Over the last decade, India’s urban population grew by over 90 million, representing a 31.8% increase. This was 2.6 times the corresponding decadal rise of 12.18% for the rural population. At the same time, there is a growing disparity between urban and rural unemployment, wherein the latter appears to be driving the rising rate of unemployment nationally, which rose to 4.9% in 2013–14. In the most recent budget, the government has listed job creation as one of the nine pillars to transform the economy, and set aside ₹17 billion (approximately $250 million) for 1,500 multi-skill training institutes. The budget prioritises job creation for youth by offering financial incentives to complete vocational training through the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojna (Prime Minister’s Skill Development Scheme). Additionally, the government has set a skill development target of 400 million trained workers by 2022.
At the same time, recent government’s “Digital India” initiatives show a strong focus on urban development and a push towards “smart cities” that prioritises internet connectivity. The government’s motivation is to create world-class cities that will account for 40% of country’s population, and contribute up to 75% of its gross domestic product, by 2030. These future milestones are important not least because of the growing importance of the urban economy, and the opportunities that could bring, but also because of the challenge of catering to the needs of urban India. Eighty percent of the infrastructure required to accommodate urban India in 2030 has not yet been built. The enormity of the challenge, likened to building a city the size of Chicago every year, is daunting enough (and carries with it yet unanswered questions around who will build this infrastructure, for whom, and in what manner). But as AbdouMaliq Simone has argued in a powerfully crafted essay “People as Infrastructure,” building infrastructure does not only mean physically laying down reticulate systems. It also means creating spaces that individuals will live, work and play in (Simone 2004).