Even after spending billions of rupees year after year most of our cities or most of the parts of all the cities are characterised by subhuman living conditions. Most of our cities, even after more than seven decades of independence, are struggling to provide basic amenities to their citizens. Not much in-depth study is required to find out the reasons for this sorry state of affairs as it is evident that our urban planning machinery has not grown at the pace of the demands posed by urbanisation and global technological advancements.
Absence of a spatial development strategy
Absence of a comprehensive spatial development strategy leads to multiple issues like, lack of land for affordable housing, flooding, traffic jams, and wastage of water resources. Moreover, once the city has grown haphazardly, corrective measures and provision of infrastructure are difficult and costlier to undertake. Ensuring planned development is indispensable for harnessing the benefits of urbanisation and not failing it to its negative externalities like congestion, overcrowding, pollution, etc. “Cities are like living organisms. For them to flourish, it is important that their economic and social infrastructure are in a sound state. There are enormous possibilities to achieve this through adoption of spatial planning tools,” says Dr Rajiv Kumar, Vice-Chairperson, NITI Aayog.
Covid-19 exposed our deficiencies
Covid-19 has further exposed the deficiencies of our cities and has revealed the dire need for planning and management of our cities, with a thrust on health aspects. Unless every city aspires to become a ‘Healthy city for all’ in near future, say by 2030, repetition of 2020 like scenario in future cannot be ruled out. Therefore, there is a need for a convergence of multi-sectoral efforts at the intersections of spatial planning, public health, and socio-economic development. Our spatial strategy should aim at creating a ‘healthy living environment’ by focusing on citizens’ well-being, including physical and mental health, and measures to achieve cleaner air, water and soil as well as parameters to ensure a balance between the built and unbuilt environments.
Advancement of technology is for the betterment of mankind and to improve the life of common man. Therefore, latest technologies should be used in all spheres of life. We need to create technology-enabled solutions for monitoring construction activities to prevent haphazard or unauthorized built-ups. Local bodies should increasingly use GIS-based map to dynamically reflect these changes and other ongoing infrastructure development activities.
Recruitment rules need to be changed
Over the years, urban areas and their development complexities have increased. Nowadays, the discipline of urban planning or town planning has a dedicated course curricula with which the graduates acquire a multi-sectoral overview and skill set to address these complexities. Every year, approximately 1800 planners graduate from Indian universities with various specialisations. They can become potential candidates for town-planning positions. States should take necessary steps to amend their recruitment rules to ensure that only qualified planners—particularly at the entry-level positions of town planners at the state town planning departments, development authorities, improvement trusts and others—are recruited.
Regular training for officials needed
Urban planning and development is an ongoing process and not an isolated event which necessitates sufficient capacity building to meet future requirements. Also, there is a need to regularly train town planning officials at various levels so that they stay familiar with the latest technological advancements and their applications in urban planning, management and policy development.
Power of ULBs diluted
Existence of multiple organisations dealing with planning of land and sectors like water, sewerage, solid waste etc. are creating their own sets of problems and hurdles. This not only results in creation of confusion and wastage of resources but also leads to lack of accountability, interdepartmental non-coordination, delays, etc. Though Constitutional (Seventy-Fourth Amendment) Act 1992 has provided for devolvement of power to the ULBs, it has not been implemented in letter and spirit. In fact, most of the State Governments have not yet devolved the entire ‘Urban planning’ function to the urban local bodies even after three decades of enactment of the Act. So, there is urgent need for clear division of roles and responsibilities among various authorities and departments, appropriate revision of rules and regulations, etc. The government should focus on creating a more dynamic organisational structure, standardising job descriptions of town planners and other experts, etc.
Lack of adequate citizen participation
Lack of adequate citizen participation during the planning process is resulting in disconnect between plan preparation and its acceptance on ground. In order to encourage more citizens participation a perspective needs to be created amongst the citizens about the principles of urban planning, and opportunities for public participation in the planning processes. The usefulness of city planning as to how it impacts the daily life, walkability, safety, open spaces, travel distances, air quality, etc. needs to be conveyed in a comprehensive manner.
We are at the beginning of this decade and India’s urban story may be lauded globally or suffer irreversible damages in the next 10-15 years depending upon corrective policy measures and actions taken now. Massive capacities for problem-solving, innovation, and ideation are required to address the present and future challenges in the planning and management of cities, towns, villages and their infrastructure.