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Making India a laboratory of urban development

A hundred new cities, bullet trains, industrial corridors and a relook at the much-debated land acquisition act — the new government has its hands full for the next five years

realestate Updated: May 23, 2014 19:57 IST

As the BJP-led government gets ready to take office, everyone’s waiting to see how it progresses towards achieving the development initiatives it had promised in its manifesto. These included 100-new modern cities, high-speed bullet trains and expediting freight and industrial corridors that will not only improve the country’s infrastructure but also create nodes of employment.

However, to achieve these “ambitious” objectives, the government needs to have a well-thought out strategy in place that allows for speedy execution of projects through single-window clearances, access to patient capital funding and raw materials, as without these in place, the promises will remain only on paper. The land acquisition bill should also be relooked at on a priority basis.

100 cities

“We will initiate building 100 new cities; enabled with the latest in technology and infrastructure adhering to concepts such as sustainability, walk to work etc and focused on specialised domains. The approach to urban development will be based on integrated habitat development – building on concepts such as twin cities and satellite towns,” the party’s manifesto had read.

The focus will be also be on rubanisation or rural urbanisation. The intent will be to urbanise rural areas first that have economic potential, says Vibhav Kant Upadhyay, who is recognised as the architect of modern India Japan partnership, a member of the strategic action committee for the BJP’s 2014 campaign and chairman, India Centre Foundation.

According to Upadhyay, the initiative for 100 cities will primarily be greenfield developments with a majority of them located along the industrial corridors such as the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC). As many as 24 nodes or cities, both big, medium and small, can come up along this corridors. More cities can come up along corridors in other areas such as the Bangalore-Mumbai corridor, the Chennai-Bangalore corridor, the Chennai-Kolkata coastal corridor and Amritsar-Kolkata corridor.

“These all have to be sustainable, energy efficient cities. The focus will have to be on corridors rather than special economic zones (SEZ) that have proved to have led to scattered growth as against targeted growth. This model has also not proven to be energy- efficient as it cannot be supported by a single transportation corridor,” he says.

“We are also hopeful that 30% of the population will live in these new cities created along these corridors. Besides, these are expected to address the problem of housing to a large extent,” sources confirm. The housing shortage in India is pegged at 38 million in 2030.

“We are hopeful that 30% of the population will live in these cities. Housing shortage for 2030 is pegged at 38 million, a majority of this problem will be solved/addressed by setting up these cities,” they say. We also intend redeveloping cities such as Benares, Agra and Aurangabad. The intent is not to replicate London or New York in Indian cities but modernising them by harnessing their cultural potential.”

Bullet trains

The manifesto has promised to launch a diamond quadrilateral project of high-speed trains (bullet trains). “The project needs a lot of localisation and that will be the biggest challenge going forward. The vision is to have star hubs such as Delhi and connect it to Chandigarh, Jaipur, Agra, Kanpur etc and hub to hub connections such as Delhi to Mumbai etc,” points out Upadhyay.

Interestingly, the vision for both the DMIC and the bullet trains was set originally in 2004. “We are evolving the vision we set out to accomplish. The manifesto ten years ago also has a mention of the bullet trains project,” say sources in the BJP.

The crux of the strategy will be to shift the old development model based on exploitation to the new development model based on empowerment. It’s like shifting from Windows to Apple and vice versa , says Upadhyay.
Granting infrastructure status to the real estate sector is also part of the party’s vision. “If this vision (involving setting up of new infrastructure) needs to be implemented, giving infrastructure status to the sector needs to be given serious thought,” say sources.

The way forward

The way forward would be to evolve an action plan from the macro vision to the micro execution roadmap, by adopting the operating system approach. The new development framework would encourage the participation of the masses by ensuring democratisation of opportunities leading to a more inclusive participation in India’s socio economic development growth.

According to Sanjay Dutt, executive managing director – South Asia, Cushman & Wakefield, with the formation of a new BJP led government next week, the real estate sector now expects the focus to shift to the expansion and development of infrastructure such as highways and roads, ports, railway lines, manufacturing hubs, dams, canals and irrigation channels, etc which will also lay the groundwork for developing the 100 new urban centres that serve as twin cities or satellite towns. Only around 31% of the population lives in urban India, which is already grappling with issues pertaining to crowding, strained infrastructure, pollution, expensive real estate, etc. Hence, there is an immense need for new growth corridors and urban centres that cater to the needs of the increasing population from rural India that is migrating to urban India in search of abetter quality of life.

“From a sustainability point, too, the government needs to aggressively pursue its agenda of developing new urban centres as mere expansion of existing ones is not yielding the desired results. The creation of and boost to demand for real estate will be an incidental byproduct of the process; creation of job opportunities that secure the livelihoods of the hugely underprivileged population whilst providing better access to basic necessities such as housing, water, electricity, medical facilities, education, etc will be the major successes of such an initiative. To achieve these objectives, the government needs to follow a well thought of and implemented plan that allows speedy execution of projects through single-window clearances, access to cheap funding and raw materials, etc. Without these in place the objectives will remain on paper, which given the past track record of the new prime minister should not really be a concern,” he adds.

Amit Bhatt, town planner’ points out that the 2011 census indicates that India is only 32% urbanised and global trends indicate that cities ought to be at least 75% urbanised. The census also indicates that the rate of growth in big cities is not as high as in small cities (with a population of one lakh to five lakh).