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India needs smart urbanisation

India needs smart urbanisation

Why part of D.N.A.:

Residents of Bhavanpur, a village about 15 km outside Ahmedabad, have been protesting against their inclusion in the city’s urban area by the local urban development authority.

Similar protests have been observed in villages elsewhere in Gujarat. It’s a strange trend, the fruits of urban development seemingly rejected.

Meanwhile, pollution in India’s urban areas seems to have sparked off a reverse migration.


What is smart urbanisation:

A smart city is an urban area that uses different types of electronic data collection sensors to supply information which is used to manage assets and resources efficiently.

This includes data collected from citizens, devices, and assets that is processed and analyzed to monitor and manage traffic and transportation systems, power plants, water supply networks, waste management, law enforcement, information systems, schools, libraries, hospitals, and other community services.

The smart city concept integrates information and communication technology (ICT), and various physical devices connected to the network (the Internet of things or IoT) to optimize the efficiency of city operations and services and connect to citizens.



India’s urbanisation template is clearly ripe for change.


A rising number of Urban Population:

Over 34% of India’s current population lives in urban areas, rising by 3% since 2011. More importantly, while existing large urban agglomerations (those with a population above 50 lakh) have remained mostly constant in number since 2005, smaller clusters have risen significantly (from 34 to 50 clusters with 10-50 lakh population).

By some estimates, India’s urban population could increase to 814 million by 2050. And yet, cities look and feel downtrodden, riven with poverty and poor infrastructure, with little semblance of urban planning.

With an increase in urban population will come rising demands for basic services such as clean water, public transportation, sewage treatment and housing.




Urban Development policy must correct Historical Mistakes:

Our urban policymakers also need to be cognisant of the historical context of our urban development.

  • Our cities have been witnessing to multiple transitions over the last century, with barely any time to recover and adapt — the British creation of three metropolitan port cities, combined with the rollout of the railway network, transformed India’s urban landscape, relegating erstwhile prominent Mughal-era towns such as Surat and Patna into provincial backwaters.
  • The creation of hill stations in northern India and the advent of the plantation economy, along with industrial townships (such as Jamshedpur) transformed trading networks.


Smart Cities Mission: Implementing at a required pace?

Meanwhile, on the ‘Smart City’ front, while over 90 ‘Smart Cities’ have identified 2,864 projects, India lags on implementation, with about 148 projects completed and over 70% still at various stages of preparation.

Finally, there is still an outstanding shortage of over 10 million affordable houses (despite the government taking encouraging steps to incentivise their construction).

The annually recurring instances of floods in Mumbai, dengue in Delhi.

While work continues, admittedly slowly, on the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor project and the bullet train, urban India’s challenges remain manifold.


Governance issues in Urban development:

-         This notification leads to the creation of an urban local government or municipality, classifying the area as a “statutory town”. With such a vague definition, discretionary decisions yield a wide variance in what is considered a town.

The Central government considers a settlement as urban:

  • If it has a urban local government, a minimum population of 5,000;
  • over 75% of its (male) population working in non-agricultural activities; and
  • population density of at least 400 per sq. km
  • it has a urban local government.

However, many States consider such “census towns” as rural, and establish governance through a rural local government or panchayat.

Consider the case of Dabgram, in West Bengal’s Jalpaiguri district, which is classified only as a “census town”, while having a population more than 120,000 and located just 3 km from Siliguri.



Low Levels of Investments at Local level: Poor Capacity Building:

Another issue is the low level of urban infrastructure investment and capacity building. India spends about $17 per capita annually on urban infrastructure projects, against a global benchmark of $100 and China’s $116.


-         Governments have come and gone, announcing a variety of schemes, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission included, but implementation has been mostly inadequate, with exploration of financing options limited as well.

For example, Jaipur and Bengaluru collect only 5-20% of their potential property tax — how can urban local bodies be sustainable without enforcing this? Meanwhile, urban institutions also suffer from a shortage of skilled people.


Towards a new model: New Urbanisation Policy

Perhaps we need a different model of urbanisation. The announcement of a new urbanisation policy that seeks to rebuild Indian cities around clusters of human capital, instead of considering them simply as an agglomeration of land use, is a welcome transition.

We need to empower our cities, with a focus on:

  • land policy reforms,
  • granting urban local bodies, the freedom to raise financing and
  • enforce local land usage norms.

Key areas to have fulfil Smart city mission

  • Socio economic aspect
  • Physical components
  • Institutional mechanism

If these three objectives are woven together and in each other, it is easy to diversify and address number of problems like mobility, development of physical infrastructure, ICT, health, and economy. The main aim of the smart city mission is to ensure better quality of life.


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