Rural-urban linkages, labor migration & rural industrialization in West Bengal.

AuthorDutta, Subrata


During the past decades, the growth of urban areas in both the developed and developing countries became one of the important characteristics of spatial development. Urbanization is a process to accomplish the art of advanced state of human civilization and therefore it not only refers to change in land use, but also accompanies socio-economic changes which may or may not be apparent as physical changes in the built-up area. The concepts of the dynamics of urban development or the theories of the cycle of urbanization, suburbanization and counter-urbanization (Antrop, 2004; Champion, 2001) failed to explain fully the rural-urban development that is occurring today in many developing countries. It has therefore become indispensible for the developmental policy makers to analyze the process of urbanization along a rural-urban continuum, based on a broad range of indicators.

Urbanization is often considered as an indicator of both economic development and a higher state of social welfare. Therefore, the development endeavors in both the developing and underdeveloped countries are becoming typically urban-biased. Thus, rapid urbanization is often seen to be the impact of continuous rural-to-urban migration and various linkages (Aier & Kithan, 2011). One should, however, bear in mind that the process of urbanization which often leads to unequal distribution of income and wealth between rural and urban people not only weakens the process of urbanization itself but also leads to a state of unsustainable development of the economy as a whole. Both the sectors are mutually dependent for their inputs towards maintaining a decent living of the inhabitants of their respective arenas. Although there exists impressive evidence for the differences between the entities of 'rural' and 'urban', the degree of rural-urban continuum steps up with the process of development. The developing countries often find it hard to hide acute disparities between the rural and urban levels. The objective indicators are quality and quantity of public amenities such as health care facilities, education, roads, transport, and electricity, among many others. The subjective ones are social indicators, representing people's own assessment of their quality of life as compared to their community at large.

Rural-Urban Linkages

One of the basic determinants of rural-urban linkages is the rural-urban continuum. Rural-urban continuum is a process of socio-economic and cultural interaction between villages and towns or cities. In his work on Mexican peasants, Robert Redfield (1930) introduced the concept of rural-urban continuum as folk-urban continuum. He observed that as community moves from folk to the urban end of the continuum, there occurs a shift from cultural intimacy and organization towards disorganization. Consequently, what will happen in the long run is a lack of organization and detachment from culture and that directly reflects in the social aspect of an economy. In a general sense, the term 'continuum' refers to the gradual transition between two extremes (e.g. very rural and very urban). Hence, rural-urban continuum refers to the observed differences in terms of degree of urbanization as one moves from one extreme to the other. As a result, the concept of rural-urban linkages takes different forms in terms of flows (spatial and sectoral). In general, it refers to flow of people (through migration, commuting, etc.), capital (through investments) and goods (through trade) between rural and urban areas. Along with the above flows, there are simultaneous dynamic flows of ideas, innovation and environmental impacts of linkages (Munankami et al. 2005; Tacoli, 2004; Funnell, 1988). Many cultural traits, like dress patterns and new thoughts and ideologies are diffused from the cities to the rural areas. But the outreach of urban lifestyle to the rural areas often depends on their proximity to cities and/or media exposure in rural areas. Any degree of urbanization in the rural areas, i.e. providing, to a certain extent, the urban facilities to the rural areas actually reduces the differences between villages and cities. Due to increase in transport and communication by means of improvement in road, railway and water transport facilities and via radio, television, newspaper, etc. the village's proximity to cities has increased significantly. Thus, while the urban socio-culture has an influence on the rural lifestyle, the converse may also be true, but perhaps to a limited extent. Such types of to-and-fro movements of various elements between two extremes impact mutually the economy, culture and lifestyle of both the rural and urban areas (fig. 1).

An important aspect of this rural-urban continuum is that we cannot establish or demarcate between the line entries of rural and urban across different geo-political boundaries. As already said above, there has been a growing recognition that rural and urban areas have become increasingly interconnected through a constant movement of people, goods, capital, ideas and information. In terms of concepts, "urban" and "rural" seem to fall short to cover the complex web of flows and exchanges that have made rural and urban areas dependent on each other (Munankami et al. 2005). Tacoli (1998) argues that even while we treat rural and urban areas and related issues separately, multiple inter-linkages between these two areas play significant role in the process of both rural and urban changes. However, one important point to be noted here is that there are differences of definitions of the rural and urban sectors between nations. Yet, urbanization is accompanied with a change in employment options as well as other inputs--i.e. from a predominantly agricultural-rural to a predominantly industrialized and service oriented urban sector (Mills & Becker, 1986).

Johnston (2000) points out a demographic, socio-economic and behavioral dimension of urbanization and insists to look into the multidimensional features of the rural-urban continuum. Hence, the distinction between rural and urban has also been diffused and multifaceted (Antrop, 2004). It becomes important to note here that the continuum cannot be understood without the idea of transitional locations that exist within the urban-rural continuum. A variety of characteristic elements of different locations has been deployed to explore the diverse formations and consequences of urbanization. Some of the most frequently used terms of locations that are relevant for our understanding are presented here.

Urban fringe: This word suggests a topological category--not a clear-cut edge, but a broader zone of an urban area. According to Hite (1998), the fringe is a frontier in space where the economic returns to land from new urban land-uses are roughly equal to the returns from traditional land-uses. In this sense, the fringe is the losing edge of rurality and steady moving outward from the countryside. But, as regards the present state of developing countries such as India, land is highly precious at the urban frontier and also in the areas immediately beyond the frontier level. This has occurred as an effect of industrialization and the growth of the real estate sector.

Peri-urban: The countryside at the further end of the fringe front is called peri-urban (Meeus & Gulinck, 2008). The term peri-urban is frequently in use to describe, as indicated above, urbanization of rural areas. But, the definition may differ from Europe (and other developed regions) to developing countries. As a broad based operational definition OECD (1979: 9) states that the impacts of economic growth and physical expansion of the urban area are not confined within urban boundaries; they reach into much wider areas surrounding urban centers, creating so-called "rurban areas", "urban fringe areas", or "peri-urban areas". While the peri-urban area retains the characteristics of the rural area, the overall feature of such area is subject to several variable aspects such as physical configuration, economic activities, social relationships and so forth.

Rural areas: Areas...

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