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Metros get 1/10

Urban India has increased more than ten times in size in 10 years -- from 26 million in 1901 to 285 million in 2001, which is 28 per cent of the total population. By 2020, urban population will be 40 per cent of the total population and by 2050 the figure will be 50 per cent.

india Updated: Jan 22, 2006 23:40 IST

Urban India has increased more than ten times in size in 10 years— from 26 million in 1901 to 285 million in 2001, which is 28 per cent of the total population. By 2020, urban population will be 40 per cent of the total population and by 2050 the figure will be 50 per cent. India's cities are growing at a rate much faster than the rest of the world, including China's. Mumbai, for instance, had a population of 28 lakh in 1951 and was the 17th largest city in the world. Today, it is the world's sixth largest with 18.3 million people and in the next 10 years, it is expected to become the second largest, next to Tokyo. Also, by 2015, three more Indian cities -Kolkata, New Delhi and Hyderabad — will be among the 15 most populated cities in the world.

What these numbers say is that even though India's urbanisation process has been slow, the absolute figure are impressive, and problematic. Urban India is coming apart at seams.

The most startling indicator is housing. About 40 per cent of the total slum population of India resides in the 35 one million-plus cities. India needs to build 33 million houses in the next five years, of which 16.75 million are for urban areas.

Pressure is evident on services as well. About 54 per cent of urban households do not have access to water toilets and 64 per cent are not connected to the public sewerage system. Almost 50 per cent of solid waste remains uncollected, and though 89 per cent of urban population is covered by treated water supply, water is supplied only for a few hours per day. In metros like Bangalore, piped water is supplied on alternate days.

City roads are clogged. Though vehicle population in India increased 80-fold in the last 40 years, road area increased by only 5 per cent. Little attention has been paid to development of mass rapid transport systems in most major cities.

Only 17 of the largest cities have organised bus services, and only three cities — Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai-have a suburban rail system. A good network of roads coupled with efficient mass urban transport system makes a substantial contribution to the efficiency of the cities and enables them to become a catalyst of the economic and social development.

Urban India isn't healthy. A World Bank study estimated that poor quality of life results in about 30,000 premature infant deaths, 17 million respiratory disease-related hospital admissions and 1.2 billion restricted activity days. Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata account for 44 per cent of these figures.

Cities are getting poorer. Of the 285 million urban Indians, 70 million are poor. National Sample Survey Organisation data shows the incidence of urban unemployment is much higher than that of rural unemployment. There were 14 urban persons unemployed per 1,000 in 2003, compared to five for rural India. Also, the NSSO data shows that most urban employment (33 per cent) is in production-related work, which means the service sector boom isn't helping.

The biggest irony, indeed scandal, is that despite all these problems urban India contributes to the nation but gets precious little back from it.

Cities account for over 55 per cent of the country's GDP and more than 90 per cent of total government revenues. Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata contribute around 60 per cent of the total value added in manufacturing. But only a fraction of all this is ploughed back to cities There's a huge gap in the availability and requirements of funds for urban infrastructure. Conservatively speaking, urban India will need around $ 90 billion in the next ten years. Available funds are around $ 10 billion. The next section provides some details of this mismatch and some solutions to raising more money.