Urbanisation is a challenge to all of us. India poised 31.1 % urbanisation in census 2011, which was 27.8 in previous decade (2001). The total population reported is around 120 crore, that makes 1.2 billion out of around 7.5 million world population. Ignoring percentage figure the absolute figures of urban India is alarming. There has been over concentration of migration from rural to urban areas and it is increasing. Whether this rate of urbanisation is beneficial or not is a matter of debate and research for urban planners, managers, policy makers and researchers. What is overwhelming is that there is a huge challenge to big cities to maintain and provide a good quality of life to its citizens.
Last three days, Times of India, the leading news paper is reporting about cities and urbanisation. First by the government of India in relation to Smart Cities and minister of urban development talking of City liveability index, Second by an architect of Delhi expressing concern of cities with good spaces and good life going to be converted to slum like situation and third today, Supreme court of India directing cities to make effective ways to manage solids waste generated by the cities. It seems clear that there are challenges in cities and effective steps are needed to meet these challenges, if we are concerned to provide good quality of life to our city people.
There are some out of box suggestions that comes to our mind without support from the statistical data. A question that always remains tricky, whether India should or should not promote urbanisation. There are theories and researches which are affirmative and negative both. But all these were when, there was a beginning of urbanisation in the world, first of its being the Industrial revolution in England. The European and American cities has more than 80% of urbanisation, yet these countries provide a good quality of life. Here human development index generated through UNDP is being taken as a benchmark value to compare quality of life. Comparing these countries, Indian cities are less urbanised, but if the absolute figures are taken, then scenario is different. The Western countries has very less population compared to the South Asian countries like China, Pakistan and India. The question is whether can we adopt the same model. Answer is not in certain terms as there are doubts in our country like India. Whether there is an answer or not is also not known.
The major cities of India are Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Surat, Puna, etc. The characteristic of urbanisation in India is that, the people migrate more towards these big cities rather than a village or an hamlet or a small town developing into bigger place. There is an over concentration of population in few cities of India. The common implication of these are: huge slums, absence of public transport system and therefore traffic congestion by private ownership vehicles, solid wastes everywhere making the city aesthetics bad. These are what obvious visible for any individual. Apart from these unhygienic conditions, less water for drinking purpose, water logging during monsoon, inefficient social infrastructure like schools and hospitals, etc.
People migrate to cities for the want of opportunities. These include income, education and better health facilities. On the other hand because of migration and increase in demand city authorities struggle to provide better infrastructure. People start living in slums, unauthorised construction, traffic congestions, health epidemic, etc are all the manifestation of this process. Yet people migrate to get more incentives. The question arise for what is the solution? Whether we should allow the continuous process of urbanisation and keep on improving the city living condition, or stop migration by improving rural areas with more opportunities so that they don’t migrate. There is no immediate or direct answer to this problem. One has to keep in mind that cities contribute around 65% of national GDP as reported in planning commission and other reports.
There are concrete efforts in last one and half decade, to improve the city living conditions by pro active efforts from the Central as well as State governments, like Urban renewal mission, Smart cities, State government housing scheme, etc. These schemes has also brought changes in city infrastructure both in physical and social. Yet there is a demand for more from the cities, local self governments for provisioning of social and physical infrastructures. Two days back, the government of India announced a scheme of measuring city liveability index, which is a good step, so that policy makers can make out where attention is required and identification of best practices from better performing cities. There will be a competition for city managers to improve their ranking and that will benefit the citizen of that city. It remains to be seen what parameters and methodology will be adopted to do this exercise.
In the end, the question still remains un answered, whether we can afford with this rate of urbanisation in India and shall make policy for more or concentrate towards rural areas by creating more self sustaining villages and lessening urbanisation.