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Guest column: How worsening financial health of local bodies is impacting Punjab’s urban growth

The Punjab government needs to adopt measures to ensure compact development of cities/towns instead of allowing haphazard sprawling.

opinion Updated: Jan 16, 2018 10:26 IST
MS Aujla
MS Aujla
worsening financial health,local bodies,urban growth
Only limited areas should be opened for urbanisation, and in a phased manner as per population projections.(HT File/Representative image )

Globally, urbanisation is considered an engine of growth and indicator of development. Every civic amenity – sanitation, public utilities, safety, and social and health infrastructure originate from a group of buildings. If buildings come up in systematic way, it facilitates social and economic growth.

Unsystematic or leap-frog development leads to issues like lack of civic amenities, congestion, chaos, bad connectivity, poor safety etc. Further, it leads to urban local bodies (ULBs) utilising funds for creation of infrastructure in unauthorised areas against the spirit of the Punjab Municipal Act-1911, which suggests utilising funds for maintenance of infrastructure. Below are six action points the government can adopt to improve financial health of ULBs and rescue Punjab from worsening urban growth scenario.

First and foremost, the government needs to adopt measures to ensure compact development of cities/towns instead of allowing haphazard sprawling. In certain situations, vast areas are opened for urbanisation as per master plans and many rural areas are included within the municipal limits unnecessarily, ignoring all parameters for an urban area laid down in the municipal Acts.

Limited areas should be opened for urbanisation

Only limited areas should be opened for urbanisation, and in a phased manner as per population projections. This will avoid premature conversion of precious agriculture land and loss of livelihood in farming, dairy, poultry, horticulture and other allied activities. Further, it will drastically cut the cost of creation of infrastructure for connectivity, management of urban services and maintenance of law and order.

Instead of a populist and piecemeal approach, the government needs to take radical steps to stem the rot and put the state’s long-term urban growth on a planned trajectory.

Second, cities/towns are living entities and should be allowed to live their life and grow. To manage highway traffic, create bypasses instead of elevated roads disturbing the natural fabric of settlements and devaluing properties underneath.

Third, the government must hasten to create land corridors in cities/towns to manage traffic/parking requirements. Leaving it to ULBs/development authorities or adopting regulatory measures has not served the purpose. A prime example is the missing stretch between Sunny Enclave’s 200-inch wide road and the Khanpur T-Point in Kharar, to complete the Airport Expressway.

Haphazard activities along highways need to be stopped

Fourth, haphazard intensive urban activities along highways/bypasses need to be stopped. State makes huge investments to create highways/bypasses but value addition is encashed by land sharks rendering such highways/bypasses as any other internal city road over a period of time, like the Ludhiana or Phagwara bypasses. The state should acquire at least 100 inch land on either side of bypasses/highways for future expansion, highway facilities and to ensure regulated development.

Fifth, a 200-feet wide road connecting Kharar Road with Chandigarh-Patiala road was planned to cater to the regional and International Airport traffic. Even though the intensive development has not hit the road yet and the airport has not started buzzing with frequent international flights or cargo, the airport road is full of traffic, with numerous junctions having traffic signals. The government needs to construct an elevated road for Mohali Airport before it gets converted into Delhi airport-Gurgaon scenario.

Last but not the least, while revisiting policy to regularise illegal colonies, the government must look into its environmental and financial implications.

Earlier in absence of any inventory, mere government intention to formulate a policy led to unscrupulous colonisers carving out numerous illegal colonies all around cities creating a ‘downtown’ like situation. Further, no one has assessed the area required for urbanisation in a town/city as per population projection or the area under illegal colonies or the way licensed colonies can compete and come up in future or the quantum of financial loss and burden on the ULBs/Authorities.

Acts provide for fixing minimum street width

The Punjab Municipal Act-1911 and the Punjab Town Improvement Act-1922, even though enacted almost 100 years ago, provide for fixing minimum street width, formulation of street schemes to improve means of communications and facilities for traffic, and formulation of improvement schemes for areas “unfit for human habitation for reasons of narrowness and bad arrangement of the streets, for want of proper light, air, ventilation etc”.

But colonisers insist on regularisation of illegal colonies on ‘as is where is basis’, even for areas having street width of 15 inch or 20 inch, saleable area as high as 75% to 80% leaving no space for utilities/parks, that too at nominal fee 10% to 15% of the EDC/CLU charges to be paid for obtaining licence to develop a colony. This leaves the responsibilty to provide and maintain the infrastructure to ULBs/authorities. This should actually be borne by the coloniser and maintain for five years after obtaining completion.

Also, once such colonies are regularised on ‘as is where is basis’, their improvement can be done only through improvement/redevelopment/street schemes. In such situations, the government/ULBs have to pay for widening streets or implementing improvement schemes. This seems next to impossible because of quantum of such areas and financial health of ULBs or the government.

The government must consider the legislative wisdom exercised almost 100 years ago for financial sustainability of ULBs, better livability of the future generations and sustainable development of urban areas.

(The writer is former director, town planning, Punjab. The views expressed are personal)

First Published: Jan 16, 2018 10:23 IST