Millennium Post

Going up the urban ladder

As India rapidly moves towards becoming a developed nation, its biggest challenge in the near future would be its speedily expanding urbanization of towns and cities. While some might consider this as a boon, only a visionary can foresee it becoming a magnanimous problem, because of limited resources and lack of planning.

The Government of India, State Governments, administrators and experts have frequently organized various nationwide seminars and workshops, but no concrete outcome has surfaced yet. Ironically, even the current residents of urban India are struggling to sustain themselves with the skyrocketing price hikes. And what do they get as tax returns? Skyrocketing housing rents, poor sanitation facilities, power-cuts and weak infrastructure! Will urbanisation really help us solve the current problems, or just increase the number of people facing an urban crisis?

Country’s 33 per cent slum population lives without basic facilities. The speed of urbanisation poses an unprecedented managerial and policy challenge—yet India has not engaged in a national discussion about how to handle the seismic shift in the makeup of the nation.

Urban India today is ‘distributed’ in shape—with a diverse range of large and small cities spread widely around the nation. India will probably continue on a path of distributed model of urbanization because this suits its federal structure and helps to ensure that migration flows aren’t unbalanced toward any particular city or cities.

Urbanization in India is anticipated to grow at a robust pace. Estimates indicate that by 2030, urbanization will reach to about 40 per cent, as against 28 per cent in 2001 backed by surging growth in economic reforms and foreign and domestic investment. As per a report of McKinsey Group, by 2030, India will have 6 mega cities with a population of 10 million or more, 13 cities with more than 4 million people and 68 cities with population of more that 1 million.

This pace of rapid urbanization is likely to pose a significant managerial and policy challenge for the Government, as demand of key services such as water, transportation, sewage treatment, low income housing will increase five to seven fold in cities.

There has been an incomplete devolution of functions to the elected bodies as per 74th Constitutional Amendment Act, possibly because of the unwillingness of the state governments. In addition, very few Indian cities have 2030 master plans that take into account peak transportation loads, requirements for low-income affordable housing and climate change.

In general, the capacity to execute the urban reforms and projects at the municipal and state level has been historically inadequate.

Recent reports suggest that India spends $17 per capita per year in urban infrastructure, whereas the most benchmarks suggest a requirement $100. The investment required for building urban infrastructure in India, over the next 20 years, is estimated at approximately US$ 1 trillion.
About one in five persons in a slum is from the scheduled caste, a share that has increased in the last one decade. However, the proportion of SCs in the overall urban population is just 12.6 per cent or about one in eight persons.

 Interestingly, the work participation rate in slums is just slightly higher (36 per cent) compared to the urban rate of 35 per cent. However, the work participation of women in slums is almost two percentage points higher than in the urban population.

But more than two out of five women workers living in slums are marginal workers, who do not have employment throughout the year. The southern states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Goa have among the highest work participation rates, about 40 per cent, while Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana are among the worst.

Among the states, Maharashtra has the highest slum population of 1.18 crore followed by Andhra Pradesh (one crore plus), West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu (58 lakh). However, as a proportion, the slum population in Maharashtra has shown the biggest reduction from 23 per cent to 18 per cent.

A few states like Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Gujarat, too, have shown a marginal reduction in the proportion of slum population, though in most states the proportion has increased. The present Government in Gujarat, under leadership of Narendra Modi and Prime Minister candidate of BJP has tried to address this issue by organizing National Summit on inclusive Urban Development He rightly said that the concept of town planning has changed from providing roads, drinking water and sewer lines to setting up townships within towns.

At the same time, he also cautioned against unplanned development leading to haphazard growth. Town planning should be considered as an opportunity and not as a crisis.

Former Urban Development Secretary of Government of India Dr M Ramchandran has said that there is need for appropriate strategy for balanced slum-free urban growth by providing basic civic amenities like affordable houses and public transport, clean and hygienic surrounding.

We need more leaders like Narendra Modi who have the far-sightedness and dedication to address  issues of this nature, which others however fail to even imagine!  If  Government will not give full attention of urban planning seriously, more and more cities and towns will be turning  into slum cities.
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