The new BJP government, consistent with its election manifesto statements, has outlined an urban agenda to make cities “symbols of efficiency, speed and scale.” To achieve this, it plans to prioritise housing and public transport, build 100 new cities, use technology to improve urban services, and make development sustainable. The government has also ambitiously declared that everyone would own a house by 2020. Some of these proposals seek to take forward ideas introduced by the previous Congress-led government, while a few others significantly depart from the earlier ones. For instance, policies meant to make cities slum-free and infuse investment in infrastructure were in place even earlier. Certain schemes extended home loans, provided interest subsidies, and improved land tenure to the poor, but these did not substantially reduce the housing deficit. About 95 per cent of the 18.78 million-unit housing shortage still affects the lower income groups. The question is: will this government succeed where the previous one failed? The proposal to reduce interest rates on home loans, and rope in private companies to invest in housing as part of corporate social responsibility requirements, are good initiatives. However, these will not deliver unless the incentives are strictly tied to the actual creation and delivery of affordable housing.
The concept of building new towns to accommodate growing urbanisation has been in vogue since the 1950s, but this time the BJP government has reinvented it and made a new avatar of it. Instead of building new cities in distant places around a single industrial activity, the present proposal is to build them either as a satellite city or a twin city near existing metros in order to ease urban pressure. Would this simple extension of cities fare well when compared with alternatives such as the city-cluster approach followed by China, which also announced a new urbanisation plan recently in March? Building a new city on the periphery of an existing one is a plausible solution but without a regional approach, better distribution of the urban population and the efficient integration of the hinterland will not become possible. A standardised urban growth template also will not work for all situations. The plans have to go beyond a city-centred approach, and comprehensively include larger areas around them. It will help deftly integrate greenfield development with an existing city, enable the networking of small urban centres in the vicinity using rapid transit systems, use land optimally, and protect ecological assets. Urban governance is another major area of concern. The success of the government’s policies will depend on how well they bridge the distance between intention and implementation.