The need to re­vamp ur­ban in­fra­struc­ture

Schemes like AMRUT and Smart Cities, which use tech­nol­ogy to im­prove out­comes, can make a world of dif­fer­ence

DNA Sunday (Mumbai) - - OPINI N - ARANYAK SAIKIA

Gand­hiji had once said, “The soul of In­dia lives in its vil­lages.” Seventy years af­ter In­de­pen­dence, it’s still true that more than half of In­di­ans live in vil­lages. As per Cen­sus of 2011, about 31 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion lives in ur­ban cen­tres. How­ever, this rel­a­tively small num­ber masks the rapidly ur­ban­is­ing In­dian pop­u­lace thanks to the strin­gent Cen­sus def­i­ni­tion of what con­sti­tutes ‘ur­ban’. Ac­cord­ing to the Cen­sus, an area can be clas­si­fied as ur­ban if it meets the fol­low­ing three cri­te­ria: it has a pop­u­la­tion of over 5,000, with a den­sity of 400 per­sons per square kilo­me­tre, and at least 75 per cent of its male pop­u­la­tion is en­gaged in non-farm ac­tiv­i­ties. As the Eco­nomic Sur­vey clearly notes, satel­lite data and re­lax­ation of any of these cri­te­ria can sig­nif­i­cantly al­ter the ur­ban pop­u­la­tion in In­dia. For ex­am­ple, if we re­strict the ‘ur­ban’ def­i­ni­tion to in­clude places with 5,000 per­sons or more, at least 47 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion is ur­ban.

At the same time, Cen­sus data and in­de­pen­dent sur­veys re­veal the rapidly grow­ing ru­ral-ur­ban mi­gra­tion in the last decade. This mi­gra­tion, which was and con­tin­ues to be male dom­i­nated, is now wit­ness­ing a rise in the share of women. What this im­plies is that ur­ban­i­sa­tion is likely to be larger and more per­ma­nent than that wit­nessed pre­vi­ously, as male mi­grants usu­ally leave their fam­i­lies in the vil­lages and stay tem­po­rar­ily in the city, while fe­male mi­grants are more likely to bring their fam­i­lies along and set­tle per­ma­nently in the city.

Yet, our cur­rent ur­ban in­fra­struc­ture sim­ply can­not cope with the rapid ur­ban­i­sa­tion. Our pub­lic trans­port is in sham­bles, poor sewage sys­tems lead to raw sewage be­ing dumped into wa­ter bod­ies, garbage dis­posal is in­ad­e­quate and the open-air land­fills are fill­ing up too fast. At the same time, qual­ity and re­li­able power ap­pears to be a dis­tant dream, while er­ratic wa­ter sup­ply forces ur­ban res­i­dents to over-ex­ploit ground­wa­ter.

Even ur­ban lo­cal gov­er­nance is far be­low po­ten­tial. As the Eco­nomic Sur­vey notes, ur­ban lo­cal bod­ies (ULBs) gen­er­ate less than 10 per cent of their re­sources on their own. They are over­whelm­ingly de­pen­dent on state and cen­tral gov­ern­ment funds for the rest. Many of these ULBs also face the prob­lems of low ac­count­abil­ity and trans­parency.

Thus, there is an ur­gent need to im­prove our ur­ban in­fra­struc­ture and re­vamp ur­ban gov­er­nance. This is where schemes like AMRUT and Smart Cities come into play. These schemes fo­cus more on out­comes with greater use of tech­nol­ogy for bet­ter mon­i­tor­ing. At the same time, in­no­va­tive fi­nanc­ing schemes like mu­nic­i­pal bonds and value cap­ture fi­nanc­ing (VCF) have been touted to im­prove ur­ban fi­nance. This also needs to be ac­com­pa­nied by an improve­ment in ur­ban gov­er­nance — in­creas­ing trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity, re­duc­ing para-statal agen­cies and de­vo­lu­tion of more pow­ers un­der the 12th sched­ule of the Con­sti­tu­tion. Fo­cussing on dis­as­ter man­age­ment is the key to mak­ing cities re­silient, while steps need to be taken to make cities more in­clu­sive and ac­ces­si­ble for women, SC/STs and dif­fer­ently abled.

At the same time, to stem the flow of ru­ral-ur­ban mi­grants, ru­ral in­fra­struc­ture needs to be im­proved. The SP Mukher­jee RURBAN Mis­sion aims to pro­vide ur­ban ameni­ties in ru­ral ar­eas (PURA). This mis­sion can help to make ru­ral ar­eas more pro­duc­tive, es­pe­cially in non-farm ac­tiv­i­ties.

The au­thor is a re­search scholar

at Delhi School of Eco­nomics

—FILE PHOTO

Our cur­rent ur­ban in­fra­struc­ture can­not cope with rapid ur­ban­iza­tion

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