When one is stuck in a car in a chaotic man-made traffic jam in heavy rain, several opinions on how the city should run start pouring out. ‘The footpaths should be removed or their width reduced, since the vendors have rendered them unusable for the pedestrians; another flyover should be made here to remove the bottleneck; all the drainage lines should be re-laid; the traffic police should be more proactive; buses should not ply on these roads; the BRTS track should be removed’…the suggestions continue.
None of such observations is close to the massive problems that unplanned urbanisation faces today. Though India is fast urbanising and its urban population is expected to cross 50 per cent by 2035, we have not been paying the required emphasis to urban planning the way it should be.
Gujarat, with almost 42 per cent urban population, was one of the first states to shift the focus to the urban sector in 2005. From a paltry Rs200 crore budgetary outlay for the urban sector in 2001, it has now crossed Rs7,000 crore. In the central government, the urban sector got its due recognition only with the advent of the JNNURM in 2006.
Cities are prime growth engines and a large contributor to the GDP and the economic growth. But till recently, the urban sector has largely been neglected by the authorities as the focus was largely on the rural sector. Barring the municipal corporations of Gujarat and Maharashtra backed by a strong urban statute, in most other states, the urban areas present a pathetic picture of urban decay and neglect.
In the capital cities of other states, because of the capital status, lot of funds are infused into the city from the states and hence capital cities like Bhopal, Bhubaneswar etc present a relatively better picture than the other urban areas in those states.
In the princely states and British Indian cities prior to independence, there was a semblance of urban planning backed by urban planning and design by reputed urban planners and architects.
Porbandar could boast of RCC roads those days, roads which still exist in excellent shape today! We don’t realise that to ensure quality urban life, we need long-term and short-term planning and land use policies. We then need to have a sound infrastructure planning for drainage, water supply, roads, public transport, etc and we need to implement these in a time-bound manner with all seriousness.
In old cities, large amounts of funds are required to ensure proper operations, maintenance and upgradation of the existing utilities. In old cities like Ahmedabad, drainage trunk lines more than 60 years old need to be decongested— a time-taking and expensive process, but something that needs to be done on priority.
All these would require lot of money that needs to come from the central and the state governments. More important, the urban local bodies need to have their own financial strength based on their own resources, something which most of them are woefully deficient in.
The cities would also need to improve their human resources in order to implement schemes efficiently. Tough, no-nonsense enforcement of civic laws would be equally important to achieve the desired quality in all critical sectors.
Urban management is a tough task, but cannot be neglected at all, if we want to end our cities from turning into urban nightmares.
The author is municipal commissioner of Ahmedabad