India Today - - UPFRONT - AMITABH KANT Amitabh Kant is CEO and MD of the Delhi-Mum­bai In­dus­trial Cor­ri­dor Project

This is an ur­ban century. UN fore­casts es­ti­mate that by 2030, more than 70 per cent of the world pop­u­la­tion will be liv­ing in ur­ban ar­eas. His­tor­i­cally, ur­ban­i­sa­tion has pro­pelled the growth of na­tional economies. Al­most 75 per cent of the global eco­nomic pro­duc­tion takes place in cities and it has lifted vast seg­ments above the poverty line. How­ever, ur­ban­i­sa­tion is ac­com­pa­nied by an un­prece­dented con­sump­tion of nat­u­ral re­sources. In re­al­ity, cities ac­count for just 3 per cent of land sur­face, house 50 per cent of hu­man pop­u­la­tion, con­sume 75 per cent of re­sources but are re­spon­si­ble for two-thirds of en­ergy con­sump­tion and green­house gas emis­sions. If coun­tries such as In­dia were to em­u­late the model of the de­vel­oped world, a re­source base as large as four Planet Earths would be nec­es­sary to sup­port their growth. There is, there­fore, an im­per­a­tive need for a far more in­no­va­tive and sus­tain­able ur­ban­i­sa­tion.

Re­cent stud­ies have high­lighted that In­dia will face an un­prece­dented scale of ur­ban­i­sa­tion with 350 mil­lion people mov­ing to cities by 2030 and 700 mil­lion by 2050. Dur­ing the last decade, In­dia’s ur­ban pop­u­la­tion has in­creased by 32 per cent or 91 mil­lion people. The short­age of ur­ban in­fra­struc­ture has reached crit­i­cal lev­els with se­vere short­age of wa­ter, san­i­ta­tion and pub­lic trans­porta­tion fa­cil­i­ties. De­spite clear trends that In­dia is con­fronted by an un­prece­dented scale of ur­ban­i­sa­tion, its an­nual per capita ex­pen­di­ture on ur­ban in­fra­struc­ture is ex­tremely mea­gre— a mere $17 as com­pared to China’s $116 and UK’s $391. Govern­ment al­lo­cates its ur­ban cit­i­zens one-sixth of the per capita spend­ing al­lo­cated for ru­ral spend­ing. Our spend­ing on ur­ban poor is one-tenth of the ru­ral poor.

The process of ur­ban­i­sa­tion is hap­pen­ing when In­dia is pass­ing through a win­dow of de­mo­graphic tran­si­tion. The age­ing of pop­u­la­tion in the US and Europe as well as the pop­u­la­tion get­ting younger in In­dia is one of the most salient so­cial and eco­nomic de­mo­graphic phe­nomenons. These are rev­o­lu­tion­ary changes which bring huge so­cial up­heavals. A re­port by the Na­tional Coun­cil of Ap­plied Eco­nomic Re­search has shown that in­come ac­cru­ing to the mid­dle class in In­dia will rise to 47 per cent in 2025-26. The po­lit­i­cal con­stituency will shift dra­mat­i­cally and In­dia’s po­lit­i­cal de­bate will shift from caste to in­fra­struc­ture, roads, met­ros and tran­sit cor­ri­dors.

In­dia’s key chal­lenge is to cre­ate jobs for its young pop­u­la­tion. The man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor will have to play a crit­i­cal role and its share in In­dia’s GDP must rise sharply from a mere 16 per cent to 25 per cent. A log­i­cal con­se­quence of this will be the process of ur­ban­i­sa­tion and the shift of those dis­guis­edly em­ployed in agri­cul­ture to man­u­fac­tur­ing. Since In­dia is in an early phase of ur­ban growth, it pre­sents an op­por­tu­nity to di­rect its fu­ture tra­jec­tory. Only through planned sus­tain­able ur­ban­i­sa­tion can In­dia man­age the chal­lenges of poverty re­duc­tion, eco­nomic growth, en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity and cli­mate change. Its hitherto anti-ur­ban bias can be turned into an ad­van­tage. Korea did this when it trans­formed from a poor agrar­ian econ­omy to one of the world’s leading economies—its ur­ban pop­u­la­tion has in­creased four­fold from 21 per cent in 1950 to 81 per cent to­day.

There are some unique mod­els of in­no­va­tions in ur­ban sus­tain­abil­ity. They pro­vide a learn­ing les­son to In­dia as it em­barks on a process of rapid ur­ban­i­sa­tion. Sin­ga­pore is a great ex­am­ple of wa­ter re­source man­age­ment. Be­cause wa­ter is ex­tremely scarce, rain­wa­ter is ef­fi­ciently stored in reser­voirs. All waste wa­ter is col­lected and the city has a sep­a­rate drainage sys­tem for it. Waste wa­ter and drainage wa­ter are both re­cy­cled and put into the city’s wa­ter sup­ply. With sev­eral wa­ter tar­iff rates, Sin­ga­pore has suc­cess­fully man­aged to lower ac­tual wa­ter de­mand while both its pop­u­la­tion and GDP have grown sig­nif­i­cantly. Many lessons re­volve around pub­lic trans­port as the mode of trans­port for the city. Bo­gota built 400 km of bi­cy­cle paths used to­day by 350,000 cy­clists. Cu­ritiba’s well-de­signed bus sys­tem serves most of the ur­ban area, has re­duced traf­fic con­ges­tion, fuel con­sump­tion and im­proved air qual­ity. Yoko­hama has re­duced waste by 38.7 per cent de­spite sub­stan­tial ad­di­tion in pop­u­la­tion. This re­duc­tion can be at­trib­uted to the city’s suc­cess in rais­ing pub­lic aware­ness of en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues and the ac­tive par­tic­i­pa­tion of cit­i­zens.

To­day, dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy can en­able us to cre­ate in­tel­li­gent and smart cities in­te­grat­ing pub­lic util­i­ties across sec­tors. Since land, gas and wa­ter will be ex­tremely scarce, we need to cre­ate cities which are com­pact, dense as well as ver­ti­cal and evolve along mass tran­sit cor­ri­dors with ef­fi­cient wa­ter and waste re­cy­cling sys­tems.

As In­dia continues to ur­banise, it will face se­vere chal­lenges. Em­brac­ing it in a planned, sus­tain­able and smart man­ner can have a dra­matic im­pact on the qual­ity of life of the ex­pected 700 mil­lion ur­ban cit­i­zens. In­dian cities can be the cat­a­lyst of in­vest­ment, growth and job-cre­ation.

By 2030, In­dia will face an un­prece­dented scale

of ur­ban­i­sa­tion with 350 mil­lion mov­ing to cities.

Il­lus­tra­tion by SAU­RABH SINGH

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