When it comes to basic areas of citizen requirement, only a small number of cities and towns have so far been able to take stock of where they stand, not to speak of steadily improving the benchmark levels.

Urban governance is assuming new, enterprising forms. During my recent visit to some South Indian cities, it was reported that Chennai's water supply would be augmented with the government's plans for a Rs 330-crore new reservoir. This is good news, as the demand for drinking water has increased to 1,190 million litres a day, whereas Metrowater is able to supply about 800 mld. But it is clear that the city on its own cannot do this and hence the dependence on the State.

Surat is set to generate 24 MW of electricity from 600 tonnes of solid waste generated everyday.

The Karnataka Government has revised the master plan for Mangalore, banning construction of apartments on plots abutting roads less than six metres wide. Through another modification, in the case of non-residential buildings, if parking space is insufficient, the owner can pay the local authority a parking fee for shortage of parking against the requirement. To what extent city residents would participate in this change in approach remains to be seen.

Noting that it takes at least four years to get approval for a proposal, Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation is reported to have decided that proposals of construction projects should be either approved within 90 days of submission, or rejected instantly.

Bhubaneswar residents are likely to get 24x7 water supply (it is not stated in how much time after approval) if the discussions between the city and the International Finance Corporation for a loan succeed. The Delhi Jal board could get a pilot project, envisaging public-private participation, cleared for better water distribution.

While these infrastructure initiatives are welcome, it would be of interest to know what citizens feel about their own cities.

Greater cities

According to an opinion poll by IMRB across the country's eight largest cities, Ahmedabad is the best city to live in, with Pune coming next and Kolkata at last position. Another opinion poll by Outlook-Club Mahindra covering 16 cities found that Jaipur has the largest number of happy and very happy citizens, whereas Ahmedabad comes much lower in the list. The fact that 25 of our cities figure among the 100 fastest growing world cities and urban areas, reminds us of the challenges of such fast growth.

The 2011 census figures show that we have a total of 7,935 cities and towns, of which as many as 3,894 are census towns. These census towns are not essentially notified municipal entities but some of them could have population sizes exceeding that of a notified local body and they continue to be rural.

Many of them could be located next to a big or small municipal entity, but the system of governance and method of delivery of civic services vary even as one crosses the notified municipal boundary. Then the solution is to make such areas also part of an existing or a newly created urban local body.

The recent conversion of the original Bangalore/Hyderabad/Chennai municipal corporations into Greater cities has essentially meant trying to locate more resources to extend basic services, such as water supply, sewage and drainage to the added areas as well. Though cities contribute a substantial part of the country's GDP, tax revenue and employment, there is no conscious policy on a reasonable share of resources being allocated for urban India. No wonder we have cities where slums keep expanding. There is no system of providing housing to the migrants equal to the requirement; even 100 per cent access to drinking water is not ensured, and city transport is a misery in most towns.

Master plans

Master plans are one way to ensure orderly development. But only 1,233 cities have their plans in place and another 687 are under preparation. In the absence of master plans, the town's orderly development gets affected beyond remedy.

In the case of census towns, unauthorised construction, encroachment, congestion and poor environment could become the order of the day, the longer it takes to give them urban local body status. This has to be seen in the background of even the National Capital having one-third of its population living in unauthorised colonies.

The metropolitan planning committees, which could have addressed urban strategy issues for at least the metropolitan areas, have not uniformly come into existence in the country.

Critical issues ignored

Critical issues such as densification, whether to go in for more vertical growth than horizontal expansion lack the required focus in our urban planning. Integration of spatial planning with fiscal planning and developing synergy, among master plans, city development plans, financial operating plan and capital investment plans have not gained priority in our town planning.

It is more than 20 years since the country's first National Commission of Urbanisation was mandated to work on the issue. Since urban development is a State subject, each State should look at its urbanisation strategy carefully.

Karnataka has gone in for an urban development policy. Rajasthan has set up a state commission on urbanisation to study aspects related to the issue.

Let us hope more States adopt this route, so that increasing urbanisation is streamlined and gets constructive direction.

(The author is Former Secretary, Urban development, Government of India)

(This article was published on February 13, 2012)
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