The 2011 census corroborated what we have been witnessing for a few years now: unbridled urbanisation. According to demographers, the tempo of urbanisation in India today is close to the highest-ever increase seen earlier, during the period between 1971 and 1981. Demographers attribute this spurt in urbanisation to economic growth, the classification of many areas as ‘census towns’ based on the density of population and a sharp decline in the growth rate of rural areas while in urban areas it remains the same.
But what is happening — and this is a source of much concern — is that our towns and cities have failed miserably to live up to the challenges of increasing urbanisation. Most metros — including the much-pampered capital city — are always short of electricity and water, especially during the torrid summer months. The less said the better about the second tier towns.
The story has repeated itself even in the new towns in the National Capital Region like Gurgaon, which we had once hoped would be planned and organised. Even in the upmarket areas of these towns, the roads are no better than what we find in rural areas. The Mumbai story is also the same: every monsoon, the city goes underwater. And, try driving in Bangalore — it’s a test of one’s patience. Along with these traffic and electricity problems, there are other civic problems like our appalling waste management systems, environment pollution and lack of adequate and properly maintained public spaces. Recently, the Central Pollution Control Board confirmed that the total polluted stretch of the Yamuna has now increased to 600 kilometre from 500 kilometre since 2010.
Before the Commonwealth Games, the Delhi government had promised to develop the Yamuna promenade on the lines of the Thames in London.
A couple of years ago, Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit — and she is not the only one — blamed incessant migration for this complete breakdown of urban services. Yes, there could be some truth in this but blaming the wave of migration will not solve the problem. It is an issue that governments will have to handle and they have to be proactive and not reactive about this. One institutional barrier is the Constitution because urban development is a state subject and, therefore, solutions are often slow in coming. Moreover, there is a dearth of trained professionals, rules are often made, changed and implemented arbitrarily and most important, no city has an feasible vision. India needs to begin by creating institutional capacities if it wants to handle an urban growth of at least 250 million people in the next two decades. Often we find chief ministers promising to turn the cities they preside over into Shanghai, London or Paris. But, we, who have to grapple with problems every day of our lives, have only one request: London or Paris can wait, please, make our cities a little more livable.