If Uttar Pradesh succeeds in attracting global manufacturers, the process of urbanisation in the state will speed up, causing an unprecedented strain on the infrastructure of its cities.
The state should prepare for this change.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many spheres of our daily life and drastically influenced decision-making in many sectors.
As manufacturers are intending to leave China and search for greener pastures, pundits of political economy are predicting India as the new factory of the world.
Whether India uses this crisis as an opportunity depends on the political will to usher in reforms, particularly regarding the labour laws which have become an Achilles heel for India's desire to create a vibrant labour intensive manufacturing sector in the country.
This political will has been shown by the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath, who has exempted the industries from all the labour laws except a few, for three years within the state.
The making of Uttar Pradesh as factory of India
Yogi Adityanath has proved to be an able administrator. His enforcement of law and order with an iron fist and no-nonsense attitude towards bureaucracy earned him fans across India.
The COVID 19 pandemic and total lockdown of India has thrown new challenges to the manpower exporting states like Uttar Pradesh.
With no work in the manufacturing states like Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, the migrants have returned to their native states.
Already more than 7 lakh migrant workers have returned to Uttar Pradesh.
The state government has announced it would compile data regarding the skills of the returned workers to provide them work within the state.
In this way, the needs have synced, creating the right environment for reforms.
If taken forward, expanded and implemented rightly, these reforms can make the most populous state also the most popular state for manufacturers.
Urbanization is an inevitable process for an industrializing society. Along with industrial hubs, a vibrant manufacturing sector creates new townships and expands the existing urban agglomerations.
It's a reinforcing process where both industrialization and urbanization boost each other.
Thus, if Uttar Pradesh is serious about becoming a manufacturing hub, it must plan for the looming urbanization.
According to the 2011 census, Uttar Pradesh is among the least urbanized states with just 22 per cent urbanized population.
This figure may have increased now but it would be way below the national average which stands currently near to 40 per cent.
For a state with a population more than a country like Brazil, even a slight increase in the urban population amounts to drastic changes on the ground.
For example, an increase of just 5 per cent in the urban population share of Uttar Pradesh means almost 1 crore new citizens in the urban areas.
And if the Uttar Pradesh government succeeds in attracting global manufacturers, the process of urbanisation rapidly looms over the state, causing an unprecedented strain on the infrastructure of its cities.
Urbanization without the requisite infrastructure may become counterproductive by lagging down industrialization due to inefficiency and less benefits from the economies of scale.
Thus, planning ahead for urbanization, which is an inevitable consequence of industrialization, is important.
Focussing on the urban settlements along expressways
According to the 2011 census, Uttar Pradesh had the second largest urban population of 44.5 million.
And among the states, the number of urban agglomerations (1 lakh and above population) in India stood at 474 and Uttar Pradesh had the largest number of urban agglomerations at 67.
Also, Uttar Pradesh had the largest number of towns, 648 statutory towns and 267 census towns.
Presently, the share of Uttar Pradesh in the total slum population of India is 9.5 per cent as compared to 18 per cent of Maharashtra.
If governments do not focus on creating both physical and social infrastructure around the urban settlements of Uttar Pradesh, slum population may increase exponentially with the looming prospects of rapid urbanization.
Delhi, which is located on the western border of Uttar Pradesh, is currently the second most populous urban agglomeration in the world with a population of 2.6 crore (2015 data).
And the greater Delhi, that is the National Capital Territory (NCR), has a population of around 4.6 crore (2011 data).
The NCR consists of cities in Uttar Pradesh like Noida, Ghaziabad, Meerut and Muzaffarnagar.
Thus, western Uttar Pradesh is bound for rapid urbanization. The initiatives completed by the Narendra Modi government like the Delhi-Meerut Expressway which is India's widest 96 km long controlled-access expressway with 14 lanes, is bound to fasten the urbanization process in this region.
Uttar Pradesh has the country’s longest expressway network with two operational expressways, the 302 km-long Lucknow-Agra Expressway and the 165 km-long Yamuna Expressway.
In November 2019, Yogi Adityanath government cleared the decks for two road projects, the 296 km-long Bundelkhand Expressway and 91 km-Gorakhpur Link Expressway, even as work continues in full swing on the 340 km-long Purvanchal Expressway.
In the budget for fiscal 2020-21, Rs 2,000 crore was allocated to building a 1,020-km long expressway along the River Ganga.
These expressways fasten the spillover effects of the National Capital Territory region.
They pull over the future urbanisation of the NCR towards the interiors of Uttar Pradesh.
Thus the existing urban settlements along these expressways must be equipped with adequate infrastructure and developed as the industrial hubs which can fulfill the state’s aspiration of becoming a manufacturing and export hub.
Opportunity in historic cities
The state of Uttar Pradesh as the home to important pilgrimage sites like Mathura, Varanasi, Ayodhya and Prayagraj can be called the spiritual capital of India.
Millions of pilgrims visit these cities from all over the world. This presents a great opportunity to create a vibrant tourism industry around these pilgrim centres.
Both the state and the union governments have undertaken many initiatives in this regard, especially by developing infrastructure around cities like Varanasi.
But much is left to be done to achieve the actual potential..
Mass tourism is a labour-intensive industry that creates more jobs. If managed well, this industry causes almost negligible pollution, which is very important for a state like Uttar Pradesh with a high population density.
Here, we must note that these pilgrim centres are also hubs for small scale industries like the textile industry of Varanasi.
Thus, the Yogi Adityanath government must not miss this opportunity to make the state into a tourist hub, besides making it a manufacturing giant.
The great leap forward
Urbanization improves the standard of living of people, it efficiently brings new opportunities and markets for both the producers and consumers.
The process of urbanization also fastens the transfer of excess labour force from underemployed agriculture sector to other sectors like manufacturing or service sectors, a desirable phenomenon for a country like India where almost half of its population is dependent on agriculture and allied activities.
Uttar Pradesh accounts for one-sixth of India’s population. Thus any positive change in Uttar Pradesh improves the overall picture of India drastically.
According to the 2011 census, the level of urbanization in India was 31.14 per cent and it stood at 22 per cent for Uttar Pradesh.
So an urbanized Uttar Pradesh will boost the urbanization of India. Both the union and state governments must coordinate and plan for making Uttar Pradesh ready for an urbanized future.
The story of urbanization of China is incredible, as mega cities along its coast had sprung up within a short period of time.
These cities powered the growth engine of both China and the export market of the world.
The level of urbanization in China increased from 26 per cent in 1990 to 61 per cent in 2020.
Today, if planned and executed well by providing the required infrastructure, Uttar Pradesh can repeat that incredible story.
However, unlike along the coasts in China, this time, it may happen in the interior plains of the River Ganga of India.