Exploding cities of India are becoming a Nightmare

Cities have been growing from time immemorial across the world. They expand as population grows posing challenges to governments and rulers. Cities and towns, today, are burdened with problems of plenty as well that of shortfalls as they expand meeting the population influx in search of employment and dreams. There is lack of infrastructure as older ones cry for replacement and new ones required to meet needs of growing population.

Health, employment, education, dwellings, potable water, energy including electricity, sanitation, roads, transport and last but definitely not the least insignificant wastage disposal are demanding crying attention of the governments of the states as well as that of the Centre along with that of municipalities. Environmental concerns and climate change add to the woes of planners, policy makers and administration.

Satish Misra

In order to comprehend the magnitude of task before the country at large, we need to have a closer look at the latest census data that gives us an idea of present status and timely steps that are required to avert a nightmare in the future. According to 2011 census of India, there are 53 cities having a population of one million and above including three Mega cities of Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata that have 10 million plus inhabitants.

In total there are 7933 towns having a total population of 377 million that constitutes 31.15 percent of country’s population. There are two categories of towns- Statutory and Census. Statutory towns, according to the criteria of State governments, should have an urban local government while Census towns are those that have a minimum population of 5000 and at least 75 percent of the total population engaged in non-agricultural pursuits to earn their livelihood along with a density of population of at least 400 sq.km.

Population trends and projections point out to the fact that India is expected to experience a greater degree of urbanization in the years to come. Pressure on existing urban areas has been growing because of migration from rural areas to cities and towns resulting in creation of slums.

Since character and, making of human habitations are different and they have a specific identity of their own rooted in their respective culture and ethnicity, there cannot be and should not be a unidimensional approach. Each city or town needs a different treatment for resolving concerns and requirements. While there can be some general rules and guidelines for all human inhabitations, there is an urgent need to have developmental pathway for each city based in the regional and area-specific ethos.

Admittedly, urban problems slipped away from focus for a while but since past three decades, different governments in New Delhi have been seriously engaged to anticipate and address problems faced by urban centers. Housing for all is one of the top priority of governments. Shortage of dwellings is particularly severe in the light of slums that have cropped up due to migration from rural areas to urban centers. Migration has been rapidly growing because people are moving in hopes of leading a better life. Urban housing shortage in the country isestimated tothe tune of 18.78 million during 12th Plan period.

Along with housing, basic human needs of potable water, electricity, transport too have to be fulfilled. Schools, polyclinics, hospitals are equally important. Country’s health care system is increasingly becoming more and more unequal as the governments in the last two decades started encouraging private sector to come in a big way in this sector.

While pressures on the government owned health care system has been mounting up due to lack of new investments by governments at Centre. State and local levels in this vital sector, private hospitals have been catering to affluent sections of society. Similar inequality is growing in the field of education particularly in area of primary and higher secondary education where private schools are being preferred over government run educational centres.

An accompanying problem of urbanization is that of solid waste and its management. According to estimates, across the globe, cities are currently generating 1.3 billion tonnes of solid waste per year or 1.2 kg per individual per day. “This is bound to increase in coming years. In India, some large cities generate 9000 every day. There are off course disparities in waste generation between cities and among the lower and higher income groups within a city. But while the quantity of waste generated in Indian cities is much less compared to other global cities, its mismanagement creates a large number of problems”, says Dr. Rumi Aijaz in a study titled “India’s Urbanization Experience” adding that it “needs to be completely, safely and economically disposed of”. Massive investments, both private as well as public, are required to adequately meet the rising demands of creation of infrastructure in these areas. The country has to have a sustained economic growth to have funds.

While the BJP-led NDA government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has brought 98 cities under its ‘Smart Cities Mission’ and work has started to convert these towns into ones equipped with latest technologies to promote better living, yet it not enough to meet the humongous problems.

What makes the government task more complex and difficult is the lack of cooperation from citizens. Tendency to avoid civic taxes and to circumvent basic principles of urban living create further complications. Invariably, people who can afford do not want to pay for civic services. They are not ready to contribute willingly. Poor, marginalized sections and lower income groups forming the majority lack paying capacity. Governments lack political will and often enough take recourse to populist methods.

The mix of all these factors lead to a nightmarish situations in urban agglomerations. Problems are manageable provided people and their leaders rise above partisan considerations and come together. Therefore, there is an urgent need to involve citizens in government policies and their implementation.

Dr. Satish Misra is a Veteran Journalist & Research Associate with Observer Research Foundation.