In today's Finshots we talk about a NITI Aayog report on urban planning and how to better prepare for the future


The Story

Whether you like it or not, India is rapidly transforming into an urban country. More than half of our population could come to reside in an urban setting within just a few decades, and by 2036 around 73% of the total population increase could come from urban centres alone. Also, since cities occupy just 3% of the landmass but contribute close to 60% of the GDP, it’s in everybody’s best interest to make cities more livable.

And lovable.

But unfortunately, our cities aren’t exactly livable or lovable. Electricity, sewage, public transport, roadways, breathable air — We are lacking in many departments. Not least because we can’t muster the resources but because we can’t allocate it appropriately. Urban planning is the need of the hour but we aren’t equipped to deal with the complexities.

And in a 144-page report, NITI Aayog has tried to outline some of the issues. For starters, there’s the fact that we aren’t accurately representing the extent of urbanization in this country. Partly because our definition of ‘urban centres’ aren’t reflective of ground realities and also because close to 7933 “urban settlements” still continue to be governed as “rural entities.”

Secondly, there is the management problem. Urban local governments are expected to take up the mantle when it comes to planning, however that hasn’t happened yet. Instead as the report notes —

Many agencies are involved in urban planning, implementation, infrastructure development at the city as well as State levels. The existing framework has become complex, which often leads to overlapping of functions, lack of accountability and coordination, time delays, resource wastage, etc. Master plans are statutory instruments to guide and regulate the development of cities and are critical for managing urbanization as well as ‘spatial sustainability’. However, 65% of the 7933 urban settlements do not have any master plan. This leads to piecemeal interventions, haphazard constructions, urban sprawl, and environmental pollution, which can further aggravate issues such as traffic congestion, flooding, etc.

But perhaps the most jarring problem is that we don’t even have enough urban planners. There just aren’t enough professionals who can assist in the planning and maintenance of thousands of up-and-coming towns and small cities. As per NITI Aayog’s estimates, only ~17,000 urban planners could have graduated in the last 35 years in India and this dearth of professional planners is reflected in the participation rates of planning related degrees.

According to one report, only 938 students were enrolled in undergraduate planning education, 1028 were enrolled in M.Plan, while only 8 candidates enrolled for PhD in planning.

To give you some context on how inadequate our manpower is, consider this — the UK has 38 planners per 100,000 population, whereas in India we have 0.23 planners per 100,000 people.

So what do we do about these issues?

Well for starters, there’s a need to revisit urban planning at the topmost levels.

About 52% of statutory towns in India lack any kind of master plan. So clearly, that needs to change. Also, while most states already have the authority to prepare and notify master plans, they need to be reviewed and upgraded to adopt the latest advancements. Therefore as the report suggests maybe we need to have an apex committee at the state level to undertake a regular review of sorts.

We also need to adopt more India-centric solutions. The idea that we could ape Western ideas on urban planning and somehow make it work locally is a bit dubious. So perhaps there’s a need to review the whole planning approach as well. Finally, we need to build more capacity to address the many problems plaguing urban planning in India. We need more graduates, we need better private participation and we also need local leadership to take up the mantle.

So yeah, the report makes a whole host of suggestions on how we could better prepare for the future — that is urban India and if you want to read more, do check out the full draft.

Until then…

Correction: In the previous version of the article, we noted ‘More than half of the population already lives in an urban setting, but by 2036 around 73% of the total population could come to reside in cities.’ when in fact, India’s current urban population stands at ~34%, while it is the economic growth in urban areas that will contribute to 73% of the total population increase by 2036. We have updated the article accordingly. The error is regretted.

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