The cure for urban policy paralysis is coming soon!

India, after China, has the second largest urban population in the world and its cities contribute over 55% to national GDP. Yet, in the last 72 years of post-independence era, the nation remained stuck to the maxim that its soul resides in its villages. Policy makers had put the requirements of a strong and robust urban policy regime on the backburner until the beginning of this year. The government of India is coming out with a National Urban Policy. An analytical report to understand the requirements of cities and expectations from the proposed policy framework…

India has remained an agrarian society for long but the future is apparently looking different. Since more people stayed in villages, just 3 out of 10 people were living in cities for quite long,the focus of Indian polity remained onrural development in the last 70 years.
The situation is rapidly changing and the present cities are almost full to the brim and facing extreme stress on their resources and services. It is expected that by 2030, the population in Indian cities will rise upto 600 million. In the times cities are failing on many fronts including climate resilience, it is imperative for the government to revisit its urban policy regime and make requisite amendments to suit the present demands of the cities. The present government is planning to come up with such a framework—National Urban Policy. But before we discuss the issue in detail, it is important to understand what have policymakers done for cities in independent India? What can we learn from our erstwhile initiatives?

Post-independence urbanisation
One of the few post-independence antecedents for incorporating urban infrastructure, policy and governance is the large-scale planning and development of the new capital city of Chandigarh during the 1950s and 1960s. The city was considered a dream city of India’s first Prime Minister Pt Jawahar Lal Nehru and was planned by the famous French architect Le Corbusier. The city gained the tag of the first planned city of India.
In following years, India like many other countries of the world followed the five-year planning model of development. The first two five-year plans of Government of India did not have much for cities and some state governments that had big cities were taking steps to improve the functioning of their cities but all of them were doing things in silos. There was no common link connecting them.

The third five-year plan (1961-66) was a turning point for planned urban planning in India as itstressed on town and cities in balanced regional planning. Other important milestones of urbanisation in post-independent India include the formation of Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) in 1974, passing of Urban Land Ceiling Act during the fifth five-year plan period in 1976, and a government mandate to develop small and medium-size towns during the sixth five-year plan. The eighth five-year plan had development scheme for megacities including Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Hyderabad. During the same period, the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act (CAA) was passed that is still waiting to be implemented in letter and spirit and most corporations are crying for more administrative and financial powers. In between, some states also took initiatives to improve their cities. In Calcutta now Kolkata, metro service was introduced and it took almost twenty years to reach another city that was Delhi. The pace of development in cities has been sluggish to this extent.

National Commission on Urbanisation
In the 21st century, JnNURM could be one of the first transformative initiatives of the Government of India for changing the face of its cities but a few other initiatives were taken in the late eighties after it was realized that cities’ population is growing faster than their rural counterparts. In 1986, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi constituted the National Commission on Urbanisation. Charles Correa and Dr MN Buch were appointed its Chairman and Vice Chairman respectively. Other members of the Commission included BG Fernandez, Kirti Shah, Cyrus Guzder, Ashish Bose, Nilay Chaudhary, Xerxes Desai, VK Pathak, Amit Sen and Naresh Nared was appointed as Member Secretary. The Commission had a mix of architects, planners, industrialists, economists, environmental engineering experts and administrators. The Commission submitted its final report to the PMO in August 1988. But the report turned out to be of no use, not because it was not laid down well but it was submitted and was left to gather dust since then.

MS Buch in one of his write-ups recently wrote: “In fact, the Census of India tells us that between 1901 and 2011 the total population of India grew five-fold, whereas the urban population increased seventeen times. However, in these 110 years, the urban population as a proportion of the total population grew three-fold.” He explains the role of the Commission saying: “decaying urban infrastructure, defective planning, administrative inefficiencies and inadequate resource mobilisation and allocation are all part of the urban malaise. Therefore, it was decided by the government to set up a Commission to examine the whole gamut of urbanisation and facilitate the formulation of policy which could set matters right.”

In the first volume of its report, the National Urban Commission observed that the urban situation in India was one of deep crisis and called for measures analogous to those used “when a house is on fire, or there is a city-wide epidemic”. The Commission formed a view, which can best beillustrated by a quotation from the same volume of the Commission’s report “Having examined the crucial issues (from resource mobilization and land supply policies to water and shelter for the poor) this Commission has identified … viable programmes … We must acknowledge the positive aspects of cities and the opportunities which they represent. Urbanisation is a necessary concomitant of the development path we have chosen”.

Interestingly, the Commission that was made for providing a roadmap for cities suggested that ‘development and reform must be carried out with the greatest urgency within rural India’ to solve the problems of cities in India. In addition to this, Commission strongly suggested an active urbanisation policy for building a prosperous economy. The Commission was of the view that “Instead of remaining isolated centres of economic activity, with weak linkages with the rural hinterland, the cities must become vibrant.”

In 1986, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi constituted the National Commission on Urbanisation. Charles Correa and Dr MN Buch were appointed its Chairman and Vice Chairman respectively. Other members of the Commission included BG Fernandez, Kirti Shah, Cyrus Guzder, Ashish Bose, Nilay Chaudhary, Xerxes Desai, VK Pathak, Amit Sen and Naresh Nared was appointed as Member Secretary. The Commission had a mix of architects, planners, industrialists, economists, environmental engineering experts and administrators. The Commission submitted its final report to the PMO in August 1988. But the report turned out to be of no use, not because it was not laid down well but it was submitted and was left to gather dust since then.

Tracking urban reforms
The present government has taken a slew of measures for transforming urban spaces with its initiatives such as Smart Cities Mission, Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY), Swachh Bharat Abhiyan among others. Earlier governments too have initiated some major urban reforms some here and few there but none of them brought desired results; as envisioned while formulating the policy. The major one among the failed ones was Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM) that was launched in 2005 by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The objective was to improve the quality of life and infrastructure in cities but even after the Mission was over in 2014. There was no uniform yardstick on which its success could be measured effectively. However, many scholars and critics have appreciated the reforms under this Mission and they believe it laid down the foundation for institutional and infrastructure reforms in cities while some critics believed that it promoted centralization of urban governance, weakened role of urban local bodies especially of elected representatives, affected public participation in planning of cities’ projects, and induced inter-city and intracity inequalities in planning. The Mission almost did nothing to improve the financial condition of urban local bodies as most of the funds for the programs under the Mission was coming from the Central and State governments.

The Mission was launched for a period of seven years (2005-2012) but later it was extended for two more years, and around 50,000 cr was committed by the government which was also raised to 66,000 cr. As per the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs reports, the Mission strived to create economically productive, efficient, equitable, and responsive cities by integrated development of infrastructure services; securing linkages between asset creation and maintenance for long-run project sustainability; accelerating the flow of investment into urban infrastructure services; planned development of cities and universalisation of urban services so as to ensure availability for the urban poor.
David Sadoway of Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Canada writes about his understanding of the JnNURM in Economic and Political Weekly. The article’JnNURM as a Window on Urban Governance’that was co-authored by Govind Gopakumar of Concordia University Montreal, Vinay Baindur and Madhav G Badami of McGill University, says: “The JNNURM’s aspirations were belied by its realities of progressive centralization, degraded local capacities, commercially-oriented infrastructure development, and intercity and intra-city inequalities.”

The article also talks about the role played by the consultancies and the limited or almost non-existent role of public participation. The article adds: “At the level of policy formulation, the numerous procedures associated with executing the JNNURM also became fertile ground for consultancy work. The introduction of policies, guidelines, or evaluations—driven by consultants—created important entry points for them to insert themselves again into managerial or other influential roles… Many consultant-authored CDPs were practically identical, despite the wide variation in the socio-economic, cultural, and geographical attributes of Indian cities; and often, their technology recommendations were similarly unsuited to the context. According to one informant, the consultants “should at least be congratulated that they didn’t mix up the names of the cities on the different CDPs”.”

The dependency of cities on the third party ‘consultants’, many of which were ‘foreign’ and had no or little understanding of the cities made plans of the cities and those were faraway from the ground realities. This also took away an opportunity from the municipal officials to learn the intricacies of the subject and get involved in the process and contribute to sustainable development in the long run. Under the Mission, the instructions and directives were coming from the top and corporations were asked to implement. This was corrected in the program launched by the present government and capacity building of municipal officials and elected representatives were features one of the key components. In a way, JnNURM taught what would not work for cities.

Under JnNURM, many consultant-authored City Development Plans were practically identical, despite the wide variation in the socio-economic, cultural, and geographical attributes of Indian cities; and often, their technology recommendations were similarly unsuited to the context. According to one informant, the consultants “should at least be congratulated that they didn’t mix up the names of the cities on the different CDPs”
Economic and Political Weekly

National Urban Policy
Cities in India are in a chaotic mess. And, one of the reasons is that they grew without having any policy guiding them towards a specific idea of development. Slums mushroomed when the huge movement of people started happening and the housing facilities were neither available nor affordable to them. Mumbai is a fine example of this kind of development as 55 per cent of the city’s population still lives in slums. Every city in India has been facing the issue of affordable housing which could not be solved yet.
It is not expected that the upcoming National Urban Policy will find a solution to this and have a feasible solution for cities to get rid of slums, their redevelopment and plans to avoid creation of new slums in upcoming new cities. Another problem that is glaring in the face is of mobility in cities. A city like Bengaluru that became the hub of IT companies is plagued with traffic snarls. Sometimes, if you see on Google Map, the time to reach a destination on foot is say 15 minutes and by car, it’s over an hour.

The most important aspect of creating great cities is making the municipalities stronger. The government must include some provision through which urban local bodies can become self-sufficient financially. It is to be noted that Indian cities spend very less on urban infrastructure in comparison to their counterparts around the globe. According to reports, India spends about $17 per capita annually on urban infrastructure projects, against a global benchmark of $100 and China’s $116.

What is needed in India are not just “smart cities” but also livable and inclusive cities that provide ease of living for its citizens without any discrimination. It is expected that the upcoming policy will address the problems of every urban stakeholder and more important, will chalk out a way through which urban local bodies could promote sustainable development.

 

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