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BW Businessworld

Dehradun Uncovered: Rapid Urbanisation And Ecology

The smart city mission focuses on isolated aspects of a city’s growth. It is concerned with infrastructural issues like adequate underground electric supply lines and clean water and sewage solutions

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For the people of Uttarakhand, Dehradun is not just a place but an emotion. A destination for many rural people from the upper Himalayas where they can get good high-class education and modern facilities. 

The city also hosts many non-Uttarakhand people as far as education and employment opportunities are concerned. However, amid all the rapid urbanisation in Dehradun, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise of a ‘smart city’ is not finished yet. 

The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) launched the Smart Cities Mission (SCM) for the development of 100 smart cities with an aim to boost economic growth and enhance the quality of life of people, through local area development and the establishment of technology. 

India is the second-largest urban system in the world and 11 per cent of the total global urban population lives in Indian cities. The UN estimates that around 416 million people will be added to our urban population between the years 2018 and 2050.

While talking to BW Businessworld, Dikshu C. Kukreja, Architect, Urban Planner and Managing Principal, CP Kukreja Architects said that while the SCM is a great initiative, at present, it does not offer a complete solution by itself to alleviate all the problems of a city.

Talking about the city, he said that in Dehradun, instead of pre-empting and guiding the city’s future development, the SCM has been playing catch-up to meet basic infrastructural requirements. 

"As a result, Dehradun lacks holistic and sustainable planning and development. For example, the city’s present Masterplan does not adequately address the impacts of rapid urbanisation on its topographical features and ecologically sensitive zones. 

As a consequence, Dehradun is growing disproportionately, making many recent developments prone to natural hazards such as floods and landslides," he added.

Dehradun, a big city for people of the Himalayan state, is known for its fertile land which supports the livelihood of farmers involved in the agriculture and horticulture sector. The dense jungles and rivers and canals make it a biodiversity-rich area.

However, in recent times, its ecology is bearing the heat of over urbanisation

For example, places like Majra, Herbertpur, Jogiwala and Mohabbewala were popular for basmati rice. But, over time this has almost vanished completely. What remains are tall residential buildings and fast-moving traffic.

"While a city’s growth and development does entail changes in land use patterns and economic models, in Dehradun’s case, there has been a lack of holistic planning. This has had harsher effects on the city. Since Dehradun became a state capital, its growth has been largely haphazard. One of the key downsides of this unplanned development has been the adverse effects on the agricultural sector and the city’s ecology," Kukreja said. 

In June 2022, Union Minister for Housing and Urban Affairs, Hardeep Singh Puri said that since 2014, India has undertaken the world’s largest planned urbanisation programme and various transformative policies and interventions to achieve India’s economic and sustainable growth targets. 

"India’s sustainable urban transport policies are designed to fulfil the climate change commitments of the Paris Agreement," Puri said. 

However, experts have said that urbanisation at the cost of ecology can harm the country and its fight against climate change. Also, this rapid urbanisation also put the local population at risk. 

The sharp rise in population and a development boost in recent years caused a major hike in the property prices of Dehradun. The population of the city stood at 578,000 while the population of the Dehradun district was about 1.69 million, as per the 2011 Census. 

Selling land to bring in quick cash turned into a far simpler approach to procuring for farmers than cultivating agro products. 

As the environment of the valley changed and the accessibility of freshwater diminished, the development of this special variety of rice was unimaginable.

"Surging populations demand more infrastructure, which can compromise the blue-green assets of a region while also putting people residing near such ecologically sensitive ones at risk. Such developments also reduce the local green cover, leading to poorer air quality. Encroachment of water bodies can adversely impact the local flora and fauna," said Kukreja. 

While saying that our cities will play a vital role in the achievement of not just India’s economic targets, but also its sustainability goals, Puri added that Indian cities contribute almost 70 per cent to the national GDP while accounting for 44 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

Kukreja also said that urbanisation cannot happen without having a negative impact on the locals. However, it is crucial to ensure sustainable development that is inclusive of the local communities. 

"To enable that, socio-cultural, economical, and environmental aspects of a city must be considered in its planning. For instance, a city’s municipal corporation must assess potential impacts on the livelihood of farmers and devise strategies to mitigate them before proposing any change to the agricultural land use," he added. 

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dehradun smart city mission Rapid Urbanisation ecology