Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Urbanisation Trend in India and its Policy Challenges

Photo Source: Ace Geography
Global evidence, especially from developed nations, indicates that industrialisation and urbanisation accompany each other (Bairoch 1988). It was expected that the 1991 liberalization reforms, by paving way for greater industrialization, would trigger urbanisation in India just like the 1980 reforms did in China. However, India’s urbanisation post liberalization has been termed as below normally ‘expected’. This could partly be attributed to the rise of high-tech and specialised industries in metropolitan cities that were labour-light as against the expected growth of labour intensive manufacturing sector.

However, post 2001 India witnessed greater private investment in areas such as industries, information technology, services sector and infrastructure. This has been reflected in rising share in non-agricultural industries in the GDP since 2001. The increased investment largely flowed into urban areas and triggered the much delayed urbanization phenomenon. This has added 90 million people to India’s urban areas in 2011 over last decade. (Census 2011, 2001 report). A McKinsey Report (2010) on India’s urbanisation prospects  projects that during the period 2010-2030, urban India will create 70 percent of all new jobs in India. The labour-intensive manufacturing, construction, and services are further expected to drive greater migration to India’s urban areas as per various projections (HPEC Report). Population estimates show that another 55 million will be added to India’s urban areas by 2021 and another 100 million by 2026. At this pace, India’s urban population will exceed its rural population by 2045.

These statistics highlight that India is at a critical juncture where its traditionally rural characteristic, best captured by Gandhi’s observation “true India lies in its seven lakh villages”, is set to undergo a historic transformation. This rapid urbanisation couldn’t have come at a more crucial time. With 69 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people expected to be between the ages of 15 and 65 by 2035, India needs to create enough productive employment opportunities to reap the benefits of this demographic windfall. World over, urban areas tend to be invariably more productive due to economies of agglomerations. In line with this trend, McKinsey’s report not only estimated that Urban India will create 70 percent of all new jobs but also that these jobs would be twice as productive when compared to rural employment opportunities. With urbanization poised to play a crucial role in India’s growth it is imperative that policy makers and urban planners embrace this phenomenon by gearing policies towards accommodating and facilitating this transformation with proper social protection and due rights to its people.
Contemporary Challenges
India so far fares poorly in most of the elements of a successful urban development strategy including land use, affordable housing, transportation, access to basic services like water and sanitation and social security. The following sub-section delve into policy distortions that are hindering economic and spatial transformation in India.
Urban Housing

Restrictive land use policy and high property prices have given rise to ‘shelter poverty’ in the form of slum and pavement dwellers. One estimate (World Bank Report)) suggests that 25 percent of urban population in India resides in slums and the figure escalates to a staggering 54 percent for Greater Mumbai. As cities expand, policymakers need to develop an inclusive urban design which provides low income housing to economically weaker sections (EWS) of society. Related to this is the problem of rigid land use policy. Floor Space Index (FSI) limits in India have historically been set way below international standards thus hindering urban densification and making the process of urban expansion expensive. In actual practise low FSI restrictions also encourage illegal construction. Thus current land use policies fail to reflect market realities and socio-economic demands.

Easy mobility and an efficient transport system are essential for successful urbanisation. From 1951 to 2004, road network had expanded only 8 times while vehicle numbers have increased by 100 times. Thus limited road carrying capacity has increased journey times in India’s mega cities by more than 30 percent compared to smaller cities (World Bank 2013). Further, public transportation which is the only form of mobility for the poor accounts for a mere 22 percent of the urban transport system; a figure much below the average 40 - 50 percent observed in other middle income countries (World Bank 2013). Public transportation in Indian cities is also one of the most unaffordable in the world with Mumbai’s cost being twice of London and five times that of New York.

To make cities liveable it is essential that they be clean and have reliable water supply. In Indian cities, it is a common sight to see slum dwellers stand in long queues to fill buckets of water whenever there is intermittent water supply; this involves an economic trade-off between going to work and accessing an essential necessity like water which the poor cannot afford. Further, poor waste water management leads to an annual expenditure of nearly $15 billion to treat water-borne diseases (CII and CEEW 2010).
Urban areas by their very nature of large population and high density are susceptible to adverse effects of poor sanitary conditions. According to the HPEC report nearly 50 million people in urban India are forced to defecate in the open due to a combination of poor sewerage network, shortage of public toilets and lack of running water in toilets. Further, there are spatial disparities in access to services such as drainage and sewerage which tend to worsen as one moves towards the suburbs and as the size of the city reduces.
The 74th Constitutional Amendment Act of 1992 led to decentralization of powers through the constitution of urban local bodies (ULBs) as ‘institutions of self-government’. This was aimed at strengthening urban service delivery. However, in practice, this decentralization has not progressed as envisaged. ULBs are plagued by partial devolution of power, inadequate finances and limited capacity.
The Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) of 2005 which was supposed to be a game changer for pan India urban development has failed to implement many infrastructure projects because of abysmal capacity of personnel at local government level in preparing and implementing projects (Planning Commission). Also, funds released under JNNURM show insignificant correlation to poverty levels in a city in addition to a bias towards big cities (Kundu and Samanta, 2012).

Safety and Security
     Cities that attract economic power and foster growth also spawn crime, violence & and an overall sense of insecurity. Today’s cities face a wide spectrum of threats ranging from terrorism to rising crime rates, civil unrests, shootings, natural disasters and other emergencies. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the rate of incidences of crime (cognizable offenses under IPC) has seen a major upward trend. Foremost among these is rape, the number of incidences of which has risen by 873% since 1953. It is followed by kidnapping and abduction (749%) and murder (250%). The impetus for urban growth will depend much upon India’s ability to sustain its homeland security.
To prove well prepared against these threats there is growing demand for cities to be equipped with new and emerging technologies that can ensure safe and secure cities. Security experts propose that government strategies need to move beyond enhancing its defence preparedness against crimes and acts of terror to provide integrated public security infrastructure solutions which should include real time visual, audio and location-based information.

 Strengthening Policy Making Processes and Outcome

Remarkably, India has not updated its definition of “urban” in 50 years leading to a downward bias on India’s urban statistics. Therefore even though some areas might display urban features, the stringent definition of “urban” would exclude these settlements from urban statistics, hindering the integration of fast expanding peri-urban areas through good urban planning (World Bank 2011). Further, the data pool on housing is characterised by poor timeliness, coverage and inaccuracy; this has serious implications for making effective policies and fund disbursement.

Indian cities and towns lack basic amenities and services because the paradigm of urban planning in India has mostly focused on providing investment and infrastructure without adequately addressing concerns of governance and service delivery. The institution of urban governance is compromised by multiplicity of agencies, fragmented and often overlapping authority without adequate coordination and lack of accountability. Undoubtedly, urban governance needs major policy reforms.

As urban population is likely to increase by at least 250 million by 2030, it is expected that the number of urban poor will rise too (Planning Commission). Modern planning has failed to include the concerns of the poor who provide much needed unskilled and semi-skilled services to support skill based activity and capital. The process of urban planning must be inclusive and cater to housing and transport needs of the poor and not just be a technical and dehumanized exercise in urban design. Such an exercise must reflect the voice of all the affected stakeholders in an urban setting.

Twenty first century India is increasingly marked by inequality, political unrest and environmental degradation. Considering contemporary challenges the objective of Indian urban policy must be redefined to help cities steer towards economically, socially, politically and environmentally sustainable and not just be limited to mere provision of public services and infrastructure.

The process of framing urban policy in India so far has adapted a top down approach despite laws contrary to that. It does not have a mechanism to involve the voice of stakeholders in its formulation. In addition to this democratic-deficit, India’s approach towards urban policy is characterised by a failure to make use of sound statistical and scientific evidence. These factors combined with less than robust implementation mechanisms and weak accountability structures have resulted in nearly a complete breakdown in the functioning of Indian cities. Reforming and strengthening the foundation of urban policy making process will foster formulation of comprehensive urban policies capable of nurturing inclusive progress.

In its ‘Approach to the 12th five year plan’ the Planning Commission of India said, “it took nearly forty years (1978 to 2008) for India’s urban population to rise by 230 million. It could take only half the time to add the next 250 million. If not well managed, this inevitable increase in India’s urban population will lead to an implosion of urban infrastructural systems”. Undoubtedly, this is a challenge that cannot be ignored at policy level.
Karishma Mutreja

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