Transforming Karnataka: Building New Urban Hubs for Job Growth

The question of whether Karnataka will bring jobs to its people or move people to jobs hinges on the ability of policymakers to make and implement challenging decisions.

Every minute, 25-30 people migrate to an Indian city from rural areas in search of better livelihood and lifestyles. If the pace of migration from rural areas to urban centres continues, the Indian urban population is likely to reach 600 million by 2030. This statistic triggers a variety of concerns: urban residents fear worsening urban conditions, traditionalists lament the erosion of village life, administrators worry about infrastructure strain, law enforcement fears increased crime, and politicians are anxious about managing urban voters.

Insisting that rural Indians remain in their villages is an elitist and outdated viewpoint. India has over 600,000 villages, with about 200,000 having fewer than 200 residents each. Such small populations make it difficult to develop effective infrastructure, both hard (water, roads, electricity, connectivity) and soft (schools, hospitals, colleges, theatres, shopping centres). This lack of infrastructure hinders the attraction of talent and jobs necessary for creating successful economic clusters. Therefore, in the immediate term, taking jobs to people is economically unfeasible since jobs tend to gravitate towards existing job hubs. Thus, the focus should be on facilitating the migration of people to job-rich areas. Rural-to-urban migration is generally a move toward a better life. This requires robust processes, infrastructure, and resources to manage India’s five key labour market transitions: rural to urban migration, farm to non-farm work, unorganised to organised sectors, subsistence self-employment to decent wage employment, and school-to-work transitions. 

All these considerations underscore the necessity for holistic planning, the critical importance of infrastructure development, and the availability of employment opportunities nearby. With this in mind, the Government of India launched the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) Development Project a decade ago. DMIC, the world’s largest infrastructure project with projected lifetime investments of $100 billion, aims to establish 24 new industrial cities between the political capital, Delhi, and the financial capital, Mumbai. In Phase I, infrastructure development has already commenced on four of these sites, rapidly positioning them as key locations for businesses entering India, responding to the government’s Make in India initiative.

Karnataka exemplifies the benefits of these clusters. Bengaluru hosts hundreds of world-class IT companies, attracting professionals from all over and symbolising modern India’s progress. Despite its unplanned growth and infrastructural challenges, Bengaluru continues to be a major job creation hub, contributing over 45% of the state’s GDP. This phenomenon, known as “cumulative advantage,” offers crucial lessons for policymakers and city planners.

However, for Karnataka to truly take jobs to people, it needs to develop five new cities akin to Bengaluru. Cities like Bengaluru attract both talent and jobs, creating a self-sustaining demand-supply cycle. These cities provide a conducive environment where young professionals can pursue diverse interests, and where essential services like schools and hospitals are accessible. Bengaluru, despite its infrastructural challenges, offers basic facilities such as power, roads, drinking water, sewage, and intra-city connectivity.

Karnataka missed a significant opportunity to catalyse the growth of Mysore by not situating Bengaluru’s new airport midway to Mysore. A strategic plan to either create five new cities or invigorate existing ones like Mangalore, Mysore, Belgaum, Hubli Dharwad, and Gulbarga is feasible but challenging to execute. Building new cities requires determination more than imagination, as the necessary actions are clear and achievable. Cities are vital in mitigating the “ovarian lottery,” where one’s birthplace determines prosperity more than hard work or skills. New cities can boost productivity, provide equal opportunities, and accelerate job creation across Karnataka. Is anyone ready to take on this challenge?

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