Moving to the city

India has been a reluctant urbaniser in the past. Through a series of programmes and legislation, the NDA government is moving towards planned and inclusive urbanisation.

Written by Hardeep S Puri , Jagan Shah | Published: March 15, 2018 12:05 am
urbanisation, smart city, Modi government, amrut, housing for all, swachh bharat, Narendra Modi, modi govt schemes, Smart Cities Mission, indian express The Smart Cities Mission brings a fundamentally different outlook to urban planning, management and finance. (Illustration: C R Sasikumar)

It is reflective of the times we are living in that the enormity and complexity of the development challenges faced by India — especially when viewed as opportunities for transformation — appear to be overlooked in the political discourse, which tends toward over-simplification and, often, misdirection. The Narendra Modi government’s ambitious and almost audacious interventions for planned urbanisation, are a case in point.

By 2030, 600 million Indians, or 40 per cent of the country’s population, would be residing in urban areas. If this urbanisation is to happen in a planned manner, we will need to build 700 to 900 million square meters of properly designed residential and commercial space in urban areas every year from now to 2030. It is imperative that the country moves from being a “reluctant urbaniser” to one that embraces urbanisation as a transformative force that can deliver an improved quality of life for all its citizens.

Since 2014, the government has been implementing a number of innovative policies and initiatives in the urban sector. From re-imagining the basic design of a city to ensuring that all citizens have their own home; from transparent citizen-government interface to delivering basic infrastructure and services; from providing corruption-free governance to ensuring the best use of public funds; from revitalising heritage areas to redeveloping business districts — the Union government has exponentially raised the profile of urban development in the country.

Three flagship missions have been at the forefront of the urban transformation. First, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan or Clean India Mission, the objective of which is 100 per cent open-defecation-free India and 100 per cent solid waste management. While launching this mission on October 2, 2014, the prime minister announced that these objectives would be met by Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary: October 2, 2019. In order to ensure that we do not lose perspective, it is important to recall the Mahatma’s observations in 1916: Swachhata is more important than political freedom. In his remarks at the Banaras Hindu University, he challenged the nation: “If even our temples are not models of roominess and cleanliness, what can our self-government be?”

Swacch Bharat will be achieved through a multi-level, multi-stakeholder model, where the Union government works in close partnership with state governments as well as civil society and the private sector. While a key objective of the Mission is to build adequate sanitation infrastructure, at its core it is about a behavioural change in the mindset of the average Indian. And it is here that the PM’s leadership has made the big difference. It is for the first time that an Indian prime minister has made a subject that was previously considered taboo, the centrepiece of his vision for a resurgent country. Both civil society and the private sector have responded to the PM’s call for action and there is now a growing realisation among Indians that change will only come about when each individual consciously embraces the Gandhian ethic of cleanliness.

The PM Awas Yojana (PMAY) or Housing for All attempts to fulfill a dream common to all Indian citizens: Owning a house of their own. Significantly, the ownership title will be solely or jointly in the name of the woman of the house, a step that has already provided a great fillip to gender empowerment. It is unfortunate that even seven decades after Independence, the dream of owning a home has remained elusive for many. Two key factors prevented Indians from this basic need: Callous urban management led to the creation of slums that were at the mercy of vote-bank politics; and a corrupt builder-politician nexus cheated home-buyers of their money.

Those who move to urban centres in search of livelihoods, access to services and a better quality of life, often end up in poorly constructed slum dwellings due to lack of funds and distorted real estate prices. Under the PMAY, the government is committed to building affordable homes for this entire section of society, allowing them to live a life of dignity. By categorising housing as “infrastructure”, lowering rates under GST and providing credit-linked subsidies, the government has mobilised the real estate industry to supply housing for low-income and economically weaker sections. The process of in-situ development of slums allows the residents to retain their links with jobs, schools and medical facilities and protects them from the displacement caused by eviction.

The impact of the Housing for All mission has been further enhanced through the Real Estate Regulatory Act (RERA), which targets the rampant malpractices and breach of trust in the real estate sector, infamous for cheating honest home buyers of their hard-earned money. Along with the Bankruptcy Code, and the amendment Section 29A therein, RERA moves the country one step closer to a New India that is corruption free and inclusive.

The Smart Cities Mission brings a fundamentally different outlook to urban planning, management and finance. Over the past 70 years, the absence of citizen participation coupled with the absence of vision and the lack of spatial, physical and economic planning, was largely responsible for the confounding mess that has defined Indian cities. The Smart Cities Mission looks to address the trust deficit between citizens and their municipal bodies, by ensuring proper delivery of infrastructure and services. It is participatory in nature and citizens define the choices and decisions made by the city. The Mission establishes an integrated approach where all departments of a city’s administration work together to offer holistic solutions by using information and communication technology, by bundling projects that can be executed together in the same area and making best use of the funds available from different sources, public and private.

The salience being accorded to urban development is in recognition of the fact that India cannot achieve double-digit growth and cannot become the world’s third-largest economy worth an estimated $10 trillion by 2030, if its long overdue urbanisation is further delayed. Indian cities must become safe, resilient and sustainable hubs of vibrant economic activity, enabled and regulated by appropriate planning and governance. The measure of our success will be the achievement of the sustainable development goals by 2030 and the delivery of a New India, where every citizen enjoys the “Ease of Living” that they truly deserve after 70 years of Independence.

Puri is Union minister of state, Housing and Urban Affairs and Shah is director, National Institute of Urban Affairs

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  1. S
    Mar 15, 2018 at 7:37 pm
    All such Plans are only Bogus and JUMLA....... after 20 years BJP Government will do this.......... after 40 years BJP will do that. When in 4 years Rule Modi jee could not built a Primary School in India , what people can expect in 40 years........ Who will be alive after 20-40 years.......all Non-sense.
    1. Manmohan Vashist
      Mar 15, 2018 at 5:02 pm
      NDA / BJP / MODI is ALL JUMELY BAAZI. Come 2019 - Face election defeat and walkaway with the stolen loot. India be ed. Congress has done same and BJP is another side of same coin, just as all political partie in India. Indian Politicians take public service as a profession to earn a living. Similarly, retired bureaucrats like Puri, Natwar Singh etc. find employment after retirement in political parties for continued professional earnings. None, I repeat, NONE care for their nation and are not even proud of their country. Sorry, but this is the sordid truth. Compare this with USA - Rex Tillerson, US Secretary of State - retired as head of biggest US Oil company. A man who has millions of Dollars in earning from work, becomes secretary of state to serve his nation because ry is a pittance in government. This is called serving the nation, not full time and life in politics to make a killing.
      1. Narendra M. Apte
        Mar 15, 2018 at 4:58 pm
        1. Planned urbanisation requires that the government should set right priorities and here lies the basic problem. Citizens feel that issues (a) improvement in urban public transport, (b) water supply (c) building of infrastructure that takes care of sanitation, (d) waste management and construction of roads, are not receiving top priority. Instead, the Central government is giving priority to building of ‘Smart Cities’. It is likely that huge funds of Union Urban Development ministry would be spent on project of ‘Smart Cities’ but those funds would be wasted. 2. I wish to say that many metro and cities are today unable to deal with problem of waste. Pune, Bengaluru, Mumbai Kalyan-Dombivli Aurangabad- just to name a few: all these metros or cities are facing urban waste disposal problems. Here, permanent solutions are need to deal with waste problem, but are not being implemented as the bureaucracy and its political masters appear to be least concerned with what citizens want.
        1. Manmohan Vashist
          Mar 15, 2018 at 4:53 pm
          I don't think Mr. Puri has travelled the world and seen as it is. Go to USA or Canada or even Europe. The so-called urbanization has been of creation of small cities that serve villages and farmland all around. India has ed up because we were stupid enough to focus on big cities and forgot that real India is in creation of small cities around farmland and villages with good access to roads , clean water, electricity and small hospitals. I live in Canada and travel all over both Canada and USA. What we see there is all-round development due to good road network and no focus on big cities. That's the answer. NDA or BJP or Congress have never wanted the country to develop as a whole, hence the focus on big cities.
          1. Raman Govindan
            Mar 15, 2018 at 4:12 pm
            there should be very good incentive to move either to cities or stay with farm. that decides!
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