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State of urbanisation: There is need to reimagine, reconceptualise Indian cities

By IMPRI Team

According to Census 2011, India’s urban population was 37.7 crores, projected to grow to about 60 crores by 2030. The National Commission on Population (NCP) in India predicts that in the next 14 years (i.e., by 2036), about 38.6 per cent of Indians (600 million) will live in urban areas. The United Nations, too, highlights that India’s urban population size will nearly double between 2018 and 2050, from 461 to 877 million. Under this backdrop, the IMPRI Centre for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies (CHURS), Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, hosted a Distinguished Lecture on State of India’s Urbanization as a part of the #WebPolicyTalk, The State of Cities – #CityConversations.
The talk’s moderator was Dr Soumyadip Chattopadhyay, an Associate Professor, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan and a Visiting Senior Fellow, IMPRI, New Delhi. The speaker for the event was Prof Om Prakash Mathur, Senior Fellow, Global Cities Institute, University of Toronto. Other discussants in the panel were Prof Kala Seetharaman Sridhar, Professor at the Centre for Research in Urban Affairs,
Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), Bengaluru; Prof Chetan Vaidya who is an Independent Urban Advisor, Former Senior National Urban Adviser, Sustainable Urban Development Smart City (SUD-SC) Project Kochi supported by GIZ and Former Director, SPA New Delhi and NIUA, New Delhi; and Sameer Unhale, Joint Commissioner – Department of Municipal Administration, Government of Maharashtra.
Dr Soumyadip commenced the program by talking about the challenges of Urban India. Cities are considered the engines of Economic growth; therefore, they will play a significant role in social transformation and economic mobility. There are differences in the growth pattern of large, medium and small towns in India; there is the definitional issue of recognising the urban area in India. The emergence of census towns in India is also a challenge as these towns accommodate approximately 41 per cent of India’s urban population.
Prof Mathur started the discussion by stating the country’s budget for 2022-23, where the urban sector picked up a preeminent role. By 2047, India’s population will double itself; thus, we need to reimagine and reconceptualise our cities to make this transition productive and inclusive. Prof Mathur cited the article by Mr Amitabh Kant where he wrote, “Urbanization produces growth, but to enable urbanisation to use growth, we need to change our planning system, we need to bring different governance architecture, and we need different fiscal system”. India needs more urbanization, but not in large cities; we must move on to small towns and tap their attention.
Prof Mathur portrayed the big picture of India’s Urbanization in his lecture:
  • India has the second-largest Urban system in the world.
  • India is experiencing very rapid urbanisation driven by rural to urban migration.
  • Census towns are also adding to the acceleration in the rate of urbanisation that India,
  • The pace of urbanisation in large metropolitan cities of India is faster than in small towns.
In his extempore, Prof Mathur mentioned the confusion in the scale of population growth and the pace of population growth. The pace of growth is measured in terms of the growth rate of the urban share of the population. By comparing India’s rapid urbanisation with the actual pace of urban population increase and employing the standard that slow-growing nations include India, the claim that India is urbanising rapidly is refuted. India’s rural to urban population transition is between 20 and 23%, which is lower than the worldwide average for developing nations of 40%. The only aspect of urbanisation in India where settlements are transitioning from rural to urban in terms of size, density, and other characteristics is in the census towns.
According to the 2011 Census, the country’s urban areas contributed 23.2% of the GDP. According to Prof. Mathur, the rate of contribution to GDP from urban areas between 1999 and 2011 was significantly greater than it was after 2011. As just 49% of the nation’s manufacturing output is produced in urban regions, while 51% is produced in rural areas, urban GDP is likewise dropping in this sector. The formal sector of workforce participation is becoming more informal. India’s urbanisation is incredibly complex. Urban regions need a paradigm shift in conceptualisation, budgetary structure, and governance structure.
To kick off the conversation, Prof Chetan Vaidya advocated changing the definition of an urban area. By connecting it to the GDP and the phenomena of urbanisation in India, the urban concept has to be reframed. Additionally, there is a need to investigate urban-to-urban migration as this topic has not yet received sufficient attention. India’s urbanisation is quite diverse; as a result, each state’s urbanisation has to be examined separately, with a particular focus needed on states like Uttar Pradesh, which has 24 crore people. Prof Vaidya also raised concerns about the governance issues and challenges ahead in Urban India.
In the lecture, Prof Kala Seethraman discussed how urbanisation is defined in several countries, including the UK, the USA, Germany, Canada, and Japan. When talking about the various aspects of urbanisation, including population, density, and participation in non-agricultural activities, she stated that if only density were taken into account, India would have been 69 per cent urban in 2011 but would have only contributed 52 per cent to the GDP of the nation. According to Prof. Seetharamn, states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have seen very low-income urbanisation. A smaller effective labour market results in less productivity in Indian cities due to the lengthening commute times. She also mentioned how many middle-class HHs and the urban poor are housed in the slums of India’s major cities like Mumbai and Bengaluru.
Mr Sameer Unhale expressed his ideas by outlining the difficulties that lie ahead. Mr Unhale advised strengthening Urban Local Bodies to address urban concerns. He claims that increasing public participation, integrating technology, and collaborating with diverse organisations operating both locally and globally within the urban system are the three critical elements to improving urban settings.
Dr Mathur answered all the participants’ queries by providing insights from his earlier studies and experiences. After an insightful and helpful discussion, Dr Soumyadip opened the floor to questions. The speaker and the participants in the conference shared some insightful observations, points of view, and concerns on a range of subjects. With this, the lecturer came to an end.
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Acknowledgement: Utkarsh Dwivedi, research intern at IMPRI

Comments

Anonymous said…
Indian cities - most if not all - lack the very basic modicum of planning and upkeep. Even the so-called planned ones, like Chandigarh and Bhubaneshwar or the "steel towns" - are basically in various states of disrepair.

All our metros have vast swathes of greatly chaotic, disorganized, unmaintained-spaces. All. Even our shiny-new towns, like Gurgaon, Noida are generally hapahazard and have no proper traffic flows.

Indian cities are disasters. Even Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, The Philippines, Vietnam offer examples of order, planning and cleanliness.

Not India. Our capital city is filthy in most parts. Sidewalks break soon after being put in place. The cities are unwalkable and most roads are unmotorable. Not to mention the pollution in the NCR region.

Why this state of affairs? Have basic Civil Engineering/Town Planning education being so lacking in India that right outside our metros all semblance of an urban area give way and it is some sort of an urban village. Metros themselves have messy traffic, no proper garbage collection, no proper green areas, no proper traffic signs, broken roads...

Our roads have no concept of breakdown lanes, turning lanes, lane-driving, segregated traffic - nothing works in India. Every road is an all-way free-for-all road!

Where do we start? That is where the conference could have had some relevance - our cities have been breaking down for very very long. Kolkata pointed to Delhi claiming Delhi is dying and Delhi had already declared that Kolkata is dying. Of course everyone agrees Mumbai is almost dead anyway.

Yet, people keep pouring in and fabulously classy real estate dreams keep being sold, creating more first-world enclaves besides and on top of dung-heaps...

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