Sayli Mankikar: Policy of redistribution of Chinese people from megacities fraught with serious risks
13 June 2018. PenzaNews. The Chinese strict approach in the fight against megacities’ overpopulation threatens social and economic sphere of the country. This is the topic of the article “The mystery of China’s shrinking megacities” by Sayli Mankikar, Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation (ORF) Mumbai, working on issues of urbanisation, infrastructure and governance, published in some foreign Media.
“Many of Asia’s megacities like Yokohama, Jakarta and Mumbai are facing the heat of uncontrolled rural⎯urban migration and exploding population which is putting pressure on its infrastructure and environment. Several solutions have been discussed, but the uncontrolled ever-increasing population only makes every move seem inadequate,” the article says.
Meanwhile, according to it, China however, has decided to tackle this differently, by taking some result-oriented, yet, debatable steps, in redistributing its urban population, causing Shanghai and Beijing’s population to plunge.
“Over the past five months, beginning mid-November 2017, the municipal governments of Beijing and Shanghai, the two biggest megacities in the world, are on a demolition spree. They are trying to cap and redistribute city populations by bringing down illegal houses and unregistered commercial establishments in central areas to address the big city disease,” Sayli Mankikar says and reminds that this wave of demolitions as kicked off following a fire at Xinjiancun in the crowded central Beijing district that killed 19 people in November 2017.
“In China, every person has a residency permit or a hukou attached to his birthplace. The migrants are being stripped off their habitats and livelihoods overnight for lack of a hukou which meant living without any social security and services in urban areas,” the expert says.
In her opinion, the action taken by the Chinese authorities is swift and decisive.
“At best, the migrants are put on short demolition notices. The targets of such eviction are generally the once unskilled migrants in their late fifties, who, along with their families, inhabited these cities at the hilt of globalisation and economic reforms of the early 1990s. All of them are going back to their homes in rural China,” the analyst says.
In addition, she points out that, according to a Reuters report, Beijing will mow down at least 40 million square meters, amounting roughly to an area of 28 of London’s Hyde Parks, and shut 500 manufacturing firms in 2018 – this will give way to modern structured public housing and commercial projects, to be occupied by residents with legal urban permits.
“Officially, the government wants Beijing to cap its population at 23 million by 2020, while Shanghai will have to cap its population at 25 million by 2035. China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) also showed that resident population of Beijing had swelled by 59 percent in the past decade and that of Shanghai had increased by 50 percent,” Sayli Mankikar informs.
At the same time, she wonders whether the chosen mode adopted by the Chinese to trim their exploding cities is the right and only way ahead, and whether this is in line with the Sustainable Development Goals of having inclusive, sustainable, resilient and safe cities.
According to the author of the article, there are two opposing thoughts to this argument.
“The first is the government version, which bats for redistribution of population for safety and security. The Beijing government launched a 40⎯day “special operation” targeting structures with fire code and building safety violations post the fire at Xinjiancun. A communique issued by the government in December 2017 claimed that such “redistribution” was necessary to ensure “the lives and safety of the people.” It refuted the argument that this operation was to drive out the ‘low⎯end population’ calling it as irresponsible and baseless. The communique explained that although the migrant population choose these places to work and live in, they do not understand the dangers of living in such dense urban ghettos,” Sayli Mankikar writes.
In her opinion, the authorities that were unable to “manage” the population, took a decision to “redistribute” – read: evict– it.
“Official figures given out by NBS show that the approach is working. The population of Beijing dropped by 22,000 to 21.7 million from 2016 to 2017, a decline of 0.1 per cent. Meanwhile, Shanghai’s population dropped by 13,700 to 24.18 million,” the analyst stressed.
On the other hand, according to her, there is growing dissatisfaction with the fact that migrants, who were harbingers of China’s rapid progress through the 1990s, are now being pushed out of cities and left without livelihoods.
“Li Jianmin, professor of demographics at Nankai University in Tianjin, argues that Beijing, like every city, needs people of all kinds. All humans are equal and should be respected. Driving people out of the city is not going to be effective in the long-run and may cause social unrest,” the expert reminds.
From her point of view, Beijing and Shanghai aiming at getting a young and upwardly-mobile population, may have some problems in the future.
“There will be an ageing population that needs help, but unfortunately, the cleaners, nannies, maids, drivers and people in smaller jobs are being ousted. The younger generation will pay several times to stay in new age condos which will have replaced the traditional terraced homes. And finally, shrunken cities will have economic implications — residents will pay more for every service,” Sayli Mankikar writes.
Contrasting to China, India solves a similar question in a softer way, she said.
“In Indian cities like Mumbai which have a huge poor migrant population living in slums, has adopted a policy of integration. This is a more humane approach and it supports the ecosystem of the city where the social fabric of the city in kept intact,” the analyst explains.
According to her, governments of countries facing a similar problem need to conduct a realistic assessment on how far a city can grow, how big it can get, and what is economically sustainable.
“As a short-term measure, there could be redistribution of resources and a cap on use of water and other important essentials. An affordable housing plan can be worked out, which can be used for rehousing migrants, like it has been accounted for in the Mumbai development plan. Creation of new cities and census towns too can give way to new urban areas to settle such populations in,” Sayli Mankikar believes.
From her point of view, in the long-term, new cities can adopt a ‘decentralized urbanization’ approach, where stronger linkages between urban and rural areas should be drawn up.
“The two areas can coevolve leading to a loss of traditional distinctions between them. Strong linkages which push equitable flow of resources can ensure maximum economic and social benefits to people in the rural areas, thus keeping them away from cities,” the expert stresses.
“China is a country in a hurry, and it has made its choice. It chose a different path, which is unconventional, to deal with its ‘big city disease’. But the perils of an unequal society can create a bigger monster which it should not ignore,” Sayli Mankikar concludes.