Urbanization and de-urbanization are alternating processes that a civilization witnesses throughout their respective historical experiences. Historians and archaeologists alike have come to notice the importance of urban centres in defining the character of a civilization. In fact, historians like R.S. Sharma, Gordon Childe and D.K. Chakravarti have, through their different schools of historiography, considered the rise and fall of urban centres to be concomitant and interlinked with the rise and fall of civilizations. The first wave of urbanization in India has been recorded during the Indus Valley civilization around 2600 BC when the cities of Lothal, Harappa and Mohenjodaro thrived. The second wave of urbanization came with the Ganga Valley civilization during 1750 – 600 B.C. where the the centres of the first well-documented historical powers of Magadh, Kasi, Kosala and Avanti existed. However, in the modern era, Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Kolkata are seen as the leading urban centres of India. The huge spurt of the service sector in the urban centers and a desire to give the next generation access to better facilities like health and especially education and the lack of same in rural areas have triggered the influx of people to our cities. Yet if urban centers are considered to define the characteristic features of a civilization, our country could sadly be defined in the following words: overcrowded, polluted, unsustainable and unprepared.
In 2015, 32.7 % of the population in India was residing in the urban centers whereas for China it is 55.6% and in the developed nations like USA it is 81.06%, Denmark with 87.7 % and France with 79.5 % . However, as per a United Nations report of 2012, in the period 2011-2050, the world’s urban population is projected to increase from 3.6 billion to 6.3 billion. Much of this increase will be in the cities and towns of developing and less developed countries. It is expected that half of Asia’s and Africa’s population will be living in urban areas by 2020 and 2035 respectively. It is forecast that the world’s urban population will increase by 1.4 billion over the period 2011 and 2030. Of this increase, the share of China will be 276 million while that of India will be 218 million. India will account for slightly over 15.5 percent of the increase in the world’s urban population.
With these staggering figures being added to our urban cities in the country, it is high time the politicians, the bureaucrats, the civil society and the general public start thinking about a long term perspective and how to go about implementing systems in a smart and sustainable way. The Central Government as well as the State Governments should be more than proactive in this regard and the citizens should be assured of atleast the basic necessities like roti, kapda aur makaan as well as bijli, sadak aur paani
The recent floods in Chennai have shown the fragility of the Indian urban centres. The flooding in Chennai city was worsened by years of illegal development and inadequate levels of flood preparedness. With the airport inundated, all major railways blocked and more than 60% power outage in the city Chennai became a castaway, an abandoned island resulting in a total halt of public life. There is no doubt that this is indeed a wakeup call for the government to make its urban centres more resilient in the face of the erratic and overwhelming forces of nature.
It may be said that there are primarily 3 P’s of urban issues in India – Pollution, Population and Public Transport. In Delhi, around 1,500 new vehicles are added every day to Delhi where there are already some 90 lakh registered vehicles. At the same time, rising pollution in Indian cities has deteriorated the quality of live to an extreme level. As per a World Health Organization Report, thirteen out of world’s top twenty polluted cities are in India with Delhi at the top of the list.
In terms of population, Delhi and Mumbai are among the top ten most populated metropolitan areas of the world and Hyderabad, along with Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Population density is often positively correlated with poverty and the rising number of urban poor in India is also as greater a sociological concern as is the state of population explosion in the cities. Poverty in India has become urbanized as 17% of the urban population resides in slums, as per the 2011 census, the largest proportion of slum dwellers being residents of Mumbai.
Combined together, Delhi, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai and Kolkata house nearly 4% (3.94%) of the total population of the nation as per the 2011 census – more than 4.7 crore people. At the same time, the metropolitan areas form the economic backbone of the nation. Mumbai is the world’s 29th largest city by Gross Domestic Product and is responsible for 70% of maritime trade in India, 25% of industrial outputand 70% of capital transactions to the nation’s economy. At a close second, Delhi contributes close to 5% of the total GDP of the country followed by Kolkata, Bengaluru and Hyderabad. Keeping the excessive strain on these metropolitan centers in mind in terms of the 3 P’s – Pollution, Population and Poverty – and their concurrently critical economic roles it is necessary for the government to nourish these urban centres so that they can achieve their true potential.
The various state governments should also work more proactively to garner resources for infrastructure upgradation in urban cities and as per the Fourteenth Finance Commission recommendations should think innovatively to increase revenues from Advertisement tax, Entertainment tax, Profession Tax, Vacant Land tax etc. Tax free municipal bonds can also be an incentive for Urban Local Bodies in this regard. Ahmedabad, Chennai, Madurai, Hyderabad, Nagpur and Nashik have already tried out this initiative. However, these constitute only a drop in the ocean.
The policy makers have to prioritise whether a bullet train between Mumbai and Ahmedabad for 12 billion US$ is an immediate priority or developing other infrastructure facilities so that the pressure on the above mentioned 3P’s -Pollution, Population and Poverty can be reduced significantly. The Central Government should desist from making the various initiatives as a marketing tool and indulge in less of showmanship.
In fact, the central government should invest at least 10,000 crore rupees in each of the six metros namely: Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Bengaluru in order to ensure a solid infrastructural framework to support the socio-cultural as well as economic activities that these six urban centers sustain. With talks of smart cities and a vision for a new India, it is imperative for the Prime Minister to pay special attention to the development of the already thriving urban centers of the nation in order to propel India into a new era where it can really be considered as a global superpower.