The Prime Minister’s recent announcement of three major urban-oriented schemes is significant as it engages urban leadership in deciding the future course of city development. The schemes—AMRUT (Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation); Smart Cities Mission; and Housing for All (Urban)—are befitting as they aim to address India’s growing urbanization that is currently estimated at 40 per cent. This includes people living in cities or those who depend on cities for their livelihood. The schemes view urbanization as an opportunity and urban centres as growth engines. Industry is also very upbeat on the Rs.3 trillion that will be spent on the three schemes, over the next five years.
What is also significant about this announcement is that it has engendered a sense of competition. Now, the development of a city will not depend on a remotely-located Central government but on local urban leadership. With this, it is the cities that will be able to decide how “smart” they would like to be. The concept of Smart City is of course subjective but the vision that the PM has shared implies that cities will be equipped with the world’s best of urban traits including modern transportation, walk to work, cycling, energy efficiency, etc.
Under the AMRUT scheme that will cover around 500 cities will focus on basic civic infrastructure like tap water and sewerage connections to every urban household. Solid waste management, provision of roads and public transport also form contours of the scheme. Under the Smart Cities mission, each state will shortlist smart city candidates. Proposals will be prepared and forward to the Central government for assistance. A total of 100 smart cities have been envisaged with Uttar Pradesh leading with 13, followed by Tami Nadu with 12 and Maharashtra with 10.
What appears to be most significant about the three schemes is that national development is being viewed from the urban angle. Traditionally, all social welfare schemes were all directed to the rural milieu. Urbanisation happened, more or less, without much planning. The pace of urbanization has far outstripped the rate at which urban infrastructure has developed. Even in a city like Mumbai that accounts for 40 per cent of India’s tax collection, overall civic infrastructure health is incommensurate. Urban population is precariously perched on creaking civic infrastructure. Urban development even in the best of Indian cities is nowhere close to global standards. Though cities have been employment generators for millions of migrants from rural areas, little attention has been paid to urban planning, leave alone physical urban development. In this context, an urban-centric reforms programme fits snugly into India’s development agenda.
Industry experts believe that while intentions are laudable, the path ahead is riddled with challenges. While land acquisition and financing will be a major issue to be dealt with, availability of skilled manpower will be a big challenge. Urban development will need more than a generic labour force. Engineers, town planners, architects, procurement professionals and other skilled practitioners will be needed in ever growing numbers.
India needs cities to meet the challenge of creating approximately 300 million new jobs in next 20 years for children who are already born. This is apart from the estimated 400 million people expected to migrate to cities in the same period. Recognising that urban centers are the country’s growth and employment generation powerhouse, the initiative has come at the right time. India till date ignored urbanization, taking cities for granted under the romantic idea of an ideal village. The biggest challenge would come from mindset change among the bureaucracy, which still centers on rural India.
—Ajit Gulabchand, CMD, Hindustan Construction Company Ltd
To support India’s growing population and provide housing to all, cities and towns need to be sustainable and livable. In this aspect, integrated solutions to create an all-pervasive ‘smartness’ in the fields of transport and mobility, water management, building management and energy efficiency will play a critical role in shaping the Government’s vision.
—Anil Chaudhry, Country President & Managing Director of Schneider Electric India
The goal of building more than 20 million homes for the urban poor will help bridge the demand-supply gap in affordable housing. But the Government should urgently address land acquisition and approval issues, create a single-window clearance system and curb the plethora of taxes on real estate development so that tight deadlines can be adhered to. If these barriers are eliminated, public and private developers could join hands in making the Government’s urban development mission a ground reality.
—David Walker, Managing Director of SARE Homes
While it is necessary to embed the cities with sensors, gadgets and internet that can enable flow of data and information, it is important to give some thought to how these cities can be best designed. To achieve this, we need to invite planners, designers and engineers to the table early on, so all construction parameters can be digitally visualized and manipulated before we go about with the actual construction.
—Sunil MK, Head – AEC/ENI, Autodesk, India & SAARC
Smart cities are a result of intelligently addressing and integrating four core pillars for sustainable urban transformation: Integrated and multimodal mobility, Reliable power, Secure and smart buildings, and Clean environment. We can make better use of existing infrastructure, increase efficiency, reduce operation costs, improve safety and resiliency, as well as reduce environmental burdens. Technology holds the answer to many urban challenges.
—Sunil Mathur, MD & CEO, Siemens Ltd
We applaud the PM’s observation that the private sector has the vision to foresee areas of future growth in urban areas and put up homes there much before the civic agencies can provide infrastructure and that both efforts must smartly be synchronised to see successful urbanization.
—Getamber Anand, President, Confederation of Real Estate Developers’ Association of India – National (CREDAI)
“Urbanization in India has been a victim of systemic inefficiencies and policy paralysis. This has been the biggest weakness of even our largest cities, just as they are the greatest strengths of major global cities. For the initiative to be a success, there should be better cohesion between the various agencies responsible for urban development and planning. Every urban plan will need to have a long-term view only then will economic growth happen.”—Neha Hiranandani, Director, House of Hiranandani.
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