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The Transition In India’s Urban Spaces And The Unending Issues


  • GS Mains Paper-3, Infrastructure

What is the issue?

  • The unending problems in urban areas and the transition in India’s urban spaces demand a renewed approach to urban planning.

What is the urban scenario?

  • Over 34% of India’s current population lives in urban areas, rising by 3% since 2011.
  • Existing large urban agglomerations (with population above 50 lakh) have remained mostly constant in number since 2005.
  • However, smaller clusters (with 10-50 lakh population) have risen significantly from 34 to 50 clusters.
  • By some estimates, India’s urban population could increase to 814 million by 2050.

What are the unending issues?

  • Cities are already downtrodden with poor infrastructure and widespread poverty.
  • Increase in urban population is sure to increase the demands for basic services.
  • It includes clean water, public transportation, sewage treatment, etc.
  • Also, there is still an outstanding shortage of over 10 million affordable houses.
  • This is despite the government taking steps to incentivise their construction.
  • The annually recurring floods in Mumbai, dengue in Delhi and lakes on fire in Bengaluru are reminders of poor planning.
  • Pollution in India’s urban areas seems to have sparked off a reverse migration.
  • Farmers from Haryana who migrated to Delhi and Gurugram are increasingly going back to their farms during winter, due to toxic pollution.
  • One primary problem is that of the definition of what urban area is.
  • Urban development comes under State governments, with the Governor notifying an area as urban.
  • The parameters include population, density, local revenue generation and percentage employed in non-agricultural activities.
  • The vague definition leads to discretionary decisions, resulting in a wide variance in what is considered a town.
  • The Central government considers a settlement as urban if it has an urban local government a minimum population of 5,000 over 75% of its (male) population working in non-agricultural activities a population density of at least 400 per sq. km
  • However, many States consider such “census towns” as rural, and establish governance through rural local government or panchayat.
  • The low level of urban infrastructure investment and capacity building is a significant concern.
  • India spends about $17 per capita annually on urban infrastructure projects.
  • This stands low against a global benchmark of $100 and China’s $116.
  • Schemes such as the National Urban Renewal Mission have limited financing options, leading to inefficient implementation.
  • g. some cities collect only 5-20% of their potential property tax
  • Meanwhile, on the ‘Smart City’ front, India lags on implementation.
  • Besides, urban institutions also suffer from a shortage of skilled people.
  • Internal migration in India is very closely linked to urban transitions.
  • Also, such migration helps reduce poverty or prevent households from slipping into it.
  • But urban migration is not viewed positively in India.
  • As, policies often blindly seek to reduce rural to urban migration.
  • A deeper understanding reveals that preventing such migration could be counterproductive.

What needs to be done?

  • The urban local bodies should be granted the freedom to raise financing and enforce local land usage norms.
  • There needs to be a systemic policy to deal with urban migration.
  • It should facilitate the integration of migrants into the local urban fabric.
  • City plans should be designed with a regular migration forecast assumed.
  • g. Delhi – focus is changing on revitalising cities nearby such as Meerut, by building transport links and connectivity
  • Lowering the migration cost, eliminating discrimination against migrants, and protecting their rights will facilitate development.
  • The proposed new urbanisation policy seeking to rebuild Indian cities around clusters of human capital is welcome.


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