India’s rapidly urbanising population needs space to live in, and providing that space in the form of new cities is easily within reach, provided we change our mindsets. No fresh resources are needed other than what is available within India’s Plan budget. But in order to see those resources, we should desire what Harry Potter figured out in the Room of Requirement — the object alone, and not how to do it or what can be done with it. It is the desire to control all processes and be the prime mover that renders us unable to see what should otherwise be evident. Let’s see what it would take to create 200 new cities over the next five years. Four cities in the periphery of every large one, only at a distance of, say, 50 km, so that people need not live in Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Chennai or Hyderabad; they can merely commute and still lead a life of dignity and better in quality. It would take an average investment of Rs 2,000 crore per new city, or say Rs 400 crore every year for five years. The total bill comes to about Rs 80,000 crore per year for 200 cities.
How would we acquire the land, given its astronomical costs? You would not acquire any land at all, but merely propose a business model in which every group of landholders able to provide 500 hectares of land would be given 50 per cent equity in the venture that is a new city. The other 50 per cent would belong to the government. That way, the farmer would get a real share of the return on investment and a steady yearly income. Once it is clear to the farmer that the government is not planning to take away his land at rock-bottom prices to gift it to a real estate major for a commission, there would be a queue of farmers lining up, asking the government to develop their spaces into a liveable city. This is the kind of model used by Magarpatta City, a township next to Pune, spread over 430 acres and owned by 120 farmers, each a shareholder in proportion to his landholding. In Magarpatta City, farmers came together on their own and did everything by themselves. With some help from the government, the experiment could be widely replicated. The rub is that there is no agency that would benefit from such a proposition: only the people. Perhaps this is why no one has so far proposed what should be otherwise evident.
The next question is where the Rs 80,000 crore would come from. It would come from two sources. The first is the cost of food security for the nation and the second is the MGNREGA. Far be it from us to suggest that India does not need to feed its hungry or give them employment. It certainly does. continued…