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.