[op-ed snap] India needs smart urbanization


Mains Paper 1: Social issues | Urbanization, their problems and remedies

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: The newscard discusses the shortcomings of previous policies on urban transformation and highlights new avenues for the draft National Urban Policy which is under consideration.



  1. The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs has recently formed a committee to draft India’s National Urban Policy.
  2. The move is in accordance with the requirements of the New Urban Agenda of UN-Habitat, signed by 193 countries in Quito in October 2016.

Rural-Urban mismatch

  1. Case Study: Residents of Bhavanpur, a village about 15 km outside Ahmedabad, have been protesting against their inclusion in the city’s urban area by the local urban development authority.
  2. Similar protests have been observed in villages elsewhere in Gujarat. It’s a strange trend, the fruits of urban development seemingly rejected.
  3. Meanwhile, pollution in India’s urban areas seems to have sparked off a reverse migration.
  4. Farmers from Haryana who had migrated to Delhi and Gurugram for work to escape an agricultural crisis are increasingly going back to their farms during winter, unable to take the toxic pollution.

A rising number on Migration

  1. Over 34% of India’s current population lives in urban areas, rising by 3% since 2011.
  2. More importantly, while existing large urban agglomerations (those with a population above 50 lakh) have remained mostly constant in number since 2005.
  3. Smaller clusters have risen significantly (from 34 to 50 clusters with 10-50 lakh population).
  4. Migration is mostly a shadowed on that is taking place before actual urbanisation taking place in the context of basic amenities.

Stumbled initiatives on rise

  1. There is still an outstanding shortage of over 10 million affordable houses (despite the government taking encouraging steps to incentivize their construction.
  2. The annually recurring instances of floods in Mumbai, dengue in Delhi and lakes on fire in Bengaluru paint a grim picture.
  3. Various policy initiatives have not yielded much significant results.

Defining what is ‘Urban’

  1. Urban development comes under State governments, with the Governor notifying an area as urban based on parameters such as population, density, revenue generated for the local administration and percentage employed in non-agricultural activities.
  2. This notification leads to the creation of an urban local government or municipality, classifying the area as a “statutory town”.
  3. With such a vague definition, discretionary decisions yield a wide variance in what is considered a town.
  4. The Central government considers a settlement as urban if it has a urban local government, a minimum population of 5,000; over 75% of its (male) population working in non-agricultural activities; and a population density of at least 400 per sq. km.
  5. However, many States consider such “census towns” as rural, and establish governance through a rural local government or panchayat.

Infrastructural bottlenecks

  1. India spends about $17 per capita annually on urban infrastructure projects, against a global benchmark of $100 and China’s $116.
  2. Governments have come and gone, announcing a variety of schemes, but implementation has been mostly inadequate, with exploration of financing options limited as well.

Migration as a negative phenomenon

  1. Internal migration in India is very closely linked to urban transitions, with such migration helping reduce poverty or prevent households from slipping into it.
  2. Urban migration is not viewed positively in India, with policies often bluntly seeking to reduce rural to urban migration.
  3. Preventing such migration can be counterproductive it would be better to have policies and programmes in place to facilitate the integration of migrants into the local urban fabric, and building city plans with a regular migration forecast assumed.
  4. Lowering the cost of migration, along with eliminating discrimination against migrants, while protecting their rights will help raise development across the board.

Way Forward

  1. The announcement of a new urbanisation policy that seeks to rebuild Indian cities around clusters of human capital, instead of considering them simply as an agglomeration of land use, is a welcome transition.
  2. We need to empower our cities, with a focus on land policy reforms, granting urban local bodies the freedom to raise financing and enforce local land usage norms.
  3. For an India to shine, the transformation of its cities is necessary.
Urban Transformation – Smart Cities, AMRUT, etc.
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