The world is witnessing urbanisation at an unprecedented pace and scale today, setting off several challenges to policymakers and planners. The challenges are on several fronts — social, demographic, environmental and economic — to redesign and develop burgeoning cities into vibrant, environment-friendly urban areas that provide access to resources and basic amenities to all citizens on an equitable and sustainable basis.
Therefore, the need of the hour is to implement the “New Urban Agenda” by pursuing appropriate policies and addressing the challenges in terms of physical spaces and other issues for urban, peri-urban and rural areas at all levels — international, national and local.
Equity is an issue of social justice which ensures access to citizens in the public sphere, even while meeting the goals of sustainable development. And there is every need to have an institutional arrangement. Sustainable urbanisation means sustainable development by putting in place the right policies, providing urban-rural linkages and inter-linking social, economic and environmental dimensions to make societies more prosperous and inclusive.
As I stated earlier, unprecedented urbanisation is taking place today. It can’t be reversed even if one wishes to do so. By the middle of this century, four out of every five people will be living in cities and towns. Urbanisation and development are inter-linked as urbanisation is the driving force for growth and development. In 1976, 37.9 per cent of the world’s population was living in towns and cities. This increased to 45 per cent in 1996 and 54.4 per cent in 2016. In India too, the pace of urbanisation has increased in recent years.
Let us now look into some basic details relating to cities and towns. While cities and towns occupy only 2 per cent of the total land, they contribute 70 per cent of the GDP — they are the main engines and drivers of growth. However, this galloping urbanisation is also throwing up several challenges. For instance, cities and towns consume 60 per cent of global energy and contribute 70 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.
The enormity of the challenge shows that urbanisation cannot be allowed to continue in a business-as-usual manner and it requires a massive global effort to ensure sustainable human settlements.
There is a need for a plan of action to achieve such sustainable human settlements. It should ensure adequate shelter, water, energy, sanitation and solid waste management, along with other elements.
The “New Urban Agenda” emphasises the need to focus on these challenges. What we require is sustainable action and that’s why the United Nations formed the UN-Habitat.
The need for the UN-Habitat was discussed in the UN General Assembly in 1978 to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns — these well-planned cities and human settlements will require housing, infrastructure, education and employment facilities and would also provide access to basic services like water and sanitation.
The UN-Habitat is a global advocacy platform and is mandated to provide policy and operational support for governments and cities in identifying reforms and adopting laws that regulate urbanisation. It seeks to promote best practices and urban governance models that are equitable, gender-responsive and socially inclusive. It also provides policy support relating to planning and design of basic services, slum upgradation, the rehabilitation of displaced people and capacity-building of urban bodies.
The Governing Council (GC) of UN-Habitat is composed of 58 members, who are elected by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) for a term of four years. The GC is an inter-governmental decision-making body of the UN-Habitat. It consists of five regional groupings — Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and Caribbean States and Western Europe and other States.
The Habitat-III conference held in Quito, Ecuador, last year adopted the New Urban Agenda. This year at Nairobi, Kenya, where I was elected as president of the UN-Habitat, the theme of the conference was “Opportunities for effective implementation of the New Urban Agenda”.
Simultaneously, India was also elected as chair of the Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Housing and Urban Development, which is an inter-governmental mechanism to collaborate and cooperate in the fields of housing and urban development. The other members are Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Iran, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Jordan and Nauru.
There are five basic reasons why people are moving to cities — education, employment, entertainment, economic opportunities and enhanced medical facilities. It is also a reality that agriculture is more mechanised now than in the past and is becoming less remunerative. For agriculturists, the terms of trade are no longer conducive to continue with their age-old occupation. The vagaries of the monsoon, unfavourable market conditions, exploitation by middlemen, a lack of opportunities for value addition of agro-based products are among the factors that are rendering agriculture unremunerative. Since urban areas are becoming the centres of development, and also contributing towards poverty reduction, people are choosing urban areas for better living.
The challenges of urbanisation include a lack of prior and proper planning, the ineffective functioning of civic bodies and the paucity of resources for urban local bodies. In a bid to address these shortcomings, the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments were passed to devolve more powers and the three “Fs” — funds, functions and functionaries. However, this is not happening effectively. Similar conditions prevail in many other countries.
In my presidential address at the GC meeting in Nairobi, I had emphasised the need to empower local bodies globally through devolution of the three Fs. Also, urban local bodies need to raise resources on their own through innovative planning and policies and provide better facilities and services to people through transparent and accountable governance.
In other words, there is a need for a paradigm shift in urban governance.
The Modi-led NDA government has been moving in that direction for the last three years. Its flagship schemes like the Smart Cities, AMRUT, Housing for All, HRIDAY and Swachh Bharat are aimed at not only addressing various deficits to provide better urban governance, but also seek to make Indian cities and towns throbbing hubs of growth and sustainable development.
A series of reforms through incentives and disincentives have been put in place to achieve these goals. Incentives for universal housing, giving infrastructure status to affordable housing, allowing FDI and providing income tax exemption are among the important measures taken. In a historic declaration, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced a reduction in interest — 6.5 per cent subvention for economically weaker sections, 4 per cent for low-income groups and 3 per cent for middle-income groups — because housing is the basic requirement for any sustainable development and a major component of inclusive development.
Also, the government is promoting innovative measures like waste-to-energy, waste-to-compost and the reuse of construction and demolition waste as part of sustainable urbanisation.
Unless there is proper planning and various deficits relating to infrastructure, housing, slum upgradation, employment, education and health in urban areas are addressed on a war footing through public and private
participation, there will be utter chaos and cities will become uninhabitable. The NDA government will leave no stone unturned in converting our urban settlements and cities into inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable centres of innovation and prosperity.
As part of the determined effort to make cities sustainable and liveable, the ministries of Urban Development and Housing and Poverty Alleviation have so far approved an investment of over Rs 4 lakh crore for improving urban infrastructure under the new urban missions. This includes Rs 1.38 lakh crore under Smart City Plans for 60 cities, Rs 0.78 lakh crore under AMRUT, Rs 0.68 lakh crore under the Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban), Rs 0.45 lakh crore under new metro projects and Rs 1.04 lakh crore for building affordable houses under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban).
Following the 14th Finance Commission’s recommendations, over Rs 87,000 crore is being directly provided to city governments, as against only Rs 27,000 crore under the 13th Finance Commission.