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This Is How India's Future Cities Going To Be

Chandigarh, Bhubaneswar, Gandhinagar and Naya Raipur, though meticulously planned, are at best administrative towns or retirement abode for bureaucrats

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India is known as a ‘reluctant urbaniser’ for a reason. Our ruling class romanticised the notion that the “soul of India lives in its villages” for far too long. The excessive obsession with villages in our policies led to the decay of many potential towns over time, and eventually resulted in mass migration of population towards metros. Today, our mega cities are overcrowded and unmanageable due to the rising migrant workforce.

Our post-Independence cities are good examples of urbanisation gone wrong. Chandigarh, Bhubaneswar, Gandhinagar and Naya Raipur, though meticulously planned, are at best administrative towns or retirement abode for bureaucrats. Others, such as Gurgaon, are concrete jungles, devoid of  basic civic infrastructure, and driven by private developers.

Presently, India has 300 million urban dwellers. By 2047, 65 per cent or 700 million people will be in cities. A McKinsey Global Institute report says the country will need 25 new townships or urban areas two-and-a-half times that of America to contain that population.

Can our cities provide necessary infrastructure, services and quality of life to the inhabitants of these new cities?

The government’s ambitious 100 Smart Cities can be the answer to this question. “India is on the cusp of a transition, a rapid urbanisation. Our cities are over-stressed and we need to redevelop small towns and build new cities that are compact, dense and vertical,” says Amitabh Kant, Chairman, NITI Aayog.

The government is planning many greenfield and industrial cities along the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), including Shendra-Bidkin in Maharashtra, Global City in Haryana, Ponneri in Tamil Nadu, Khushkera in Rajasthan, and Gift City and Dholera in Gujarat.

To build a city of the future, we have to think how mega trends in technology and urban planning will converge in future. Many Indian cities are adopting technologies such as the Internet of Things, intelligent traffic system, and central command and control system to stay ahead.  

“We have an opportunity ahead of us to overhaul our existing cities and carefully plan new ones as we prepare for the future. If executed efficiently and timely, India will see new engines of growth, which are greener in design, smarter in function, efficient in governance, and sustainable and economically viable in the long run,” says Jagan Shah of National Institute of Urban Infrastructure.

Challenges

“The  cities  of   India  bring  with  them  a  host  of   environmental  and  infrastructure   challenges,   from   pollution   to   lack   of    civic  amenities such as drinking water, sewage, and electricity,” says Arvind Subramanian, chief economic advisor to the Government of India.

In 2047, at least 22 of India’s big cities will be in danger of running out of water, and the electricity demand will rise 4.5 times. A joint report by Assocham and PwC has projected that the waste quantity of our cities will reach 436 million tonnes. If untreated, it will require 88 square kilometre of land for disposal. Already, 17 per cent of urban population lives in slums, as per 2011 census. Nearly a third of the country’s geographical area is drought-prone and 12 per cent of the area is prone to floods. Global warming will make it worse. India is among top five countries in terms of air and water pollution in our cities.

The task of providing urban way of life to 700 million citizens by 2047 will be far more challenging than anticipated as our megacities are far behind its global peers in terms of civic infrastructure. Providing civic amenities, employment opportunities and creating social infrastructure will be an administrative challenge that will require $950 billion in the next 20 years to effectively build and run the urban cities.

In this context, are Indian cities, ready to leapfrog to becoming the future cities of 2047, or is the government just counting on its 100 smart cities mission to wield the magic wand? The answer will rest entirely on how effectively our policymakers are able to tackle the existing and future challenges of cities.


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