Home Insights Charting The Course Of Urban Policy In India’s Amrit Kaal

Charting The Course Of Urban Policy In India’s Amrit Kaal

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Session Report
Samprikta Banerjee

A One-Month Immersive Online Intermediate Certificate Training Course and Online International Autumn School Program on, Contours of the Public Policy in India in the Amrit Kaal was conducted by the Center for the Study of Finance and Economics (CSFE), IMPRI, Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi from September 1 to September 30, 2023.

On Day 9, two speaker sessions were lined up, the first being Managing India’s Urbanization by Prof Chetan Vaidya, Independent Director, GIFT City; Former Director, School of Planning and Architecture (SPA) and National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA), Delhi.

He began his session with greetings to the chair, the moderator and IMPRI and then stated that he was going to divide his session into three parts including a context where he would explicitly mention the issues associated with the definition of urbanization along with the urbanization trends in India, the response of the government of India in undertaking several projects an missions to promote and foster urbanization and ten to eleven that are issues faced by the Indian Government in pursuit of managing urbanisation in India.

Context and Definition of Indian Urban Areas: Highlighting the Issue with the Definition

As per the census of India, urban areas are all centres with urban government in the form of Municipalities, Municipal Corporations, Cantonment Boards, Notified Town, etc., having a population of more than 5000 where more than 75% of male workers are engaged in non-agricultural services and density of at least 400 persons per square km. He sufficed his definition with figures from the 2011 census where Census Towns stood at 2231 and Statutory ones stood at 4041. He also stated that the total urban population in 2011 stood at 377.2 million, making up 31.16% of India’s total population.

However, there were 4,000 urban local bodies centres and nearly 46 cities had a population of over a million plus in 2011 proving the fact that denoting urbanisation by a one-size mechanism fit for all can be problematic and produce faulty results. India should hence focus on improving its urban infrastructure and governance with the broad objective of developing sustainable urban development.

Problems of ULBs

Till 1992, Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) faced several problems that impeded their flow of work. Among notable problems, ULBs faced the problem of recognition where they weren’t recognized by the Constitution of India and were suspended on the decisions of state governments without elections for long periods. Moreover, there was erosion in the municipal functional domain, inadequate resource base, weak executive system and extensive State Government controls that plagued the process of urbanisation.

There came up the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act (CAA) in 1992 which tried to resolve most of these problems and gave constitutional status to Municipal Bodies and Local Urban Government components. But still, the discrepancy remains in the fact that all functions, finances and functionaries have not been transferred to the ULBs, the problem of which needs to be addressed. Then, through a comparative state-wise case study, he explained that all municipal corporations do not provide all services, which needs to be kept in mind while framing policies for ULBs for States.

Government’s Stand at Improving Conditions for Urbanisation

He highlighted several pathbreaking missions nurtured and undertaken by the government from 2015 onwards which included Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), Smart Cities, Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY), Housing for All and Bharat Swatchch Mission to name a few milestone-worthy ones.

He also explicitly mentions the recent development that is being promoted in India that is, investment-linked urban reforms. He briefly details the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) which was formulated to encourage urban investment in cities and states and this was continued both in the 14th Central Finance Commission and the 15th Central Finance Commission. Not only this, even the AMRUT mission had components of reforms linked to investment.

Then, to clear out the concepts of how these reforms work he explained the AMRUT mission in detail and highlighted the eleven reforms that are umbrellaed under this mission.

To improve the aspect of urbanisation and promote urbanisation in all states of India, the 15th Central Finance Commission set up conditions for grants to the ULBs wherein, it stressed the need for formulation of State Finance Commissions, audited accounts to be put in the public domain by ULBs, set up minimum floor area of property tax and performance-based grants for million cities.

To make cities aware of their development and instil in them the zeal for further development, the Government of India, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs has introduced six or seven types of ranking methods named Urban Ranking Indices.

Climate Change and Urban Development

He rightfully mentions how India is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change impacts and there is a need to try to resolve this issue as soon as possible as it is mostly linked to urbanisation thereby hazarding the very process of promoting urban governance and infrastructure. To provide testimony to this fact, he highlights that cities are frequently faced with climatic hazards such as urban flooding, heat waves, cyclonic storms, severe and prolonged dry spells, water scarcity, etc. and about 44% of the GHG emissions have urban origin.

However, India has been an essential part of the major International Agreements and in the COP26, Paris Conference, it promised to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2070 hence, proving the fact that there have been sustained and necessary efforts to combat the issue of climate change on the urban front.

Not only this, there have been quintessential urban India initiatives that have been playing a major role in combatting climate vulnerability like setting up the Climate Alliance, National Mission on Sustainable Habitat (NMSH 2021), Climate Centre for Cities, Climate Smart Cities Assessment Framework, etc.

Issues with Planning for Urban Development

There are many hindrances to public policy formation for cities and urban development, a few of which have been highlighted in the session:

  • Decision required to determine if the city under focus for promotion of urban development is large, medium or small and creating different policies for the same.
  • Policymakers need to decide and determine whether they want to empower urban local bodies or keep supporting ULBs that work under the State Government.
  • The question of whether the focus should be on local revenues or state transfers needs to be addressed.
  • Choosing between public transport through the metro and improving bus service, public-private partnerships and public delivery, centralised and decentralised delivery.
  • Policymakers also need to plan and finalise on whether climate change actions involve mitigation or adaptation.
  • To improve urbanisation and provide affordable housing choices must be made between full-fledged housing and incremental shelter to be provided to citizens.
  • The question of whether special-purpose vehicles should be promoted or action to strengthen the capacity of urban local bodies should be undertaken needs to be addressed.

Conclusion

He took up all these issues in detail with relevant case studies wherever possible to substantiate the problem and measures to correct the mistakes. He specifically took the example of successful decentralisation in Kerala and highlighted the lessons that can be taken from their success. Moreover, he took up case studies of the success of various cities like Ahmedabad and Indore. He highlighted major government schemes taken up to mitigate and control these issues thereby showing the audience how none of the issues are not resolvable and that persistence and sustained efforts can lead to betterment. His session ended with an interactive Q&A which engaged the audience and answered their queries effectively.

Posted by Reet Lath, Research Intern at IMPRI.

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