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Reimagining Cities

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By 2007, a majority of the world’s people were living in cities. India was initially slow to urbanise, but it is now virtually a stampede. If communities of more than 10,000 people are classed as ‘urban’, in 2010, 35 per cent of India was urban. The number of cities in India with a population of over 1 million has gone up from 35 in 2001 to 50 in 2011 and is expected to touch 87 by 2031. Estimates vary on when India will be primarily ‘urban’. Home-grown planners say by 2031; the World Bank thinks the process will be slower.

The growth of cities is not a ‘negative’. Cities provide the human chains necessary for a manufacturing economy and the knowledge pool for the service industry. They are the window of opportunity. The McKinsey Report of 2010 on urbanisation estimates that over 2010-30 period, urban India will create 70 per cent of all new jobs, and these will be twice as productive as equivalent jobs in rural India.

“Generation of wealth is increasingly dependent on the knowledge industry, and cities have become the repositories of knowledge and technology. Cities are the engines of growth,” Isher Judge Ahluwalia, chairperson of the think tank Icrier (Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations), told BW.

  The rush of migrants to cities is straining existing services
  (BW Pic By Subhabrata Das

But the growth of cities has brought with it a huge challenge. While new cities are grappling with uncontrolled migration, older ones like Mumbai, where migration has slowed, are battling to provide housing in the face of spiralling real estate prices. As a city expands, water supply and sewerage systems, roads and public transport — the lifelines of urban life — begin to crumble and civic utilities are unable to keep pace with increasing demand.

It is not that planners and politicians are unaware of the challenge. Sheila Dikshit, Delhi’s chief minister, said at an urban conference recently: “Cities require a government that is not national. We need city-states.”

The Drawing Board
Mumbai’s new symbol of progress, the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, opened in June 2009, almost five years behind schedule and with a three-fold cost escalation to around Rs 1,634 crore. Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum spread over 535 acres, was slated for development with five sectors being offered for reconstruction to global consortiums in 2004. Nothing has moved despite several rounds of bidding.

The office of Rahul Asthana, metropolitan commissioner of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), is bristling with maps of planned and ongoing schemes. MMRDA is the principal planning authority for the 4,355 sq. km. of extended Mumbai. It also has the mandate to execute some critical infrastructure projects. “The (population) density is so high that it is difficult to get right of way for projects. Resettlement also delays work,” says Asthana. Mumbai’s population density is among the highest in the world — 27,000 people per sq. km., three times higher than Delhi’s 9,300. London’s is 7,600 and New York’s 8,000 per sq. km.

MMRDA is, however, not the only agency planning and executing projects for Mumbai. There is the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA), the state Roadways Development Corporation (MSRDC) that executed the sea link, and a dozen others. Can there be a holistic view for city planning with so many agencies competing for attention?

It is only in the last decade that planning and governance of cities has received serious attention. In Delhi, the Union government exercises predominant power. In terms of development, the capital has evolved as three different cities — the crumbling Old Delhi and the eastern trans-Yamuna areas, the well-maintained Lutyens Delhi, and South and West Delhi, where posh colonies abut lower-middle class sprawls. Here, too, administration is divided between the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), the MCD (Municipal Corporation of Delhi), and the Public Works Department (PWD).

In Mumbai, the municipal commissioner and his senior aides are IAS officers appointed by the state government. In an earlier interview, Junaid Ahmed, World Bank’s sector manager-urban for South Asia, told BW: “Why should state governments be running the water supply system of cities like Lucknow or Bangalore?”

Also Read: Shaken & Stirred



In contrast, well-run international cities have autonomous and committed metropolitan governments. In London, metropolitan governance was reintroduced in 2000 after a 13-year hiatus. The directly-elected mayor prepares a ‘London Plan’ setting out the overall policy, which includes issues such as zonal density and transport, which the city’s 33 boroughs have to adhere to. Berlin, too, has a two-tier metropolitan government that puts out a ‘Land-Use Plan’ for the local boroughs to follow.

Incentive To Plan
In developing city plans, and pushing cynical bureaucrats to adopt processes to raise and spend funds, the central government’s Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) has been playing a crucial role. Launched in December 2005 to fund urban infrastructure and basic services in 65 cities, it has allocated over Rs 66,000 crore so far. But to receive funds, cities must commit to a series of measures, such as preparing a city development plan and setting up of a planning authority.
The municipal corporation of the twin towns of Pimpri-Chinchwad, near Pune, with a population of 1.7 million, is the largest recipient of JNNURM funds among Tier-2 cities. As much as Rs 2,572 crore has been pumped into building roads and water supply networks. And because it wanted to be funds ‘compliant’, the city, for the first time, developed a 2006-12 vision plan. “JNNURM gave us a boost. It pushed us to define our internal processes including setting up e-governance,” says Shrikar Pardeshi, municipal commissioner of Pimpri-Chinchwad.

All Indian cities face waterlogging due to badly planned drainage systems
(BW Archive)

For Pardeshi and municipal officials like him planning and building cities is more about retrofitting gallis and unplanned tenements rather than starting afresh. Cities like Chandigarh are a rare case. Le Corbusier began building Chandigarh from scratch in 1952 based on a metaphor of a human body. He placed the Capitol Complex at the top as the head, while residential areas were neatly laid out in the inner roads with pre-determined plot sizes. It was modern but ‘un-Indian’. “It did succeed in providing a clean environment… But as a city, Chandigarh lacks the vitality of most Indian towns and cities, where streets and bazaars are dynamic places of public gathering,” say Sahay Shrey, Siddhartha Kandoi and Soumil Srivastava, co-authors of the paper Urban Planning in India.

Transporting People
Edwin Lutyens similarly planned the construction of New Delhi in the 1911-35 period. New Delhi, cut off from the mayhem of Old Delhi, was built with bungalows on tree-shaded radial avenues. While Lutyens Delhi prospered, Old Delhi, devoid of any plans to house the thousands of construction workers that swamped the capital, became a decrepit slum.

This divide ultimately led to Delhi’s modern- day problems too. A non-residential central zone that is completely cut-off from where people live has led to long commutes. The state bus services have proved to be woefully inadequate. This, in turn, encouraged middle-class families to turn to private cars that clog Delhi’s roads.

Low-cost housing is not a priority for town planners
(Tribhuwan Sharma)

So the Delhi Master Plan 2021 lays considerable emphasis on transportation. At the centre of the strategy is the Metro rail that will create nearly 300 km of network in the National Capital Region (NCR) by 2021. Currently, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) operates six lines with a total route length of nearly 190 km, supplemented with the Integrated Rail and Bus Transit along three key rail routes. And finally, the feeder bus system is expected to be ramped up to 14,000 vehicles.

For Mumbai, too, transportation is the key to building a sustainable city. The Metro rail project, which will supplement the city’s creaking rail network, has been divided into three phases, with eight lines covering 140 km by 2021. The first line — the 12-km, Rs 2,400-crore Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar corridor — is nearing completion but has been delayed due to funding and right-of-way issues. It is now expected to be launched in March 2013. The other seven lines have not yet got off the drawing board.

While Mumbai is struggling with its first Metro line, densely populated cities abroad have built robust underground rail systems. Berlin’s U- and S-Bahn extend over 475 km, London’s Underground over 408 km and New York’s Subway, 390 km. The big debate among planners, however, is: whether the Metro is the right answer? Former DMRC chief E. Sreedharan estimates that India has already committed about Rs 80,000 crore and will be investing a total of Rs 200,000 crore in developing Metro systems in the country over the next 10 years. Besides Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai, Metro rail projects are planned in Pune, Lucknow, Kanpur, Ahmedabad, Ludhiana, Kochi, Indore and Chandigarh. But Sreedharan acknowledged that these projects are highly capital intensive. Raising funds is difficult; and subsidising project and running cost is essential.

Trivandrum, for instance, has been juggling with various models for over a decade now. First was a 45-km monorail system; then came the Rs 5,600-crore Metro rail proposal. Both these schemes have remained on paper.

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A better alternative for the mid-metros, say planners, is the Bus Rapid Transport System (BRTS) that provides dedicated bus lanes. The innovation was born in Bogota, Colombia, in 2001, as the TransMileno System and has been replicated by more than 30 cities worldwide. Ahmedabad launched the BRTS in 2009, funded by the municipal corporation, the state government and the JNNURM. The BRTS network has gradually ramped up from 12.5 km and 18 buses to 45 km with 83 buses ferrying 135,000 passengers every day at an average speed of 27 kmph. When completed, the total project cost of Rs 1,000 crore, serving the 456 km sprawl of Ahmedabad, is but a fraction of what a Metro rail system will cost the city.

Now Vadodara wants to adopt the BRTS. The city is developing a Rs 600-crore transport plan to serve the inner city with 52 km of dedicated bus lanes covering 14 focal points. Similarly, the Indore Development Authority is not only developing a 11.5 km pilot rapid bus system at a cost of Rs 135 crore, but is also investing in setting up 20 parking lots near BRTS stations.

Where Will They Live?
But in providing shelter to people, urban India is fighting a losing battle. The 2001 Census showed that 23.5 per cent of the population of 1,743 cities lived in slums. Mumbai is perhaps the worst off with 54 per cent living in slums and another 20 per cent in dilapidated tenements. Faridabad, Meerut and Aligarh have about 45 per cent of the people stuffed in shanty towns.

Significantly, urban income poverty has declined from 49 per cent in 1973-74 to 25.7 per cent in 2004-05. But the level of ‘shelter poverty’ — a term used by the government’s High Power Committee on Urban Infrastructure — has been steadily worsening. Heavily distorted land markets, lack of affordable housing, and builders’ lobbies controlling the housing industry has spelled misery for the poor.

Every city has its mass housing and poverty alleviation programme, but Bhopal is a study on how not to do a slum rehabilitation project. Of the 542 slum clusters in Bhopal, 162 have not been mapped. Of the Rs 2,153-crore JNNURM funds allotted for city development, only Rs 386 crore has been earmarked for slum development. The worst off are the far-flung slum rehabilitation locations — Kala Paani, Sankhedi, Kalkheda and Akbarpur. These are outside city limits, thus providing no access to livelihood.

A LIFELINE: The Metro will have a 300-km network in NCR by 2021, connecting Gurgaon (above), Faridabad, Noida and Ghaziabad with Delhi
(BW Pic By Sanjay Sakaria)

The problem exists because mass, low-cost housing does not take precedence in town planning. Mumbai’s slum population of 54 per cent occupies only 8 per cent of the land mass. Bodies such as the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and MHADA in Mumbai were set up with the mandate to offer low-cost housing. But without land and political will, these bodies have become irrelevant. In a market where builders do not find high enough margins in low-cost housing, the government will have to take recourse to increasing affordable housing stock.

Mountains Of Money
To resuscitate crumbling cities and to build infrastructure for new, expanding urban sprawls, gargantuan investments are required. The High Power Committee on Urban Infrastructure, whose report has been accepted by the central government, has projected a mind-boggling Rs 31 lakh crore of investment for the 20-year period from 2012 to 2031, for eight sectors of urban infrastructure. Urban services such as water supply, sewerage and waste management account for 26 per cent of the money needed or Rs 8 lakh crore. The lion’s share of 56 per cent or Rs 17 lakh crore is for constructing and rebuilding urban roads. 

Where will all the money come from? Municipal corporations and urban local bodies in India are perhaps the worst governed in the world. They generate little revenue and are dependent on handouts from state governments. Experts do not go beyond proposing revenue-sharing arrangements with central and state governments. If the buck stops here, there will be no ‘city-states’ as envisioned by Delhi CM Dikshit.

The World Bank’s Ahmed says the answer lies in cities making themselves credit worthy. If a city has steady sources of revenue to service its loans, and an administration that is answerable and transparent, lending agencies would line up to fund their projects. Pimpri-Chinchwad, with two national highways passing through it, generates Rs 1,200 crore annually, 75 per cent of the municipal budget, from octroi. Says Ahmedabad’s deputy municipal commissioner (Projects), Dilip Mahajan: “Ahmedabad was the first to be credit-rated in 1998; that helped us raise Rs 356 crore in four tranches.”

That is the way to go. Healthy revenue generation combined with a steady stream of debt funding to finance city building. Otherwise, the tomes written on building urban India will at best remain pretty wish lists.

Also Read: Shaken & Stirred

With inputs from Yashodhara Dasgupta

gurbir(dot)singh (at)abp (dot)in

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 20-08-2012)