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HindustanTimes Wed,22 Oct 2014

India's urban challenge

Aarefa Johari, Hindustan Times  Mumbai, July 07, 2012
First Published: 22:43 IST(7/7/2012) | Last Updated: 02:13 IST(8/7/2012)

All through June, Mumbai waited restlessly for the elusive monsoon to begin. When it finally poured last week, the joy was short-lived: With just a few hours of rain, the city was reduced to a mess of water-logged streets, choked drains, falling trees and long traffic jams.

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To many, then, it may not come as a surprise that Mumbai — and seven other Indian cities — found no place among the top 60 in a recent survey that ranks 120 cities around the world on competitiveness. The survey, titled Hot Spots: Benchmarking Global City Competitiveness, was conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit and released this March.  Experts' suggestions

It defines competitiveness as a city’s ability to attract capital, businesses, talent and tourists, and evaluates cities on parameters such as economic strength, physical and human capital, institutional effectiveness,  social and cultural character and global appeal. Despite facing a severe economic slowdown, Western cities emerged at the top of the ranking, with New York, London and Singapore occupying the first three slots.

Indian cities, mean-while, were in the bottom half of the list, with Delhi at 68 and Mumbai at 70. The only parameter on which Indian cities —Bangalore and Ahmedabad in particular — are rated well is economic strength. But this alone, say experts, cannot improve the quality of city life in the absence of efficient infrastructure and civic amenities. “The main problem in our cities is the absence of planning that responds to the needs of the people,” says Mumbai-based architect and urban planner PK Das. “The underdevelopment of Indian cities is reflected in the lack of provisions for affordable housing, affordable healthcare and education and comprehensive public transport systems.”

While surveys such as Hot spots are of interest to investors and professionals around the world, sceptics question their intentions and methodology. “Such surveys use Western economic models to evaluate India and other countries, where cities function along very different economic logics and histories,” says Bangalore-based urban planner Solomon Benjamin, who believes these rankings, with their policy prescriptions, could have dangerous consequences. “They can be used by the elite to lobby for even more specialised infrastructure, land and expensive services, while the rest of the city that actually provides employment as the real economy, lies deprived of basic facilities.”


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