The proportion of urban population in India has witnessed a considerable momentum over the past 50 years and according to the Indian Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD), it is anticipated to reach close to 600 million by 2031. Though a large share of India still lives in villages but an increased urbanisation has been seen which necessitates the need to invest in infrastructure in order to improve the quality of life in these urban areas. The quality and availability of infrastructure services goes a major way in establishing high productivity of urban areas. The urban economy (that is heavily dependent on urban infrastructure) is visualised as a bridge between the domestic and global economy, hence the need to strengthen it has increased by manifolds. Ensuring high quality of public services throughout India will facilitate the full realisation of India's economic potential.
The rapid pressure of industrial development has put many cities into a lull which have not shown corresponding progression to be able to cope up with this development. For building infrastructure, public opinion and their awareness on the kind of city they would want to live in, should be taken through surveys which should be conducted before proposing any developments. On their level, architects and urban planners, who have been undertaking work on proposals for urban improvement need to make their works available for everyone to know and deliberate on the solutions proposed for urban improvement.
Strengthening Urban Infrastructure in India
Introduction of effective urban mobility remains an integral part of urbanisation. Indian cities don't only need adequate road space for future use keeping in mind the growing number of vehicles on the road, but they simultaneously also need to improve on the existing condition of roads which have been subjected to lack of maintenance over many years. While many road spaces have been encroached by street vendors, commercial facilities and on-street parking, footpaths and cycle tracks need to be made a path of mobility. Individual lanes for different kinds of vehicles on the road should also be considered in the planning. The vehicles can also be accommodated by increasing the width of the roads. One must not forget that these roads cause a lot of distress due to for of innumerable accidents India is plagued with, and most of the people due to the distances in metros especially have to spend a lot of hours on these roads, which if not maintained properly, can be a source of quite a lot of misery to these travellers.
The design of the transport system should be developed keeping the specific features of the city involved since each city differs in area, urban form, income levels, population etc from the other cities. There is a dire need for an integrated master plan since transport planning is also linked to land use planning and thus both need to be developed together. It has been found that the most developed cities of the country, which are already very crowded require swifter and cleaner mode of transportation systems; but the laying of MRTS corridors and metro rails becomes tougher in such situations. One wishes that such planning of transportation systems is put into order much prior to urbanisation so that they are able to sustain the urbanisation. Alternately, efforts should be made to drive people towards public transportation which can be done by first and foremost enhancing their quality. More space should be allocated to public transport systems. We must learn from the new experiments that are done across the world to achieve the same - one of the examples is of a certain development in Copenhagen where the reduction of lanes (in the city to vehicles) and increasing the lanes to pedestrians, cyclists and bus lanes have led to an increase in the public transportation.
"Migration of large population to urban centres is causing new cities to emerge and existing ones to expand. India must seize the opportunity to adopt green urban planning early on: mass-transport systems should link satellite cities to ports and megacities, and new cities should be eco-friendly and energy-conserving. The Indian Government's recent promotion of dynamic economic corridors between major cities is a step in the right direction but it is moving at snail pace", adds Mr Kumar.
Housing remains an integral part of urban infrastructure. And in the scenario of burgeoning population, to ease off the land pressure, vertical growth seems to be the ideal option available. However, going vertical also has a number of challenges like the lack of necessary technology and construction expertise, lower FSI, lengthy approval processes and lack of adequate infrastructure - road capacity, water supply, sewerage, solid waste disposal etc. Dwelling further on these challenges faced by developers for high-rise development, Mr Jha adds, "The challenges include lack of adequate provision in Development Control Regulation (DCR) of respective cities, lack of provision of various facilities and safety for such structures and inadequate infrastructure to support high-rise development.
The Government is also making a special effort in emphasising with the States and local bodies to provide provisions of housing for all economic segments of the society so that housing related problems can be solved.
The development of villages also need to be monitored so that they have proper planning and can be developed independently as secured centres of agglomeration economies and not affix to urban areas of India as chaotic and unplanned settlements - it is essential here also to recognise that some of these rural areas do have the potential to become urban centres tomorrow. The Government has taken out a number of sponsored schemes targeted at the rural sector. These well-meant schemes have helped in stopping the migration from the rural areas.
Mr Kumar while counting the initiatives that need to be taken by the Government includes Incentives for sustainable infrastructure (making it extremely friendly and incentivising the agencies which are making efforts in this direction), conferring of more grants to state/city authorities through JnNURM with better checks and balances to avoid any possible misuse and single window statutory clearance (inclusive of MoEF) to projects and investor friendly policies. Commenting on the outcome of the lack of such policies he assesses, "We can witness the concessionaire opting out of the projects day in day out. Reliance Infra opting out of Airport express is a recent example. There are good competent people working in different departments of the Government, however they are working in silos; we need better and effective coordination for a fast project roll out". He acknowledges the JNNURM as a good step towards the repair and replacement of old infrastructure especially in old cities.
However, there is much that the Government still needs to do. The urban local bodies (municipalities, nagar panchayats) should have a clear definition of their roles and functions, should be accepted and strengthened as local self-government bodies, be entrusted with independent financial resources and be given the autonomy to take decisions on investment and service delivery. Also, many funds made available through the programs taken out by the government for increasing the basic infrastructure has largely gone to only a few of large cities, having benefitted only the high and middle income range.
Encouraging the PPP model
Adding on the funding for infrastructural projects, Mr Kumar says, "We need a more conducive environment for potential concessionaire. Improvements in the investment climate are vital. India needs to expand dramatically the sources and volume of available infrastructure financing. This will not be possible without private-sector participation, which requires, in turn, a business environment that ensures adequate return on investment, transparency in procurement, and high-quality governance and regulation. Clearances even for small issues should not be getting stuck in the bureaucratic cycle. By boosting the credit ratings of infrastructure projects via credit enhancements, this facility will allow pension funds and insurers to invest in infrastructure projects. India Infrastructure Finance Company Limited (IIFCL) and Asian Development Bank (ADB)are already jointly working on it."