India’s increasing population coupled with challenges such as disaster management, space crunch, urban migration, the inflow of refugees and an increasingly volatile political premise contradicts India’s overstated definition of homes.
It is somewhat sarcastic to hum ‘little boxes in the smart cities… And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky. And they all look just the same,’ however, the certainty remains even more appalling. The urban population in India has grown by 32 pc from 2001 to 2011 as compared to 18 pc growth in the total population of the country. As per Census 2011, 31 pc of the country’s population (377 million people) live in cities and contribute to 63 pc of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The urban population is projected to grow up to 600 million by 2031. With increasing urban population, the need for providing better infrastructure and services in cities is increasing.
The government has introduced several schemes to address different urban issues; habitation being a primary concern. These include the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), Smart Cities Mission, Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY), Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana – Housing for All (Urban) (PMAY-U), and Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban).
Population is not the only woe
V Suresh, Founder Trustee of Good Governance India Foundation and the former CMD of HUDCO (Housing and Urban Development Corporation) was in an extensive conversation with Media India Group pointing out various aspects of urban habitation and its imposing challenges in the recent times. “India has a humongous demographic growth. From 1 billion in 2001 it has crossed 1.21 billion in 2011. Adding nearly 200 million in 10 years means 20 million additional individuals every year. What is significant is that over 50 pc of this new addition is taking place in urban areas. India’s urban population will double from 280 million in 2001 to 560 million by 2021,” commented V Suresh on the population explosion in the urban areas.
The gross domestic product (GDP) of India is highly dependent on the urban population of the country which grows every day with an influx of citizens coming from the villages and the outskirts of the city. Predicting the increasing urban population and its effect, V Suresh said, “The 7313 cities and towns which absorb this urban growth are powerful engines of growth and contribute to over 70 pc of India’s GDP. Yet it occupies only 4 pc of India’s land mass. The doubling of the population would need a new urban land footprint from 4 pc to 8 pc of India’s land mass, besides efforts for densification and taller buildings in the same city limits. This would mean the expanding cities, new cities on the fringes or satellite towns.”
The solution will rest on how the cities handle the deficient or lack of appropriate physical infrastructure for roads, drains, water supply, sewerage and disposal systems, waste management, transportation and urban mobility, energy needs and housing and social infrastructure facilities. The urban development, management, and governance in India was longing for the right policy and financial support until recently and also the capacity building needs for running the mammoth city development needs.
Addressing space crunch there is no other alternative than to create the new urban land footprint and integrated self-contained townships and cities with large drivers for employment generation and fast connectivity. The limited addition of the urban land needs has created phenomenal demand for serviced land with facilities. The opportunity cost of land prices has shot up making housing beyond the means of not only urban poor, low-income groups but also middle-income groups. The land cost component in real estate which should be around 10 to 25 pc of real estate costs have gone up to 60 to 80 pc and in big cities as high as 90 to 95 pc.
The challenge for India is to neutrally address the lower income groups and economically weaker sections of society, particularly, in urban areas as the target group when it comes to making policies relating to affordable housing. A report by Deloitte, titled ‘Mainstreaming Affordable Housing in India’, stated, “Highland costs, delay in project approvals, increasing raw material costs and low-profit margins have made low-cost housing projects less attractive to the private developers. Also, housing (including Affordable Housing) being a state subject creates complexities in implementation because of precarious financial condition of development authorities, state/city level agencies and their limited capacities in handling in these projects.”
In 2005, the first urban development scheme was implemented by the central government. It was the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM), 58 years post independence. The focus was on improving urban infrastructure and service delivery, community participation and a collective responsibility of the city governments towards the citizens. However, decentralisation of the JnNURM under the new urban schemes has given rise to a new issue. Apart from urban infrastructure, issues such as sanitation, affordable housing, and technology innovation got different umbrellas under the new mandate. So, while earlier, a majority of the funding came from the central and state governments, now, a significant share of the funding needs to be raised by the cities themselves.
The ex-HUDCO man elucidated, “If the ‘rural push’ and ‘urban pull’ phenomenon has to be arrested or reduced the only way is to create equal employment opportunities in the non-agricultural sector in small and medium towns and RURBAN and rural areas.”
Modernisation – a myth
While India’s belated reaction to habitation remained one of the most striking blunders after independence, many steps have been taken recently on all these fronts, to alleviate the situation. The government plans to provide and enable a framework for a faster and more effective thrust needed for India’s rapidly urbanising needs of habitation and infrastructure and to also make it sustainable.
Speaking of the modernisation plans in the urban habitation sector, V Suresh in his concluding note added, “The construction technologies being used for buildings and infrastructure development has not received the modernisation that is needed. The speed of construction is of essence backed with a quality of construction and safety and durability concerns. Ease of doing business for faster approval is one of the constraints. Instead of 30 to 60 days for all approvals in developed countries, it takes about a year to two years for the plethora of approvals from federal, provincial and city level multiplicity of authorities.”