In the light of new government at National level in India, in an interview with ‘Dainik Jagran’ a national newspaper in India, Dr. Rajesh Tandon, President of Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) stressed on the urgent needs and issues in respect to urban development and governance. Some of the key issues raised by Dr. Tandon were:
- Need for a Comprehensive National Urban Policy: India with its 40% of population now in urban areas, still doesn’t have a national urban policy that looks into the aspects of urban development and governance. The urban sector has been much neglected, urban local bodies at urban level are not incapacitated, there is yet no means of addressing the need for jobs and livelihood for large influx of rural – urban and urban – urban migration, large villages that are pretty much ‘urban in character’ continue to be classified as villages, the socio- economic growth of urban areas at large is yet not addressed and neither has its true potential realised in respect to national growth. New government in coordination and consensus with State governments should formulate a ‘National Urban Policy’ that addresses these needs of the day.
- Need to strengthen the National Planning Process: In India planning process is implemented through five year plans since 1951. We are currently in our Twelfth Five year Plan. This planning tool of ‘Five year plans’ has laid much of its importance and outlook to rural development in the past for India. Now that the urban issues need to be recognised and focused upon, this tool of five year plans cannot be directly applied to ‘urban scenario’. The urban needs and characteristics with larger level of complexities require a strengthening of the National Planning Process. The planning process for urban areas need to recognise the critical need of infrastructure such as transport, water, electricity, housing etc in urban setup. At the same time at planning and policy level adequate attention needs to be given to the ‘informal economy’ that absorbs a large urban population in the most unstructured way. Our cities need to recognise and appreciate these informal workers whose faces we see in rickshaw pullers, vendors, rag pickers etc. A large number of ‘youth’ are migrating to urban areas and job creation becomes a critical and urgent need. Infact lot of crime and violence in the city can be reflected back to the lack of adequate employment opportunities in our cities.
- Adequate institutional strengthening at National level: At present the urban development is divided in the two ministries of ‘Ministry of Urban Development’ and ‘Ministry of Housing and Poverty Alleviation’. A single body that looks into and combines the visions of these two ministries is much needed for a holistic development of our urban centres. At the same time a dedicated nodal member at the Planning Commission that looks into matters of ‘urban development’ in specific is also required. Such institutional strengthening at the National level to address urban issues is the need of the hour.
- Capacity building at the state and local level: Even though decentralisation came in being at policy level in India long back, its translation on the ground is still missing. Urban local bodies do not have adequate capacity to plan, implement and finance urban development projects which are a clear mandate of these bodies. A lacking cadre in our urban local bodies also results in the staff being unwire of urban issues or with adequate training and capacity being designated responsibilities in these ULBs.
- Adequate attention to small and medium towns is required: Small and medium towns and cities have been most ignored in respect to national’s attention for planning, capacity building and financial support. Flagship programmes such as JNNURM focused only on large cities and ignored these small towns and cities. Towns such as Barely and Moradabad might offer great potential but are unfortunately ignored at both policy and planning level. Infact these small and medium towns are large catchment areas which not only see large influx of population from nearby villages but also offer an economical cost of entrepreneurship for these migrants when compared to their cost of living in large cities like Delhi. States like Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar etc. need urgent attention to these small towns that are quickly urbanising. This again reiterates the need for a comprehensive national urban policy.
- Integrated infrastructural development for urban areas: Technology and infrastructure needs are high in urban areas. Unfortunately these sectors do not work in unison as a result our urban areas lack basic level of services. Three sectors require urgent attention and their related departments need to work in an integrated fashion. The first sector is the energy sector. Here its various departmental sub-divisions such as nuclear, power, un-conventional sources etc. – all need to work ‘together’ to come towards a valid and sustainable solution for our urban areas. Similar is the case with ‘transport sector’ – here the railways, roadways, aviation, ports – all need to work in unison such that the urban user is catered to well. The third sector is housing where again the planning and development needs to be more integrated.
- Recognise the ‘potential’ of urban areas: Urban areas are not just significant for urban GDP but also for national growth. Once adequate attention is given to small towns and cities that are actually ‘source’ of various products to large cities such as agricultural produce – there can be a holistic development at national level.
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