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Migration Challenge

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Migration to urban and semi-urban areas quite obviously implies a population shift inwards from the rural areas. There is also a simultaneous, relatively new, migration out from the metropolises to the urban outer fringes. Quite obviously the population figures, overall, remain the same. (This excludes the immigration from Bangladesh and Nepal – whose number in recent years has generally declined.) As such, no person is demanding resources like water and electricity beyond a legitimate share. It only has to be provided in a limited area, which is, both, a blessing and a curse.

A person shifting from a rural or remote area gives up a share of resources there as these cannot be taken along. However, the pressure on the urban area increases, even though management of these resources might relatively be more efficient. In a valley like Dehradun, for instance, there is migration from, both, the hills and many parts of North India, quite obviously stressing the local resources, particularly water, in a big way. There are other fundamental needs that have to be of a certain quality for decent existence, such as clean breathable air, waste management, roads, electricity supply, etc. While the big cities can seek these resources from a wider catchment area, Dehradun’s limits are set. The only problem is nobody has calculated these limits and established the necessary boundaries.

The constraints of water supply have already limited the capacity of a city like Shimla to entertain tourists. This season they are having to be turned away. Many reports are coming in from other parts of the country on severe water shortages during the summer. Quite obviously, water management has failed, mostly due to the dependence on local resources. Scientists point out that the ways to improve the situation are strict conservation measures, water harvesting and collection during the rains, and water projects that reach out further into the hinterland. Very few cities have adopted these measures with any seriousness. In fact, many cities have allowed their ponds and lakes to dry up, cut off their feeder canals and streams by building on them.

Dehradun is particularly guilty on all these scores. Catchment areas have been devastated, streams and rivers built upon, canals allowed to go dry, and no forward looking schemes implemented to bring in water from the Ganga and Yamuna that flow through the district. The inhabitants, too, have not changed their habits and refuse to even adopt simple measures such as not watering their gardens with potable water. Planners must look at cities not just as an agglomeration of concrete structures, but living entities that need environmental support from a large hinterland. The roots have to be nourished too.