The Story of Urbanisation in Independent India

Indian cities have been neglected by the central government in independent India despite growing their financial strength with each passing year. The formation of the National Commission on Urbanization in 1986, after 40 years of independence, was a beginning to shift policy focus on cities. It was followed by a series of programmes and missions in the next three decades. Seeing the state of Indian cities today, we need to step up our efforts

India is still largely a rural nation with nearly two-thirds of the population living in villages. Indian urban spaces, however, have grown in size and population in the post-independent era but liveability of Indian cities has not improved considerably. Slums, poor infrastructure, and inequitable distribution of civic services are still plaguing the city systems. Four Indian cities, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Bengaluru are among the 30 most populous cities of the world. Two of them, Delhi and Mumbai, are in top 10 at second and seventh position. Five Indian cities, including Chennai in the above list, have a population of over 10 million.
The first census in independent India, in 1951, recorded urban population at 17.3 per cent (6.2 crore). The last census in 2011 tells us that the population has grown to about 31.2 per cent (37.7 crore). The growth in urban population in six decades is almost
six times.
The growth of urban population in India has been top-heavy. If you look at urbanization in different states of India, the concentration of population is in only a few cities of the states. From Assam, Nagaland in North East, West Bengal and Odisha in East, to Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh in South, and Uttar Pradesh and Haryana in North and Gujarat and Maharashtra in West, almost all the states have urban population concentration in just a handful of cities.
However, as per a recent report released by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), three small cities of Kerala have secured a place in the list of the world’s fastest-growing urban areas. According to the report, Malappuram, Kozhikode and Kollam are the only Indian cities enlisted in the top 10 of the world’s fastest-growing cities. Malappuram secured first rank in the world rankings with a 44.1% change between 2015 and 2020, with Kozhikode ranking fourth with 34.5% change and Kollam standing at 10 with 31.1%, in the EIU survey.

The success of JnNURM is still debatable as many experts are of the view that the mission’s outcomes were underwhelming. However, there are certain examples of urban innovations from Indian towns and cities which came into existence from this Mission. The beginning of e-governance system at local level was an excellent outcome that started making life easier for citizens. There were many projects for providing basic civic services and facilities to urban poor including slum rehabilitation programs which brought about change in the lives of marginalized urban citizens. The Mission also improved basic infrastructure in Tier-II and Tier-III cities like bus services and underground sewerage system

What is urban?

In India, a place is termed urban if it meets any of the following criteria: (i) a minimum population of 5,000; (ii) a maximum of 25% of the male working population employed in agriculture, the rest in non-agricultural activities; and (iii) population density of at least 400 per km2. In addition, every place with a corporation, cantonment, municipality or notified town area is also termed urban. The growth in urbanisation has three specific components: (i) natural increase in population; (ii) net rural–urban migration; and (iii) the reclassification of settlements as
urban areas.
The question remains how these cities or towns are governed and planned differently than rural areas? The long-term planning and management of a city is governed by its Master Plan that is made for twenty years. Many urban experts have criticized the practice of not following the Master Plan whole heartedly by development agencies and hence, allowing haphazard urbanisation. Almost every Indian city is victim of this practice. Another criticism of making these plans is not engaging citizens in the process. While there is a procedure to take into account the views and suggestions of citizens through public consultation, it remains elusive in practice.
Another major problem is lack of financial independence of urban local bodies which usually run the cities. The contribution of local governments’ revenue to national GDP is less than one percent while in some European countries this figure touches 20 per cent or more. In the last seven decades, the major failure in urban management has been not being able to make urban local bodies financially independent.

Mega City Programme

After India opened up its economy in 1992, the leadership in the nation knew that cities have to at the forefront of economic growth. The government of India launched the Mega-City Programme in 1993 for Infrastructure Development in five out of six Mega Cities—Bombay, Calcutta, Hyderabad, Bangalore, and Madras. It was part of the eighth five-year plan and was discontinued in the 11th Five-year plan.
The National Commission on Urbanisation formed in 1986 recommended in its report ‘that . . . . . . . . . . Delhi, Calcutta, Bombay and Madras be declared as national cities and that a fund be created and administered through a specialised institution for the development of these cities.” The NCU had recommended Rs. 500 crores for each of the cities which might be allocated during the 7th and 8th Five Year Plans for the purpose of infrastructural development.
The State Governments were to designate one institution as the coordinating and monitoring agency for the entire range of Mega-City Project activities. The following agencies were chosen to be the nodal agencies for the respective cities: Bombay (Now Mumbai): Bombay Metropolitan Region Development Authority (BMRDA), Calcutta (now Kolkata): Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA), Madras: Madras Metropolitan Development Authority (MMDA) Hyderabad: Hyderabad Urban Development Authority (HUDA), Bangalore: Karnataka Urban Infrastructure Development Finance Corporation (KUIDFC).
The Scheme aimed to prepare the local governments to use institutional finance and eventually market instruments like municipal bonds for their capital investment requirements. Of the total project cost, the Government of India and the State Government provided 25% each and the remaining 50% was to be raised from financial institutions by the implementing agencies.
The programme was envisioned to build global metropolises or like making Mumbai into a Shanghai. The project did build some infrastructure in the selected cities but it was not as envisioned while planning so. For example, the Scheme for Mumbai was being implemented in the urban core of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR). The areas covered under the scheme are Brihanmumbai, Navi Mumbai, Thane, Bhiwandi-Nizampur and Kalyan-Dombivali. The MMRDA is the nodal agency as well as one of the implementing agencies of the Scheme. The other implementing agencies were MCGM, MSRDC, BEST, CIDCO, TMC, KDMC, BNMC and NMMC.
Mega-City Scheme Revolving Fund (MCSRF) had been set up in the MMRDA for channelising funds received from central and state governments. The Scheme had been implemented during the 8th, 9th and 10th Five year Plan periods. In all, 65 projects costing Rs. 1777.84 crores including 2 studies costing Rs. 1.62 crores were approved. Most of these projects under the programme included underpass construction, building sports complexes, road bridges, construction of crematorium, etc. but none of these projects changed the way city functions drastically. Similar was the case with other selected cities and it is believed that is why the scheme was discontinued. The scheme was poorly funded as per its objectives desired. The top-down flow of funds for building urban infrastructure is not sustainable that is why the government has thought of new model under Smart Cities Mission where they have been given a certain grant and been encouraged to generate funds for improving their services and infra.
According to the High Powered Expert Committee (HPEC) appointed by the Ministry of Urban Development (now Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs), which gave its recommendations to the Government in the year 2011, there is a requirement of investment in urban infrastructure to the tune of 39.2 lakh crore at 2009-2010 prices over the next 20 years.

There are certain examples of urban innovations from Indian towns and cities which came about in existence from JnNURM. The beginning of e-governance system at local level was an excellent outcome that started making life easier for citizens. There were many projects for providing basic civic services and facilities to urban poor including slum rehabilitation programs which brought about change in the lives of marginalized urban citizens. The mission also improved basic infrastructure in Tier-II and Tier-III cities like bus services and underground sewerage system

JnNURM: Learning from the Mission

In accordance with the observations made in the 11th Five Year Plan about significance of infrastructure and urbanisation for driving India’s growth and prosperity, the Government of India has launched the major urban policy initiative, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). The Mission was a massive city-modernization scheme launched by the Government of India under Ministry of Urban Development. The mission was implemented during 2005-2014. It envisaged a total investment of over $20 billion over seven years initially but later the scheme
was extended.
According to a report published by the London School of Economics, the JnNURM framework contained three strands of policy: developing urban infrastructure and services (including for the urban poor), developing urban governance to support sustainable use of funding and encourage private sector involvement, and decentralization in line with the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act such that Municipalities (Urban Local Bodies or ULBs) constitute a properly empowered institution of local self-government equivalent to gram panchayats in rural areas. The initiative was successful in some of the states like Gujarat and Maharashtra where the state government was able to execute projects for which the grants were available. Many states could not utilize the money on offer.
The success of the mission is still debatable as many experts are of the view that the mission’s outcomes were underwhelming. However, there are certain examples of urban innovations from Indian towns and cities which came into existence from this Mission. The beginning of the e-governance system at local level was an excellent outcome that started making life easier for citizens. There were many projects for providing basic civic services and facilities to urban poor including slum rehabilitation programs which brought about change in the lives of marginalized urban citizens. The Mission also improved basic infrastructure in Tier-II and Tier-III cities like bus services and underground sewerage system.
A key aspect of the JNNURM design was the reform agenda intended to alter state and municipal practices. For example, the requirement for GIS property tax mapping is dependent on computers, trained staff and reliable electricity, not all of which may be present. The capacity building of municipal staff and workforce is still a work in progress.

New Mission to rejuvenate urban spaces

Government of India in the last couple of years has launched various urban missions to improve liveability of cities. Smart Cities Mission is one of the most popular ones.
Other policy initiatives to improve urban functioning include Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), Housing for All, Swachh Bharat Mission, National Urban Livelihood Mission, and Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY). Most of these missions are still being implemented so their impact on urban spaces of India cannot be measured effectively right now.
Urbanists and leaders know that the ongoing urban revolution in India throws a great opportunity for India for economic, social, and ecological transformation and to emerge as a developed country.
India will not just have to improve urban infrastructure and services in its cities but also have to make sure that cities are inclusive, sustainable and ready to provide adequate space to every section of society to prosper
and grow.

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