EDITORIAL

The urban agenda

Posted on December 3, 2010 | View 301

Go beyond renewal.

December 3 marks the fifth anniversary of the launch of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, a scheme that gave an identified list of large or otherwise significant towns pots of money on the condition that they would carry out governance reform.

 

This has been reasonably successful.

 

However, a scheme for urban renewal does not quite capture the urban challenge that India faces.

 

India's 9% a year growth is driven primarily by industry and services, which grow only in an urban environment.

 

Historically, a population shift from country to town has been a hallmark of evolution towards industrial and post-industrial societies.

 

India would not be an exception to the general historical experience.

 

What this means is that in about less than a couple of decades, something like 20 crore people will shift from villages to towns.

 

They cannot be accommodated in the existing towns, already crowded beyond the limits of their creaking capacity.

 

At an average population density of 12,000 per sq km, that would mean demand for additional urban land to the tune of 16,700 sq km.

 

This is probably a conservative estimate.

 

India still has no policy to build towns on a large scale.

 

A special economic zone (SEZ) is the closest to a new town policy has planned for, and its size is capped at 50 sq km.

 

The Singur fiasco revealed the difficulty in releasing land to build a town even one-tenth as large.

 

Town planning to minimise commutes and energy consumption, to promote social integration and effective policing and to guarantee efficient, eco-friendly mobility, complemented by urban governance that would make such planning work in practice these are yet to find articulation.

 

All this calls for ideation and planning, not finance or committees on mobilising finance for infrastructure.

 

Releasing land, planning multi-modal connectivity and creating a financial market that would absorb municipal bonds on the scale required and a political culture that would allow municipalities to raise user charges and local taxes to service their borrowings are essential prerequisites that lie outside the purview of the urban development ministry.

 

Will someone please take charge of the needed coordination?

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