Urbanization as a tool for state restructuring of Nepal
Today in Nepal the buzz word is restructuring: restructuring of economy, social relation, political parties, army, police and bureaucracy etc. In short restructuring of the state from unitary state in which everything was capital centric or Kathmandu centric to federalism whereby power is decentralized to provinces based on region, ethnicity etc, in short nationality.
Why are Marxists generally attracted to federalism? This is because federalism discourages feudalism. In Nepal’s case feudalism thrives on centralization of power based on unitary state headed by King as the supreme power. Whereas federalism thrives on decentralization of power to provinces hence reaching out to more local people. Federalism seeks more urbanization as each provinces have to have at least one urban centre, the capital of the province so that it becomes central point of growth and expansion for economic, commercial and political transaction.
Why are Marxists attracted to urbanization? The fundamental characteristic of urbanization is the structural shift in employment from agriculture to non-agriculture pursuits. In other words, urbanization is a territorial response to structural changes in the economy. Urbanization also breaks down the feudal relation of production based on oppression of caste, ethnicity, gender, religion and in its place it strives to go for national capitalist production relation based on profit derived from goods produced within the country. It unleashes productive capacities of all oppressed people by making them part and parcel of state functions giving them some sort of ownership. Also it is important to note that historically, the concept of urbanization has been related to specialization, industrialization and consequent economic development.
For Nepalese Marxists urbanization subject has strategic interest as this is directly related with the process of industrialization, which will support the restructure of the state that is the present agenda of all the parties particularly UCPN (Maoist). They want to do away with the present urbanization which resembles more to a medieval-feudal agglomeration of ‘half-urban half -rural’ character. They are against urbanization which sucks in resources from hinterland only to concentrate parasitic activities of circulation and consumption of surplus values leading to ”ruralization of the city” rather than to ”urbanization of the countryside,”
Why urbanization is important for Nepal?
Indeed urbanization in its pure form invites development, to be more precise economic development. Inversely economic development induces urbanization. Urbanization and development have been synonymous concepts to the extent that higher levels of urbanization lend to higher levels of development. All human development and economic development indicators tend to be higher in urban than in rural areas. Also urban areas provide employment, marketing opportunities, and inputs and services to the rural hinterland and provide the basis for diversifying agricultural production and increasing agricultural productivity. In fact one of the symptoms of under-development of Nepal can be seen by the lack of urbanization in Nepal as a whole.
It is also important to note that Karl Marx has been concerned about idiocy of rural life, the deafening silence of rural life. Nepal is predominantly rural, in fact rurality is the landscape of Nepal. The scattered settlements in rugged mountains and hills make rural living more isolated, inefficient and expensive. Hence there is crying need for managing concentrated settlements in hilly regions which must be linked to urban centers nearby.
Lastly, Nepal has recently done away with king but has yet to come out of feudalism. In Nepal feudalism is still live and kicking with unitary state intact, oppression based on religion, gender, ethnicity and region are still present in some form or other. The feudal relation in land holding has not weakened yet The change from agriculture to non-agriculture economy has yet to be developed. Hence urbanization is needed to do away with feudal values and relations.
Challenges of urbanization in Nepal.
The level of urbanization is still very low in Nepal. For the level of urbanization to increase there has to be an economic transformation in the productive sectors. Agriculture has to be commercialized, agro-based and other natural resource based industrialization has to be encouraged. The space economy has to be further articulated through the development of
transport and communication and a context has to be created for meaningful economic exchange between different ecological regions of the country.
There are enormous differences in the regional levels of urbanization at the present. This can be addressed only through the realization of the productive potentials of different regions. At the same time the tendencies of a centralized urban process have to be countered not only to foster decentralized urban growth but also to avoid the problems that accompany primate and very large cities particularly in fragile mountain environments.
The overall challenge for urbanization is that the movement of population is directed more towards outside the country than within. It seems India is urban centre for overall Nepal. Kathmandu, to some extend is becoming the urban centre for rural Nepal. However absolute volume of total internally mobile population is quite low, reflecting upon the low level of socio-spatial differentiation of Nepal.
Also there is great unevenness in the pattern of net inter-regional migration of population, heavily tilted towards south. It would be of no exaggeration to say that the pull towards south from the rural areas has been stronger than towards Kathmandu. As a result there is less horizontal movement, rather vertical movement from Himalayan region to mountain, from mountain to inner-terai and terai region. Net settlements of mountain are seen actually depopulated in the wake of the decline in economic interactions with Tibet.
Also spatial distribution of growth rates of settlements are erratic. The rapid formation of settlements along the high ways at the cost of traditional settlements untouched by high ways gives a good reflection of transitional nature of the society.
An overwhelming proportion of settlements are under-populated except in Kathmandu vally. This is also indicator of low economic differentiation of society and low circulation of money.
What is interesting is the definition of municipalities in Nepal. According to the Local Self-Governance Act 1999 municipalities have been categorized in to three categories: Metropolitan city with a minimum population size if 300,000, annual revenue of at least Rs. 400 million with facilities of electricity, drinking water, communication, paved main and subsidiary roads, provision of specialized health services, essential infrastructure for international sports events, adequate opportunities for higher education in different fields, at least one established university, adequate urban facilities and an area that has already received the status of a Sub-Metropolitan city. Similarly Sub-Metropolitan city is a municipality with a “minimum population size of 100,000, annual revenue of at least Rs. 100 million with facilities of electricity, drinking water, communication, paved main roads, education and health services of a high standard, general infrastructure for national and international sports events, provision of public parks and a city hall and similar urban facilities and an area that has already received the status of a Municipality. The Act lays down (a) minimum population size of 20,000 in the Tarai and 10,000 in the hill/mountains, (b) annual revenue of 5 million in the Tarai and 500,000 in the hill/mountains and “minimum urban facilities such as electricity, road, drinking water, communication and other similar urban facilities” as necessary conditions for the designation of municipal status.
Having defined various categories of municipalities, it is important to note that the capacity to manage even the low level of urbanization in Nepal is very limited. The absolute level and quality of urban infrastructure and services remains very low in Nepal. Drainage, sewerage, water supply and electricity are major problems in all urban areas. Urban congestion, increase in industrial and vehicle emissions and consequent air and noise pollution is evident in all major cities. The gap in other utilities is also considerable. There are no minimum standards for infrastructure and services. Unplanned urban sprawl is characteristic of all urban areas, more so in rapidly growing cities like Kathmandu, Pokhara, Bharatpur among others. The institutional capacity of municipalities to manage urban infrastructure and urban growth remains severely constrained. The revenue potential of urban areas remains unexplored and unexploited to a large extent. Urban data base also remains poor particularly with respect to the structure of the urban economy. The legal basis and institutional capacity to enforce land use and zoning laws as well as environmental standards has still to be created. There is tremendous pressure from political parties and people to designate their areas as urban areas in order to demand facilities that come with such designation. In Nepal’s context the question is not one of promoting urban development per se, but one of fostering a process of urbanization and urban development that is in tune with economic and environmental realities of Nepal. This means that sustainable urban settlements have to be environmentally sound, economically efficient, and socially contributing to the sense of community. Unregulated and unguided urbanization has its own problems as evidenced in the deteriorating environmental conditions of many large cities such as Kathmandu.
State policies with respect to industrialization, and other productive sectors and development of transport and communication among others determine and influence this nature of urbanization.
The level of urbanization is still very low in Nepal. There are enormous differences in the regional levels of urbanization at the present. This can be addressed only through the realization of the productive potentials of different regions. At the same time the tendencies of a centralized urban process have to be countered not only to foster decentralized urban growth but also to avoid the problems that accompany primate and very large cities particularly in fragile mountain environments.
Nepal remains one of the least urbanized countries in the world and also in South Asia. While this low level of urbanization is a matter of considerable concern for the economic development of the country, the present state of urbanization and urban development also manifests distinctive haracteristics and problems that demand urgent attention. Urbanization and the consequent process of economic, social and even political changes that it entails has to be very much part of Nepal’s development vision because a large proportion of population live in far-flung settlements without adequate infrastructure, facilities and services, and depend on traditional agriculture as a source of livelihood. Diversification of agriculture, creation of off-farm employment opportunities, creation of conditions where the comparative resource advantages of particular regions can be fruitfully realized, and dealing with issues of gender and ethnicity, among others, is facilitated by the process of urbanization. While the nature and form of urban development may be debated, the fact that urbanization has to be an integral part of Nepal’s development agenda can hardly be contested.
From this point of view the agenda of federalism as part of state restructuring will push the agenda of urbanization as an integral part of Nepal’s development agendas. This in term will help in restructuring economy in Nepal.