Transforming Indian Cities
General Studies 1:
- Urbanization, their problems and their remedies
General Studies 2
- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation
In News: Indian cities will make up most of the fastest-growing cities in the world between 2019 and 2035, considering the year-on-year Gross Domestic Product growth.
According to a Bloomberg report–
- Over 17 of the 20 top cities on the list will be Indian.
- Indian cities including Bengaluru, Hyderabad, and Chennai will be among the strongest performers across the globe.
- India will dominate the top 10 cities in terms of economic growth over the span of 20 years.
- Surat, a commercial centre for textiles in Gujarat, will witness the fastest GDP growth by an average exceeding 9%.
- While economic output in many of those Indian cities will remain rather small in comparison to the world’s biggest metropolises, aggregated gross domestic product of all Asian cities will exceed that of all North American and European urban centres combined in 2027.
- By 2035, it will be 17 percent higher, with the largest contribution coming from Chinese cities. Little will change at the top of the list of the world’s biggest cities between now and 2035.
What is Urbanisation?
The Census of India, 2011 defines urban settlement as, all the places which have municipality, corporation and cantonment board or notified town area committee. Additionally, all the other places which satisfy following criteria:
- A minimum population of 5000 persons ;
- At least 75 % of male main working population engaged in non-agricultural pursuits ; and
- A density of population of at least 400 persons per square kilometre
Urbanisation: A transformative force
By 2030, 600 million Indians, or 40 per cent of the country’s population, would be residing in urban areas. If this urbanisation is to happen in a planned manner, we will need to build 700 to 900 million square meters of properly designed residential and commercial space in urban areas every year from now to 2030. It is imperative that the country moves from being a “reluctant urbaniser” to one that embraces urbanisation as a transformative force that can deliver an improved quality of life for all its citizens.
Missions at the forefront of the urban transformation
Swachh Bharat Abhiyan or Clean India Mission, the objective of which is 100 per cent open-defecation-free India and 100 per cent solid waste management; to be achieved through a multi-level, multi-stakeholder model, where the Union government works in close partnership with state governments as well as civil society and the private sector. While a key objective of the Mission is to build adequate sanitation infrastructure, at its core it is about a behavioural change in the mindset of the average Indian.
The PM Awas Yojana (PMAY) or Housing for All attempts to fulfill a dream common to all Indian citizens: Owning a house of their own. Significantly, the ownership title will be solely or jointly in the name of the woman of the house, a step that has already provided a great fillip to gender empowerment. Two key factors prevented Indians from this basic need: Callous urban management led to the creation of slums that were at the mercy of vote-bank politics; and a corrupt builder-politician nexus cheated home-buyers of their money.
Those who move to urban centres in search of livelihoods, access to services and a better quality of life, often end up in poorly constructed slum dwellings due to lack of funds and distorted real estate prices. Under the PMAY, the government is committed to building affordable homes for this entire section of society, allowing them to live a life of dignity. By categorising housing as “infrastructure”, lowering rates under GST and providing credit-linked subsidies, the government has mobilised the real estate industry to supply housing for low-income and economically weaker sections. The process of in-situ development of slums allows the residents to retain their links with jobs, schools and medical facilities and protects them from the displacement caused by eviction.
The Smart Cities Mission brings a fundamentally different outlook to urban planning, management and finance. Over the past 70 years, the absence of citizen participation coupled with the absence of vision and the lack of spatial, physical and economic planning, was largely responsible for the confounding mess that has defined Indian cities. The Smart Cities Mission looks to address the trust deficit between citizens and their municipal bodies, by ensuring proper delivery of infrastructure and services. It is participatory in nature and citizens define the choices and decisions made by the city. The Mission establishes an integrated approach where all departments of a city’s administration work together to offer holistic solutions by using information and communication technology, by bundling projects that can be executed together in the same area and making best use of the funds available from different sources, public and private.
For the AMRUT scheme, which aims to provide urban infrastructure for universal coverage of piped drinking water, sewerage, and green spaces, the Centre has allocated Rs 50,000 crore over a five-year period from 2015-16 to 2019-20. Reforms proposed include development of e-governance at the urban local body (ULB) level, constitution and professionalization of municipal cadres, urban and city-level planning, review of building by-laws, municipal tax and fee improvements, collection of user charges, credit ratings of ULBs, and audits for utility services such as electricity and water.
India’s cities need to address five systemic challenges in order to deliver better quality of life to citizens in a sustainable manner –
- Lack of viable spatial planning and design standards for public utilities – India has 1 urban planner per 400,000 people compared to UK’s 148 for the same
- Weak finances, both in terms of financial sustainability and accountability – more than half of the municipalities do not generate enough money to pay their salaries, 70% of the cities’ budget vary by 30%
- Poor human resource management – 35% average staff vacancy
- Powerless mayors and city councils, severe fragmentation of governance – multiple civic bodies, parastatals – multiple civic bodies with frequent change of toothless mayors, commissioners. Local government has the least amount of capability, quality of delivery and poor processes that are being followed. Most of the laws and policies that they are following are archaic.
- Total absence of systematic citizen participation and transparency – Only two cities have ward committees
The Way Ahead
Cities and their Foundation: There is a need to focus on building stronger foundations – not just focus on outcomes but also policies. Policies are very important and nobody talks about it. There is an urgent need of giving the highest importance to ‘urban designing’ and not just planning. Cities need to be seen as a unit of empowerment at the systems level.
Cities and Reforms: Reforms in the big cities have been painfully slow also due to political instability. Smaller cities under AMRUT are witnessing better transparency, accountability and participation. Finances need to not just be generated but also be managed and accounted for.
City people and City government: Government needs to meaningfully engage with the citizens. They need to update the citizens and push the envelope on the issue of discussions being done at the systemic level.
City and local body of governance: There is a need to strengthen local body’s capability and capacity to deliver. A discussion on autonomy and devolution of power is long pending. Mayors need to be empowered with decision, and be trusted for the same.
Absence of participatory citizen platforms: Citizens need to be involved and sensitized. More awareness programs in public places, schools and colleges need to be conducted.
India cannot achieve double-digit growth and cannot become the world’s third-largest economy worth an estimated $10 trillion by 2030, if it’s long overdue urbanisation is further delayed. Indian cities must become safe, resilient and sustainable hubs of vibrant economic activity, enabled and regulated by appropriate planning and governance. The measure of our success will be the achievement of the sustainable development goals by 2030 and the delivery of a New India, where every citizen enjoys the “Ease of Living” that they truly deserve after 70 years of Independence.
Connecting the Dots
- Bring out the significance of sustainable urban planning for Indian cities. What have we missed out in its absence? Discuss.
- Urbanisation in India is taking place at a much faster pace. All of it being done without paying heed to ecological principles. This is a cause of concern. Discuss why. Also analyze what needs to be done so as to make our cities climate change proof.
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