the industrial age. If India wants to rise above its current position in the world, it is imperative that the Indian government drastically improve the governance of cities and metro areas to kickstart an Indian economic ‘miracle’ in the 21st century.

The author is a student at KPC Medical College and Hospital, Jadavpur. Views are personal

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