Govt’s nudge in urban policy reforms can transform Indian cities

India is yearning to become a 5-trillion dollar economy. All of us know that the dream cannot be fulfilled without making our cities world-class because cities are the biggest contributor to any country’s GDP. The government has to learn from the urban policy reforms in the past and bring new reforms to suit the requirement of the day

Every Indian including the leaders of the nation wants Indian cities to become world-class and propel the nation’s economic growth. Industrialization induced urbanization to provide jobs, business opportunities, infrastructure, amenities, and transport facilities resulting in overall economic development. Many cities have evolved but the population growth has burdened the cities by straining its limited resources and capacity to serve the citizens efficiently. But this want is not supported by the fiscal health of our urban local bodies. Since most of the municipal corporations in India are not financially well-off, there have been initiatives by the government of India to provide funds through grants, loans, etc. for improving civic infrastructure
and services.
According to a report by the World Bank in 2013, India’s metropolitan areas have experienced stagnation because of inadequate investment in infrastructure and poor land management policies that have pushed business out of the urban cores. Large factories, call centers, and other office-based enterprises have been established beyond the municipal boundaries because of building height restrictions within the cities and special economic zones established in the peri-urban areas. This is very much visible even in the national capital Delhi where there is a restriction on building height or cap of three floors (G+3). The National Capital Region has been extending thus resulting in the growth of Gurugram, Noida, Greater Noida, Faridabad, and Ghaziabad. The report underlines that the rapid growth of metropolitan suburbs is a source of serious economic inefficiency because of the congestion and high transport costs (for firms and workers) that result from this extensive form of urban growth.

National Commission on Urbanization

When India gained independence, there were only a few cities in the country. Kolkata, Delhi, Bombay, and Madras were the major ones and they contributed a sizeable chunk to national GDP. The economic trend continued but the quality of facilities in Indian cities remained poor.
The country’s population grew four times between 1947 and 1986; from almost five crores to 20 crores. The growth of the urban population was way faster than the growth in the overall population that grew from 35 crores to 80 crores during the same period. In 1986, then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi formed a National Urbanisation Commission under the chairmanship of noted architect Charles Correa. MN Buch was the vice-chairman of the Commission and Naresh Nared was Member Secretary. Ashish Bose, Nilay Chaudhary, Xerxes Desai, B.G. Fernandez, Cyrus, Guzder, VK Pathak, Amit Sen, and Kirti Shah were the members.
It was observed that the potential of urban centers was not optimally utilized because of the mismanagement of urban services and infrastructure in cities. The main objective of constituting the Commission was to examine the whole gamut of urbanization and facilitate the formulation of policy that could set matters right in our cities.
The Commission submitted its recommendations in 1988. The most striking suggestion was to focus on building national priority and state priority cities based on their economic activities. The report also suggested that the focus should also be given to small and intermediate level towns to lessen the burden on metropolitan cities. The report also recommended that there should be effective land and spatial planning for ensuring necessary facilities for urban necessities. There was also a recommendation on improving the financial condition of urban local bodies by strengthening the taxation base, and allocation of more finances from the planning commission. There were certain other recommendations that were included in the following planning commission reports and other urban initiatives.

10 Sutras of National Urban Policy Framework
1. Cities are clusters of human capital;
2. Cities require a ‘sense of place’;
3. Not static Master Plans but evolving ecosystems;
4. Build for density;
5. Public spaces that encourage social interactions;
6. Multi-modal public transport backbone;
7. Environmental sustainability;
8. Financially self-reliant;
9. Cities require clear unified leadership; and
10. Cities as engines of regional growth

National Urban Policy Framework

The government of India has been relentlessly focusing on urban transformation. There have been several initiatives to address different urban issues by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs with tailored urban initiatives. One of them was formulating National Urban Policy Framework. According to the government, the National Urban Policy Framework (NUPF) outlines an integrated and coherent approach towards the future of urban planning in India. The NUPF is structured along two lines. Firstly, at the NUPF’s core lie ten sutras or philosophical principles (see infographic). Secondly, the ten sutras are applied to ten functional areas of urban space and management. Within each functional area, the status quo and its challenges are analyzed, key priorities formulated, and specific possible action points suggested.
The plan also highlights that urban development is a state subject and has proposed provision for developing state-level urban policies based on the framework. The framework has touched upon almost every important aspect of urban development ranging from spatial planning, transport, urban governance, finance to management of civic services.
Taking a cue from the traditional evolution of cities in India, the NUPF suggests “to integrate it with economic and social and planning as well infrastructure, housing, and transport planning to create dynamic, entrepreneurial and inclusive master plans.” The framework also suggests amending existing city systems by engaging the public. The NUPF suggests public engagement for amending master plans for better city management. For existing master plans, invite applications from the public once in two-years to amend or review them. For new master, plans issue new guidelines based on principles of comprehensive planning and climate considerations. Local Area-based Plans create a framework for enhancing the public spaces, and areas under roads by enabling the redevelopment of the existing built-up environment.
There are several areas where the Framework has suggested corrective changes to bring about positive changes in our cities and improve livability. I am quite hopeful that if cities and states in India can take advantage of the Framework to plan the future of our cities then our cities can become world-class and the nation can address the issue of urban mismanagement sooner than later. For this, the central and state governments would have to come on the same page to use the NUPF effectually.

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