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Where do I settle down -city, town or vilage?

Whenever I discuss the topic of where one prefers to settle down in life - a Metro city, a town or a rural area - I sense that the views expressed by friends have a lot of ifs and buts sewed in.

For example, one common response from people who have never lived in a village, but only visited them now and then - I wish I could just live peacefully in a village, amid the greenery, and non-polluted space. All I need is a decent internet connection.

And of course, I don't have any friends living in villages right now. In fact, most people these days don't have friends living in Indian villages. We all have friends in American or British or even Scandinavian hinterlands. But not in the Indian rural spaces. (If you have a rich farmer friend or old parents and uncles looking after huge ancestral property its a different thing.)

Take the case of Indian towns. We may have a few business men friends or guys working on PSU banks, small universities etc. living these towns. How many of us have close friends staying in towns doing a job commensurate with their skills and qualifications, and earning well? And not dreaming about moving to a big city?Even if we want to escape the frenzy of the cities and live in quieter towns, what kind of jobs are available for highly qualified professionals?

Let me put down what we all know as a general state of affairs:

1. Life in a village has always been idealised. But if you ask the villagers moving to the cities in search of jobs, you get a different picture. Also, if you stay for a reasonably longer period in a typical Indian village, you will find the lack of basic infrastructure(sanitary and drainage, power, health care, potable water, transport), the caste divisions, the cynical politics etc. as unbearable.

2. Towns are better off. Most towns these days have the basic infrastructure sorted out to some extent. But they are no where comparable to the cities in terms of opportunities.

3. The cities - ok..the overcrowded areas, the creaking infrastructure, the inflation, and yes, the pollution.

If we look at the US, and other developed nations - except for the niche opportunities space, it usually does not matter where you live - if all you want is a decent income, and adequate infrastructure. In fact, as most of us may have experienced, life in an American town is infinitely more comfortable than life in an American big city. And in the UK, you can live in a village and travel to the nearest town for work.

What does this tell us?

  • Towns offer us the best chance of - urbanizing our rural people, decongesting our cities, and spreading the wealth creation process into the hinterland.
  • We need more non-polluting businesses ( IT services, BPOs, research labs etc) to move to Indian towns and act as anchor customers for good infrastructure to be created.
  • However, for young professionals to move into towns, they expect the infrastructure to be already there to justify the move.
  • We can't yet give up on the cities. But some radical urban planning reform needs to happen.
  • We should protect the greenery and environment. But I don't think we should have the 'villages' as they are today.Reduce the number of people dependent on agriculture, and make farming more productive (one and the same actually !).

Our current development models seem to treat each entity (city, town and village) as separate. We need models that make movement of services and businesses feasible between these entities. We can not sustain a scenario where evrybody wants to move to a Metro. We need to create facilities comparable to Metros in semi-urban and rural areas.

I think the number of people prefering to stay in towns and villages is an underestimated development indicator.