Event ReportsPublished on May 07, 2013
A striking feature of India's urbanisation is the phenomenal size of population of some urban centres. As per Census 2011, there are 53 cities/urban agglomerations in the country that have recorded a population of more than a million. In some of these centres, the population is as high as 18.4 million.
Urbanisation and the need for new settlements

A striking feature of India’s urbanisation is the phenomenal size of population of some urban centres. As per Census 2011, there are 53 cities/urban agglomerations in the country that have recorded a population of more than a million. In some of these centres, the population is as high as 18.4 million.

Almost all these centres are displaying numerous problems of urban development, clearly noticeable from sectors such as housing, transport, infrastructure and services. There could be numerous reasons responsible for the occurrence of such problems including concentration of enormous activities and population within municipal limits, and the inability of city governance institutions to cope with this growth. Many institutions are showing signs of inefficiency in urban management and governance.

The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), initiated in December 2005 to improve living conditions in urban areas and strengthen urban governance, has attended to some urban development problems. However, it is realised that due to weak urban planning and implementation carried out in the past, and the resultant haphazard nature of development, many other problems will continue to exist for a very long time, or would never be resolved.

One of the strategies employed by governments of some countries to ensure balanced urbanisation, reduce population pressure and congestion, and improve living conditions is the creation of new urban centres. In China, for example, the government plans to build 400 new cities by 2020 to house the huge migration. India also has master plans ready for 24 new cities in six States, and isolated examples of new urban development are visible elsewhere.

Considering recent trends in urban development, Observer Research Foundation (ORF) and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) organised a workhop on ’Urbanisation and the Need for New Settlements’ on 7 May 2013. The purpose of holding the workshop was to discuss the manner in which the policy on development of new settlements should be implemented, characteristic features of new cities, and the challenges that are likely to be experienced by the implementing agencies. In this type of planning for urbanisation, huge investments and resources are involved. Furthermore, equity and sustainability aspects have to be suitably addressed. It was thought that the discussions during the workshop would throw light on the precautionary measures to be followed for a judicious utilisation of resources.

This workshop was the second in a series being organised by ORF and GIZ in 2013 on important urban development topics. The initiative’s objective is to promote interaction among key stakeholders in urban development, and produce new and correct knowledge for urban policy making in India and other emerging economies.

The workshop was chaired and moderated by Mr. Harsh Sethi (Consulting Editor, Seminar), and included presentations by Mr. Amitabh Kant (CEO and MD of Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation) and Dr. Geeta Kochhar (Assistant Professor in the Centre for Chinese and South East Asian Studies at JNU). The session was followed by comments and remarks by the distinguished panel of experts including Dr. M. Ramachandran (Former Secretary, Ministry of Urban Development) and Dr. Kulwant Singh (Regional Advisor, UN-HABITAT). Thereafter, the floor was opened for discussion on presentations and the workshop theme. Towards the end, concluding remarks were given by Ms. Regina Dube, Head, GIZ Sustainable Urban Habitat Programme.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Harsh Sethi mentioned that people who seek to shape Indian public opinion should be responsive to not only the concerns of the industry or growth, but also to the living conditions of citizens. He expressed concern over the new developments in Gurgaon and said that while the focus has been on the establishment of high rise residential apartments, malls, BPO centres, etc., many basic necessities such as garbage disposal, public transportation and sewerage are lying in an utter state of neglect. It was suggested that in the planning for new settlements, important lessons could be learned from older urbanising places in Asia as to how these have addressed the challenges of urbanisation, what kind of response mechanisms have been set up.

Mr. Amitabh Kant gave a presentation on recent development projects being planned and implemented in India. It was mentioned that the country has just embarked on the process of urbanisation. By 2050, about 700 million persons will live in urban areas and it will be necessary to cater to their requirements. Therefore, a decision must be taken on "whether we want to do unplanned urbanisation or we want to do good planned scientific urbanisation". The pre-requisites for planned urbanisation, according to Mr. Kant are: (i) cities must develop on the back of public transportation; (ii) new urbanisation should ensure that workers housing is adjacent to public transport systems; (iii) city administration should be able to recycle every single drop of water and waste.

The experience of Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) Development Project was shared. The project provides for construction of a dedicated freight corridor between Delhi and Mumbai to ease movement of goods. Presently, it takes several days for goods to reach JNPT port in Navi Mumbai as the existing highways on which the lorries travel are often choked. Therefore, once the work on the dedicated corridor will be complete by 2017, goods will reach the western coast within 12 hrs. The corridor passes through six Indian States which account for 43% of India’s GDP, and it was mentioned that this offers a unique opportunity to build new smart cities along the corridor using advanced technologies, and on the back of transit-oriented development.

The work on the development of seven nodes along the DMIC, as well as the challenges experienced in project implementation were also explained. Some development initiatives include provision for transit and walkability, hierarchy of arterial and other roads, community participation in town planning, logistics hub, economic corridor, knowledge city, industrial park, integrated water resource management planning, gas-based power plants, smart city initiatives, desalination plant, model solar project, logistics data bank, gas engine power supply, skill development, etc. For successful accomplishment of development goals, the following suggestions were given:

  •    It is necessary to enhance the capabilities of town planners, as difficulties are often faced in getting plans notified from 30 departments and in convincing town planners.
  •   To convince the State governments, there is a need to ring fence the Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) and to house the planning, development and municipal functions in that one SPV.
  •   Through the SPVs, India must be able to monetise land values; monetisation must be captured in that city; the upsides of the land values rising must be captured by the city and land must be de-politicised.
  •   It is not possible for India to develop a city on a PPP format. The government must first create the backbone (land improvement, road works, solid waste, etc.) of a city; the balance 55-60 % of the project can then be undertaken on a PPP basis.
  •   It is necessary to ensure long term lending of 18-20 years at reasonable rates for successful implementation of large scale infrastructure projects.
  •   Infrastructure should be able to last for the next 40-50 years and therefore detailed engineering and bringing in some of the best companies in the world to execute projects is very critical; this necessitates that Indian government must be able to analyse, examine and select bidders on the basis of not L1, but on the basis of life cycle cost of technology.

In the second presentation, Dr. Geeta Kochhar explained the changing urbanisation approach in China. A constant increase in urban population and its concentration mainly in the eastern coastal region have aggravated regional development imbalances and led to huge income and consumption disparities, she said. To correct such imbalances, the basis of the previous urban policy was to promote and evenly distribute medium cities to serve as "growth poles", and develop small cities and towns to stimulate rural economic development. This led to the creation of nearly 20,000 small cities and towns in the last 30 years. These policies were implemented with the system of household registration (hukou) in place that controlled and checked migration.

The analysis revealed that since growth did not trickle down to surrounding areas very effectively due to bottlenecks in infrastructure, management, finance and communication, China’s urbanisation strategy shifted from encouraging the development of medium-size and small cities to encouraging the development of large cities/urban agglomerations (UAs) and ensuring that these possess strong regional functions. Dr. Kochhar further described the establishment of a strategic urbanisation structure with UAs as its core and other urbanised areas and cities as the important components of a balanced urban hierarchy.

Some of the directions which India has taken as far as urbanisation is concerned were explained by Dr. M. Ramachandran. It was emphasised that the country so far does not have a well defined strategy for urbanisation, due to which numerous problems have started cropping up. To explain this point, several examples were given. For instance, sometimes the issue of census towns comes up; or other initiatives are undertaken, such as the DMIC corridor, development of new cities (Lavasa, Noida). It was suggested that constitution of the second National Commission on Urbanisation would help in taking note of the priorities.

The case of two Indian States, namely Kerala and Karnataka, was discussed, where some attention has been given to formulation of an urbanisation strategy. In Kerala, the State has proposed three types of urban areas - urban clusters or urban corridors, isolated higher order urban areas, and small urban areas; as well as three zones within an urban area - core urban, intermediary urban and peri-urban. While in Karnataka, the strategy states that development of urban areas should fit within a larger vision for the State, and should be based on an understanding of the specific trends to be developed for different cities and regions of the State.

Dr. Ramachandran gave a reference to the Twelfth Five Year Plan which states that a strategic densification as a planning strategy should be pursued to accommodate future urbanisation needs; new cities may be planned to nurture emerging growth nodes in the urban landscape. To this, it was added that the success of new cities is dependent on factors like their proximity to as well as connectivity linkages with an existing city. The history of city and sub-city development in India was also discussed to explain the planning processes followed and the emerging issues. Examples included Chandigarh, Gandhi Nagar, Noida and Greater Noida, Lavasa, Naya Raipur, GIFT, Dwarka in Delhi, Rajahat in Kolkata, Gomti Nagar in Lucknow, etc. In conclusion, the following suggestions were given:

  •   India needs new townships along with development and expansion strategies for existing towns.
  •   A broad land use policy at the State level would be desirable considering the uncontrolled manner in which agricultural land is disappearing.
  •   New townships cannot exist in isolation and their linkage with the neighbouring existing towns must be properly planned, and particularly with the larger metropolitan areas.
  •   Policy makers and planners must review the lessons so far of developing new townships.

Dr. Kulwant Singh described the historicity of urbanisation and the constraints of urbanisation models adopted during the last two centuries. With respect to the twentieth century model of modern city development, it was stated that the focus has been on zoning and specialised uses, low density and creation of large open spaces, which eventually led to a complete loss of the grammar of urban planning, loss of cultural identity and urban values, similarities of forms everywhere, high consumption of energy, very high mobility demand, socially segregated city, inequality in growth and growing unhappiness about the city. But at the same time, new concepts of urban planning, open spaces and the creative city are emerging in various parts of the world, it was submitted.

Dr. Singh suggested that any new urban agenda should include sustainable urban planning and design with optimal density, do away with the concept of zonal planning and go for mixed land use planning; and that a coordinated approach to urban growth is required at the national level.

The workshop proceedings ended with concluding remarks by Ms. Regina Dube who shared her opinion on measures needed to achieve the goal of sustainable urbanisation. Among other things, it was mentioned that efforts must be made towards development of appropriate urban planning and development skills among educated young Indians.

Nearly fifty persons representing different organisations participated in the workshop. Some of the issues that came up for discussion include land acquisition and compensation, housing requirement and affordability, skill development, enforcement of plans, green development, low carbon indicators, unorganised sector, PPP, land administration, e-waste disposal, etc.

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

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.