Piecemeal approach to transport, devoid of integration into a cityâ€™s ecosystem, continues to deter holistic urban growth.
With urban India set to house 600 million people by 2031, urban transport will find itself in a tight jam soonâ€”quite literallyâ€”in our haphazardly growing urban jungles. A High Level Expert Committee has recommended that urban India needs a combination of increased investment, strengthening the framework for governance and financing, and a comprehensive capacity building programme at all levels of government. Urban policymakers and practitioners reflect on the obvious need for integration. But even as the missing link is obvious to analysts, do our ULBs have the empowerment and sophistication to make cities for the future?
A Joint Declaration by Germany and India recÂently envisages promoting discussion, straÂtegies and analysis of integrated urban and regional policies relevant to the development and redeveÂlopment of cities, metropolitan communities and rural areas in a broader framework with coordination of spaÂtial, secÂtoral and temporal aspects; ways to foster the design and development of sustainable communities thrÂough integrated and inter-governmental partnerships in a federal system, with particular attention to transit-oriented development planning and finance; public-private sector investment partnerships, particularly in regard to sustainability; urban land use, including green space planning, temporary greening, brown field rehabÂilitation, as well as the quality of public spaces, urban man-made landscapes and architecture and their role as locational factors.
This recognition and partnership comes not a day too soon. With urban India set to house 600 million people by 2031, urban transport will find itself in a tight jam soonâ€”quite literallyâ€”in our haphazardly growing urban jungles. Last year, a High Level Expert Committee (HPEC) submitted a comprehensive set of recomÂmeÂndations on development of urban infrastructure, partiÂcularly through the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM).
Urban transport has been one of the focal points of JNNURMâ€™s budgets, and yet much more needs to be accomplished in the sector. A main recommendation from the HPEC has been that urban needs require a combination of increased investment, strengthening the framework for governance and financing, and a compreÂhensive capacity building programme at all levels of goÂveÂrnÂment. Empowerment of Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) is also imperative.
A structural change is needed if cities in India must emerge out of the dehumanised chaos they find themÂselves in, and transport infrastructure should play a huge role. The development of Metro Rail and Bus Rapid Transport System (BRTS) in the largest cities is still at best a form of crisis management, although most city authorities would not like to acknowledge it as such lest their best showcase in decades be discounted.
This means that a Metro Rail here and a BRTS there is being touted as a huge achievement, but it will hardly ever solve the problem without proper integration. InvestÂment in piecemeal projects, rather than a holistic programme, is the bane of urban development in India. This has eluded each city because of the administrative structuresâ€”whereby many departments work under a city, while many of them have the authority to simply bypass the cityâ€™s agencies and work directly under a state government.
To enhance the productivity of urban cities and susÂtain 8-9 per cent economic growth, India will need to add 400 km of new subway tracks. For the next 10 years, the government is investing about $45 billion on conÂstructing a strong transport infrastructure in its million-plus cities. Soon, metros will be running in eight more cities, aside from the five currently operational and under construction: Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai.
Yet, and despite many independent analystsâ€™ opiÂnions, the Metro plans are barely integrated into the cityâ€™s overall planning.
Delhiâ€™s Metro Rail is an example. Seamless travel experience remains a thing for the future. Pedestrians continue to stream the streets without recourse to such travel. Bangalore Metro doesnâ€™t seem to hold much more promise either in this respect so far.
The irony is that technology is available for such integration. At present, the focus in urban deveÂlopÂment is more on the mode of deliveryâ€”PPP, of course, as in other infrastructure sectorsâ€”and less on the proÂduct itself.
To see urban transport as merely an element of urban development is already enshrined in the way the Ministry is set up at the Centre: Programmes like JNNURM focus only on specific projects rather than on the city as an integrated programme. The governmentâ€™s vision to embed transport into the overall scheme of a city needs training, communication and effective implementation.