India´s Growth Story will have to be written on the canvas of planned urbanisation, writes Dr Sudhir Krishna.
Cities matter to India. Smart cities, even more. Almost one-third of the population of the country lives in cities and towns and the trend of urbanisation is sure to continue to rise. Over 60 per cent of the wealth of the country comes from urban areas. Urban India is creating more jobs than ever before and over 70 per cent of the new jobs in the coming 20 years are expected to be in the urban regions. However, being a reluctant urbaniser, India is at the crossroads today, to decide on the focus that it needs to give to urbanisation. Looking at the history of nations, the answer to this dilemma should be clear. During the 1940s & 1950s, many countries saw their social, economic and political rebirth, either following the devastation caused by the World Wars or after throwing away the yoke of foreign or dynastic rule of centuries. These include China, Germany, Japan, the Koreas, Malaysia, the Philippines, Russia, and many more from Europe and other continents, besides India. Over the last six-seven decades, all these countries have seen considerable social and economic progress and it would be worthwhile comparing the progress achieved by these countries vis-a-vis India.
While we are justifiably proud of the democratic system of governance, in economic terms, a deeper soul-searching is called for, to evaluate the policies that we have pursued so far, and the results. We do read that the Indian rupee equalled the US dollar in 1947. We do note not only the massive decline in the value of the rupee, which should be a summary indicative of several issues, but we also note the levels of urbanisation achieved in various countries. It is quite apparent that the countries that have reached much higher levels of growth and development have also urbanised faster. Within our own country, a correlation analysis of the level of urbanisation and the various indicators of social and economic development among the States, such as the per capita income, the IMR, the literacy rate, etc., would indicate that urbanisation has a high correlation, as strong as 0.7 to 0.8, in respect of per capita income, and similar in respect of other growth and development indicators.
However, the concept of planned urbanisation did not get attention for almost six decades of the post-Independence era. We continued to focus on rural development, to the point of neglect of the cities, with the fond hope of reversing the trend of urbanisation. The outcome was a decelerated and unguided urbanisation. Inadequate urban migration also led to fragmentation of agricultural holdings, which got reduced from three hectares in 1971 to the level of one hectare in 2011. Marginalisation of farm holdings led to economic debilitation of the peasantry. Hundreds of farmers are reportedly committing suicide every year while most others escaped ultimate penury owing often to the survival dose of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). But they could not prosper either.
Inadequate attention brought in huge deficiencies in the availability of basic infrastructure in the cities. As per Census 2011, only 70.6 per cent of urban households have access to tap water, while the remaining 29.4 per cent have to manage with unprotected water from wells, ponds, streams or hand pumps. While 92.7 per cent of urban households have access to electricity, the quality of the supply remains way behind the requirement in terms of both quality and quantity. Almost every urban household is forced to own an inverter or diesel generator, to cope with the frequent outages. Only 77.5 per cent urban households have proper bathrooms with a roof and only 81.8 per cent have access to drainage and of these, just about 60 per cent have access to closed drainage.
On the urban housing front, the shortage is assessed to be of the order 19 million units. However, we need also to take note of the 11 million housing units that are vacant. The challenge is not merely building new housing units, but, and more significantly, of identifying the causes for large number of housing units, both old and new, remaining unoccupied. Most new properties have come up in areas that are hardly equipped with core infrastructure like water supply and sewerage and also lack transport connectivity. The Rent Laws also discourage many house owners from letting out their surplus dwelling units and investing in the upkeep. Census 2011 also reports that as many as 30.5 per cent of the urban housing units are in dilapidated condition. Slum dwellers account for 17.4 per cent of the urban population, which is only about a percentage point less than the situation obtaining in 2001, which speaks volumes about the efforts put in through various programmes for weaker section housing. Thousands of houses constructed for the slum dwellers across the country have remained either unoccupied by the allottees who prefer to remain in more centrally located slum. Resolution of these issues would facilitate achievement of the Mission ´Housing for All by 2022´.
We need to raise investment in the cities, which continue to receive the influx of population, as should have been the natural trend, and also focus on strengthening the system of urban governance. Happily, the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) was introduced in 2005, with a modest investment from the Central government of the order of Rs 10,000 crore per year, and concomitant share of the State governments and the Local Bodies. Though this amount was far less than the requirement, it proved to be a great success in most cities. The JNNURM focussed not only on creation of infrastructure, but also on governance reforms. In many ways, the JNNURM itself was an innovation in supporting planned urbanisation. The period also saw setting up of the Metro rail and bus based public transport systems. The results have been very encouraging. For instance, the JNNURM cities faced less severe scarcity of drinking water and showed better sewage management. Many cities saw public bus systems for the first time,which helped improve the quality of life of the citizen. Women, youth and the poor have benefited significantly from the public transport systems in the cities.
But the unfinished agenda is large. We need to invest over Rs 40 lakh crore in urban infrastructure, to make cities adequately liveable and achieve their potential of being engines of growth. We also need to develop good land use plans for the cities and the percities, provide to them efficient transport solutions with adequate first and last mile connectivity, and other basic infrastructure. We need to have cleaner, smarter and resilient cities. However, if we depend only on budgetary support for generating the resources of that order, it would take decades to achieve the objective. And cities cannot wait that long. In fact, they should not. Each town is as important as the other. All cities & towns need to march ahead together, with no significant phase lag.
We need to look for innovative and sustainable solutions for equipping the cities with the required infrastructure. For instance, we need to treat solid and liquid waste as a resource, and generate value from the same. ´Zero landfill´ is the call of the time, for disposal of city waste, which has the potential of paying for itself in the ´Waste to Wealth´ mode. For fresh water supply, metering coupled with transparent user charges would enable cities to go in for 24x7 supplies in a sustainable framework. All such options are in the realm of reality and would enable the cities develop and maintain the required infrastructure speedily. Most importantly, the City governments would need to be strengthened, both in terms of legal authority as well as staffing. We need to accept that ´India´s Growth Story will have to be written on the canvas of planned urbanisation´. However, planned urbanisation will also need to focus on effectiveness, efficiency, inclusiveness, equity and sustainability of growth. The efforts made by various States, cities and communities within India and in other comparable situations, and their outcome, need to be brought to the discussion table across the country, to enable delineating the appropriate practices and policies that would help the Central, State and Local govern¡ments achieve these objectives sooner than later.