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Millennium Post

Millennium Cities & New India

New cities symbolise 21st-century ambition – grander infrastructure, greater opportunities and dreams turning into reality. Yet, more often than not, new cities are heaped with challenges that drain fantasy and reduce living to a grim reality.

"In Gurgaon, there is no shortage of money, or of hard-working people. Gurgaon, today, is not a village of Haryana – it is mini-Hindustan." These words by Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have been condoned as just another one of his election speeches of 2014. Yet, they were significant for the city that had, for long, been regarded as a satellite town of national capital New Delhi.

Ever since this election speech of 2014, Gurugram has evolved. Thousands of crores have been invested to revamp its roads and, the city has become a major hub of start-ups. The glitzy skyscrapers in Gurugram provide a shining picture of New India; but challenges also galore in the city's underbelly. Like any burgeoning metropolis, the curse of the 3Cs, namely corruption, crime and civic apathy, has plagued this city of 700 sq km. Despite its flaws, the dream of a Millennium City, a connotation attributed to Gurugram, floods the minds of the public and private enterprises – and, over the years, the city has expanded beyond its border. The outskirts of Gurugram, including, Manesar, Bawal and Neemrana have been developed into new industrial and residential townships.

Giving Gurugram tough competition is New Okhla Industrial Development Authority popularly known as Noida. Developed in the 1970s, the township has developed into a full-fledged city. If Gurugram is an example of private enterprise, the growth of Noida and subsequently Greater Noida reflects the role of public enterprising in developing infrastructure, which has now begun paying dividends. Expensive real estate prices and the lack of social infrastructure in the new sectors of Gurugram has made Noida and Greater Noida a top choice for people purchasing their dream homes.

The success of Gurugram and Noida has a greater context in the growth of New India. The United Nations, in one of its official reports, cited that by 2030, the Delhi-National Capital Region at over 30 million people will have the highest urban population in the world, displacing Tokyo.

Not only private players, government agencies too want to cash in on this massive urban opportunity. The Centre and state governments are taking a cue from the growth models of South Korea and Japan that emphasise on the development of infrastructure, particularly roads and highways. Huge investments have been made to enhance road infrastructure on the Delhi-Jaipur Highway, Yamuna Expressway, Kundli-Manesar-Palwal Expressway and Delhi-Mumbai Corridor. In addition, plans are underway to build new cities utilising the private-public partnership model.

Even as India resides in its villages, the role of cities in contributing to holistic growth can never be discounted. Despite Karnataka being one of the largest states in the country, it is still dependent upon its capital Bengaluru that contributes over 50 per cent of tax revenue to the state exchequer. After Hyderabad became the capital of Telangana, the percentage of revenue contributed by the services sector in Andhra Pradesh has reduced to 46 per cent. This figure is even lower than the national average of 54 per cent. Hailed as the commercial capital, Mumbai contributes over 6 per cent to the nation's GDP.

Capitalising upon opportunities in urban townships is not a new phenomenon. Realising Kolkata's significance during the British Empire, several communities including the Marwaris, Punjabis and even the Chinese migrated here, making the city their home. More than hundred years since their migration, these communities continue to play a significant role in fuelling the city's economy.

Not only in India but globally too, urbanisation has been a driving factor for economic growth. In China, they say if you want to understand the country through its cities, for the past refer to Beijing, for the present see Shanghai but for the future go to Shenzhen. Fondly called the Silicon Valley of China, the city, just over 50 years ago, was a small fishing village until the lands were acquired for urban development. The success of Shenzhen, in a way, prompted the Chinese state to create more new cities to accommodate the rural folk and combat inequality. But the fairytale ended here. The slowdown in the Chinese economy has resulted in most new cities being partially inhabited.

Sceptics call these spaces Ghost Towns. Moreover, due to the huge debt incurred by the Chinese government in building these cities, speculators had invested massive money here in properties. Not willing to take a hit by reducing the prices, the prospect of offering affordable housing to the rural Chinese was quickly forgotten.

This sad story also played out in India. In the period from 2006 to 2010, the prosperity of real estate success in Gurugram and Noida prompted the creation of more townships in the outskirts of these new cities. Rather than emphasising on winning the farmer's trust, whose land was acquired, and focusing on one major project, there was an urgency of announcing multiple projects and collecting buyers' money. Greed, corruption and short-sightedness had its limits and the good times finally came to an end when the farmers and buyers felt cheated and started asking developers and the government for their share of just compensation.

The real estate slowdown in the country had resulted in the bankruptcy of most real estate developers. CBI cases are underway to determine the procedure adopted by the state governments to acquire lands from farmers. Market listed real estate companies have gone bankrupt and are embroiled in a host of litigation cases. There are lakhs of homebuyers who, even after paying a sizeable amount of their life savings, spend most of their time in courts or streets demanding they get their dues.

The growth models for future cities exhibit a lack of foresight in maintaining the existing infrastructure of our metropolis. The infrastructure of Mumbai was once again found to be bare minimum when the city drowned during monsoon showers, with deaths reported due to potholes and weak bridges. CAG, in its official report, categorically stated that the Chennai floods in 2015 could have been prevented. The report tabled in the Tamil Nadu Assembly stated that the natural drains and river bodies of the city were wishfully encroached upon, leading to the catastrophe.

Internationally, lakhs of millennials are now moving out of Hong Kong, one of the richest cities in the world. The expensive real estate valuations have prevented many citizens from building their own homes in the city. In Mexico, rising inequalities has resulted in the creation of a strong drug cartel that has become so powerful that it is now threatening governance. This issue was among the most prominent concerns that figured in the recently held Mexico General elections.

New cities find life when old cities saturate. Yet, there are certain cities that are created to provide inspiration, displaying human ingenuity and triumph over a major loss. The loss of Lahore, the capital of undivided Punjab, to Pakistan propelled the creation of Chandigarh. Hailed as City Beautiful, its aura has inspired both Haryana and Punjab to demand it as their capital.

After Hyderabad became the capital of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh decided to have a new capital for its state – Amravati. The city's growth model has difficulties and opportunities in urban planning. In times when land acquisition policies have become stricter, over 45,000 acres of land has been acquired by the state from 33,000 farmers through a land pooling policy. Creating a grand capital is not proving to be easy for its planners. In the 'No Confidence' motion held in the Parliament on July 20, Jaidev Galla, MP from Guntur, described a host of challenges in the making of the new capital. A prime concern was the Centre promising to allocate Rs 48,000 crore for the period of five years but ultimately dispatching only Rs 1,500 crores as of now.

Addressing his citizens on January 26, 2016, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal raised an issue of how there is a requirement for investments in health, education, science and innovation, so that, ultimately, citizens can grow and develop the country holistically. The term smart citizen is relevant.

Gurugram may boast of having the third-highest per capita income in the country. Yet, it is surrounded by Mewat, a district that has been described as the most backward in the country. Lakhs of citizens from the hinterlands have to relocate to the metropolis due to a shortage of employment and health facilities in their areas.

The exponential rise of Gurugram in a short span of time gave it the title of Millennium City. For a New India, there are plans to create more 'millennium cities'. Various examples have shown that building new cities is fraught with successes as well as failures.

A city may assist immensely in the fulfilment of dreams; but for an individual, the dreams may be bigger than the city. Let there be more cities but let there first be more dreams – ultimately, it is the power of a dream that can result in the successful metamorphosis of a tiny village into the next Silicon Valley.

Piyush Ohrie

Piyush Ohrie

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