How to do up urban India: experts rack brains

Focus on land-use policy, job growth and public transport, advise urban planning professionals

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Puja Bhattacharjee | May 7, 2013



With that spatial-cultural phenomenon called ‘urban India’ growing exponentially — by one estimate, the urban Indian population is set to go up to 750 million Indians by 2050 — there is need for proper planning and regulation more than ever. The issue at hand, though, is hardly simple. Take this for starter: only three out of 10 Indian cities have their own masterplans. And the problem barely starts there, as former urban development secretary Dr M Ramachandran put it.

Governance Now culls out broadly three basic issues that could be said to form the skeleton of a mess, a noun — and even a verb — called urban India from a workshop on urbanisation, organised by Mumbai-based think-tank Observer Research Foundation (ORF) and German International Cooperation (GIZ) in the national capital on Tuesday. This was the second such workshop in a series of six.

NEED: PLANNING, POLICY
A broad land-use policy is needed at the state level as agricultural land is disappearing at an alarming rate, said M Ramachandran, former secretary, ministry of urban development. “We have masterplans for only 30 percent of our cities. The 12th five-year plan has taken cognisance of this. We need new townships and develop the existing ones.

“New townships cannot exist in isolation and links to big cities are a crucial factor,” Ramachandran said.

“India is a late starter in the urban process but it can be worked to our advantage by using technology to leapfrog ahead,” said Amitabh Kant, CEO, Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation Limited (DMICDC).

He also stressed on the importance of depoliticising land: “Monetising land value will be a challenge for India.”

NEED: ECONOMIC GROWTH
The dream of people in rural India is to migrate to the cities; therefore the Gandhian view that India lives in its villages will not be economically viable, said Amitabh Kant. “Our aim should be to convert this disguised unemployment in agricultural sector into employment in the manufacturing sector,” he said.

While stressing that only creation of more jobs can address this situation, Kant said jobs, however, cannot be created unless the manufacturing sector continues to grow at a rate of 15 percent. “The challenge for India right now is to create jobs, and that cannot happen if the country is not growing at a rate of 8 percent for over three decades. No country in the world has grown on the back of agriculture alone,” he said.

NEED: SYSTEMATIC APPROACH
While Kant said that public transport should be the backbone of cities, followed by “recycling every drop of water”, Ramachandran also agreed that public transport in urban centres should be accorded priority.

Stressing that malls are becoming a focal point of social gathering due to an absence of open public spaces, Dr Kulwant Singh, regional advisor to UN-HABITAT, said, “Urbanisation will dramatically increase the size of the Indian middle class. Urbanisation is not a subject of the central government but of the state and local governments, and heavy investments are needed and sectoral reforms are very important (for all-round development of urban India).”

Amitabh Kant said, “We should rejuvenate existing cities. The cost of not doing anything now will be enormous later on.”

He said India’s youth population is going to rise, and going to grow more restive. What he left unsaid was the fact that a time bomb is ticking away, and it could explode any time unless the authorities focus on the job at hand to raise the level of life and livelihood to take it closer to the level of expectation and aspiration, especially in urban centres where socio-economic and political awareness is seen to be more than in rural milieu.

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