Event ReportsPublished on Mar 15, 2013
ORF and GIZ, Germany, have jointly initiated an Urban Workshop Series 2013 to facilitate interaction among key national and international stakeholders and offer and discuss critical inputs that are urgently needed for effective policy-making in India and other emerging economies.
Urban population: Challenges before policy-makers

India is witnessing a marked change in the size of its urban population. This fact is noted from a review of population data released by the Census Office for the year 2011. The data show that for the first time since independence, the absolute increase in population is more in urban areas than in rural areas. During the decade 2001-11, while the rural population grew by 12 per cent, the urban population grew by as much as 32 per cent. The data further reveal that the growth in rural population has been steadily declining since 1991.

Population projections by the United Nations point out that among all nations in the world, India will experience the largest increase in its urban population over the next four decades. Thus by 2050, there will be an addition of another 497 million persons to India’s existing urban population of 377.1 million.

The movement and concentration of population in urban settlements has thrown up numerous challenges for the Indian policy makers, urban planners and administration agencies, and a wide range of management and governance-related issues have surfaced.

The pressure of population is noteworthy on land, housing, infrastructure and services, and the governing institutions are grappling with the huge demands and aspirations of the citizens.

In order to contribute to and achieve the fundamental goal of ensuring urban equity and sustainability, Observer Research Foundation and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) have jointly initiated an Urban Workshop Series 2013 under the overarching theme -Sustainable Urbanisation Paradigms: Governance, Innovation, Capacity Development.

The initiative’s objective is to facilitate interaction among key national and international stakeholders in urban development, offer and discuss critical inputs that are urgently needed for effective policy-making in India and other emerging economies.

A modest beginning in this direction has been made by ORF and GIZ with the launch of the Series on 15 March 2013 in New Delhi, and the organisation of the first workshop on ’Trends in Urban Population and Policy Issues’. The event saw participation of about 40 persons comprising urban policy makers, planners, professionals, private sector, civil society, and the media.

It was thought appropriate to begin the series by deliberating on the concept of urbanisation in India, as well as the diverse characteristics displayed by the urban population.

Chair for the session, Mr. Harsh Sethi, Consulting Editor of Seminar, mentioned that it is necessary to understand what the notion of the ’urban’ is, and pointed out that there should be a realistic basis for classification of cities and towns.

There is a much larger shared culture, economic and political responses, aspirations with the growth of both transportation and communication technologies, and there is a kind of interconnectivity between what was seen as distinctly urban or distinctly rural, he stated.

It was submitted that cities are not merely melting pots where people can do away with their erstwhile primordial identities and learn to live in closer proximity with people somewhat different from their own, in terms of language, culture, religion, styles. They have to learn how to accommodate. Cities are also areas for much more intense competition and much more potential conflict.

He held the view that South Asia has not quite well understood what it has to do with these large populations, which are younger, mobile, with huge aspirations, and the workshop series will help in having a better sense of the growing and shifting category called the ’urban’.

The Urban Workshop Series was inaugurated by Dr. Saumitra Chaudhury, Member of India’s Planning Commission.

In his inaugural address, Dr. Chaudhury highlighted the plight of small and medium (S&M) towns. It was said that in the 1950s and 1960s India had many towns which were quite inhabitable with decent schools, colleges, hospitals, entertainment. People were not deprived of basic needs. All the amenities that people needed were present. But now there has been a serious decline of such towns, complete dysfunctionality. This was an important reason for people to move to metros where all urban amenities are available. It was submitted that this is a very unfortunate development. Further, Dr. Chaudhury added that only in 10 % of the large cities, urban amenities are of decent order.

Dr. Chaudhury argued for finding ways to provide facilities in urban areas so as make places economically self sustaining. To this end it was stated that India’s urban models of providing facilities are not self sustaining.

Giving the example of drinking water and sewage, it was mentioned that at least the O&M costs in providing services should be borne by user charges, which was not the case in most cities. This results in poor delivery of services. Further, he said that there has been a great degree of reluctance by the State governments to use the available revenue streams (such as property tax) for raising revenue to support ULBs. In municipalities which are in a better state of functionality, property tax has been a major source of revenue. So there is complexity in terms of revenue streams, tax reforms, etc. All of this is required to set up the facilities, he said.

In conclusion, Dr. Chaudhury raised a fundamental question - do we want the same kind of asymmetry between the metros and S&M towns to persistently deepen, or do we want to consciously correct this imbalance and help S&M towns grow faster to support higher populations and higher levels of economic activity. The instrument to achieve this goal is to be made clear, he said. He also stressed the need for using technology, since technological solutions have made dealing with the urban problems easy and rewarding.

The inaugural address was followed by two thematic presentations. Dr. C. Chandramouli, Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India, presented the trends emerging from the Census data.

At the outset it was said that a proper definition of a town has not been formulated. What we have today are statutory towns constituted under a Nagar Palika (Municipality) Act, he clarified. This is the result of a political definition wherein urban settlement characteristics are not appropriately defined and the decision to declare an area as urban has been left entirely to the political executive in the different States of India.

Following this approach, as many as 3,894 settlements (declared as census towns based on census definition), where a high and growing population lives, do not have a statutory status and are thus classified as villages in official records. This has major implications as all such places are not eligible for development aid, like statutory towns. In his view, there has to be a normative basis for defining a town (in terms of the population size, density, work patterns, levels of services or housing stock) rather than a political definition.

Dr. Chandramouli said that the highest number (2,532) has been added to the category of census towns during 2001-11, as compared to statutory towns, urban agglomerations and out growths. The same trend is also observed with respect to the proportion of population living in census towns, which has doubled.

On all-India urban population trends, it was mentioned that the country has experienced a growth in its urban population since 1901. From a base of 8.3 % in 1921, there has been a steady increase and the share of urban population in total population today is about 31.8 %. In absolute numbers, India’s urban population as per Census 2011 stands at 377 million, he said.

State-level analysis of 2011 data presented by Dr. Chandramouli showed a distinct north-south divide, with peninsular parts being more urbanised than the northern and other parts of the country. The analysis further revealed that percentages are above 50 % in very small States (Mizoram, Goa) and UTs (NCT of Delhi, Chandigarh). He also mentioned that Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Maharashtra and Gujarat are likely to cross the 50 % mark in the near future.

Dr. Partha Mukhopadhyay, Senior Research Fellow at Centre for Policy Research, in his presentation discussed how India is urbanising. He described the definition of urban areas adopted in India since 1872, which has broadly remained similar in concept, in that density and economic activity aspects have been ideas that have permeated the notion of a town. There has been some refinement of this definition over time, and since 1961, there has been a three-fold definition (with characteristics like population, density and economic activity used to determine a place as urban), he stated.

Based on an assessment of research conducted on India’s urbanisation by scholars working in various parts of the world, it was highlighted that India may be more urban than it seems due to a lot more connectivity, and more places displaying urban characteristics. In conclusion he said that there is a need to know how services and governance can respond to the changing character of settlements.

The workshop ended with closing remarks given by Ms. Regina Dube, Head, GIZ Sustainable Urban Habitat Programme who shared GIZ experience and challenges of working at the local level in terms of offering support to local bodies for the improvement of basic services, and urged having the right type of instruments to achieve the objective.

(This report is prepared by Dr. Rumi Aijaz, Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation)

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