Development of infrastructure, affordable public transport, slums redevelopment, true devolution of powers and responsibilities to civic bodies is imperative

Urbanisation or rapid movement of people towards the cities/towns was once thought to be a western phenomenon. Yet, it happened within no time in our country at a scale and pace not matched by any other country except China.

Urban population which was 30 per cent of our population or 30 crore is become 40 per cent or 40 crore by 2030 – doubled and twice the population of the United States today. By 2031, there will be 139 cities in the country with eight of them having population of 10 million or more and six cities anywhere between four million to 10 million.

It is, therefore, a challenge as well as an opportunity to rebuild India and rejuvenate the Indian economy. There is a tremendous potential for our cities to become global hubs of economic activity as 70 per cent of the new employment opportunities will come from urban areas. Eighty-five per cent of the tax revenues will come from the urban economy to finance the nation’s development. Fact also is that in the present scenario of 30 per cent population in urban areas has the cities bursting at its seams with creaking infrastructure.

Ten crore people or one-third live in slums, only 30 per cent of urban households are connected to the public sewerage system, 2/3rds of the urban poor households have no access to toilets, 40 per cent have no piped water facility, health issues, etc.

With low income or even affordable housing remaining a pipe dream, there is massive shortage of housing in these sectors leading to thriving of illegal or unplanned dwellings, encroachments on storm water drains, lack of integration between land use and town planning and so on.

With urban sprawl increasing, poor road conditions, absence of reliable, efficient and good quality public transport there is increasing usage of private vehicles and subsequent high pollution levels. There is inequity in using road space with 80 per cent of the space occupied by less than five per cent of population using four-wheelers.

In this scenario, what are the solutions? Development of planned and inclusive cities, development of infrastructure, good quality and affordable public transport, slums redevelopment, low cost training with incentives, true devolution of powers and responsibilities to the municipal bodies as per the 74 amendment is imperative. Many of our cities will be bigger than several countries but what is needed is city governments with directly elected Mayor controlled urban local bodies so that there is scope for local capacity building to usher in transparency. Allowing densification with adequate lung spaces, building model townships with good facilities and controlling spatial spread of the cities are a way out.

The Planning Commission and agencies like Mckinsey have projected the urban infrastructure investment needed to be as much one trillion dollars in the next 20 years. Investing in infrastructure will directly benefit the poor, generating employment, investments besides providing better living conditions

With citizens’ involvement and mass awakening towards responsibilities, responsible political process and enlightened leadership, we can do it, or we will miss a golden opportunity.

(Writer is Managing Director of Hyderabad Metro Rail Limited (HMR) and the report is part of his speech ‘Urbanisation & Living Conditions’ delivered during the ‘Visalandhra’ Telugu daily’s Diamond Jubilee Celebrations recently).