India’s economic boom in post-1990 era has shown the fastest growth of urban towns with a rise in the number of homeless and relatively poor in cities, says a report of the ministry of housing and urban poverty alleviation.
Released last week by Deputy Chairperson of Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the report states that the share of urban population in the country increased from 25.7 per cent in 1991 to 27.9 per cent in 2001, the biggest jump since 1901 when the share was just 10.3 figures.
Not that the existing cities took the extra burden but there was an addition of about 546 new towns between 1991-2001, created by increased migration of people from rural areas to cities.
“The pressure on cities is increasing due to continuous migration in search of better life,” the report said. From just 1,917 cities in 1901, there are 5,161 cities in 2001.
The situation is expected to worsen with the economic growth pegged at over nine per cent and the report contending that the bigger cities would grow at a much higher rate.
“Of the total 5161 towns, 441 towns - classified as class I cities - are expected to grow at a faster rate,” the report states. The class I cities include all metros along with cities like Hyderabad, Kanpur, Pune, Surat, Lucknow, Nagpur and Jaipur.
The trend, if it continues, would result in more congested cities but then it would also reduce the percentage of poor people in the urban and total population.
The figures projected for 2006-07 of poor in urban population is just 15 per cent as compared to 32.6 per cent in 1993-94. Automatically, it will lead to fall in overall poverty rate from 35.97 per cent in 1993-94 to 19.34 per cent at the end of the current financial year, the report indicates.
The attempts to get cities’ rid of slums would remain a challenge for urban planners as most often the migrating population lands in slums or create their own slum clusters.
The enormity of the situation can be gauged from the fact that 23 per cent of the urban population lives in slums with no or insufficient facilities for hygiene, toilets, drinking water and sanitation. “Growth in slums has become a major problem for planners and policy makers,” the report said, adding that the number of homeless is alarming.
While the government has taken several steps and initiated schemes like Jawahar Lal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, the impact has been limited. Now, the government is studying alternative legal system for land tenure to urban poor with emphasis on rehabilitation in active collaboration of the civil society.