There is rapidly growing acknowledgement, at all levels of leadership and public and private sector enterprise, that cities are the fulcrum of India’s future growth and have deep links with their regional contexts and the larger footprint of development such as energy infrastructure, water sources, transportation and food production.
We have a dream and an aspiration of becoming a 7 trillion-dollar economy for which Urban India need to play a dominant role but its current form is any indication, urban India will create more hurdles than facilitating our path of achieving the goal. Despite the significant investment and effort invested by various agencies in the urban ecosystem, there is a large gap between the actual outcomes achieved and the quality of life and other outcomes and aspirations of the programs and efforts of ecosystem actors and these gaps are primarily fueled by a lack of effective coordination and collaboration.
So there is urgent need to bridge the gap and fill the deficiencies and prepare urban India battle ready to achieve our ultimate goal. Areas which need urgent attention are many and diverse but that should not deter us considering the size and the distance to be covered to fulfill our dream.
Lack of planning in our urban development is the main feature and also a deficiency. While dealing with the urban problems we have the tendency to deal with the issues or problems as they come up. Lack of vision and inability to foresee future are the hallmark of city development actions. As such rarely anybody might have thought of making a career out of urban development and planning. The result is that today we are facing acute shortage of urban planners. Even for those who are already into this profession, lack of time and opportunities to further improve and add skills is the greatest problem. Existing nationwide resources and infrastructure for capacity building in the urban sector are overly directed towards classroom training and perform uncoordinated activities that do not satisfy the stakeholders and thus, lie underutilised in most Indian states. Many of our urban development projects including the ones under Smart City Mission are getting derailed or delayed due to capacity issues, with low levels of staffing and paucity of key urban management and governance skill sets.
If the existing urban planners are often found to be overwhelmed by the demands of citizens, industry and the state, problem it is not entirely due to their fault but because of absence of sufficient tools and information. The fragmentation of city management across multiple agencies and departments like urban local bodies, state governments and city development authorities have only aggravated the situation. The government should do special efforts to improve the quality of education in urban planning segment so that those who come out of the universities can be put on the job directly. It should be noted that in the pursuit of quantity, quality should not be sacrificed.
Though the country may boast of one of the largest pools of software and computer professionals in the world, digitisation is still in infancy stage in most of our government departments. We have not yet realised the significance of data in decision making and in improving the living conditions of the citizens. We need to take full advantage of the largest pool of working population in the world by promoting innovation in all field and not restricting it just to science and technology. We have been the culprits of ignoring innovation in urban sector all these years despite making huge investment in other areas in urban sector in last few years.
Often, the unavailability of data that justifies actions further creates a general environment of distrust. Opaque decision making system and process breed distrust and alienates stakeholders and lack of evidence-based decision-making tends to result in poor planning and execution of projects. Distrust and lack of accountability result in lower participation in addressing urban challenges from ecosystem actors despite the shared acknowledgment that sustainable solutions require greater participation and coordination between the various urban stakeholders. Therefore, the government agencies need to give greater emphasis on data collection and its greater usage in decision making process. The government should always encourage greater participation from wide sections of the society in decision making and also execution of projects.
Taking decisions based on evidence, analysis and research should become a habit at all levels. India’s cities generate significant amounts of data every day through the actions and interactions of various urban stakeholders. Often these data are ignored, become inaccessible or just wasted and when they become publicly available they lose their utility. It should be noted that paucity of data in the planning and design phases of projects extends into the near total lack of monitoring.
It is high time we give up our ‘chalta hai’ approach and abandon the constrained functionaries and outmoded systems and adopt such methods and systems which effectively spur and harness innovations around urban challenges. The government should promote through enough incentives for interorganizational collaboration and the incubation of innovative ideas and practices in the urban development space. Through this people’s full potential can be harnessed and that should be the aim of the city’s development.