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Past Imperfect, Future Perfect: Urban Planning

What are the Budget 2017 expectations in this context? To generate faith and hope for sustainability at all levels - from slum-dwellers to developers

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Wazirabad is a former village emerging as an urban enclave in Gurgaon, the Millennium City of India. Till few years ago, it was a sleepy hamlet of narrow, poorly built houses with brick lined lanes. In the absence of piped water, tankers used to bring in supplies daily. Only a minority of homes, the'pukka' ones, had toilets and electricity.

Now, Wazirabad represents incremental progress, with mid-rise apartments and even the odd mall. All these at no displacement cost to its dwellers.

Sample this:
India's 100 biggest cities, with 16 per cent of its total population, contribute more than 45 percent of its national income. Even slum-dwellers on an ROI basis are often productive than regular manufacturers or traders. And, Wazirabad is a case of good rural to urban transformation. Slum-dwellers are actually productive, but India is presently ill-equipped to make the informal sector as an attractive driver of growth. "I see no improvement in our cities in the future, if the same set of rules continues to apply" says a senior figure in construction and retailing. Much land is privately held, but markets are opaque and development too often depends on cronies with connections.

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks of 'rurban' life and President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam pitched for PURA (Providing Urban Amenities to Rural Area), it means a lot for rural India. It shows concern to make villages well-equipped with 'urban' facilities like internet, pipe water and sanitation, electricity, schools, connectivity and jobs for rural India.

Since rural voters collectively have clout, some public spending flows to themdespite leakages. Farmers get subsidised diesel to run pumps. The MNREGA scheme creates low-paid make-shift jobs. The government pays inflated prices for wheat and rice, then sells much of it back to villagers as subsidized rations. That is supposed to discourage migration, but at the same time encourages corruption. One estimate suggests that 44% of state-managed food vanishes as 'leakage'. On the other hand, States, such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu, have good public services and social indicators despite slow urbanisation, but resisting the need to migrate comes at a price. Village life is often hard for people of low caste, women and members of minorities. They also have the indifferent schools and health care and low productivity work.

The number of urban-dwellers, currently 377m, is growing by around 5m a year. Historically most urban growth has been due to natural increase, with steady migration rate. That is changing as country-dwellers see opportunities. So, in future India's urban population will rise much faster, doubling by mid-century.

Select urban centres are fast becoming megacities. According to one view, India's entire western seaboard could turn into a single conurbation, stretching from Ahmedabad in Gujarat in the north, past Mumbai and south to Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala. Inland, Delhi and its environs could be a hub for 60m-70m people, provided there is enough water. Within two decades India will probably have six cities considerably bigger than New York, each with at least 10m people: Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Chennai.

But, what does actually the process of urban planning need - that it can deliver to make the urban experience as a better option of living and livelihood? The first step is creating a faith among the local population that it is their right to good civic governance. When residents feel that they are able to trust officials with their plans,(which in any case should be a result of public participation), they will happily contribute to the city's success.

So, what are the Budget 2017 expectations in this context? To generate faith and hope for sustainability at all levels - from slum-dwellers to developers. The 100 selected smart cities need to get up and running to show visible results, beginning with cleanliness, maintenance of roads, street lights, followed by energy efficient power and water supply through minimized theft and wastages, sufficient allocation for solar power, Transport Oriented Development (TOD). On the mega scale, budget allocations for Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor on PPP model would certainly mean worthwhile investments in infrastructure. Lastly, we await the reduction in home loan rates and better tax rebates on loan interest for housing.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


Tags assigned to this article:
Union Budget 2017-18 smartcities real estate economy

Brig SK Sharma (Retd)

The author is Pro Vice Chancellor, The NorthCap University, Gurugram

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