nagging question, today, is how will we do it? India's future urban
scenario speaks of the most extraordinary growth of populations:
on conservative estimates based on past growth, India will add at
least 255 million people to its 2001 urban population of 285 million
by year 2020, and there are now wide apprehensions that this will
prove to be a gross underestimate.
to these demographic trends and projections is a growing crescendo
of voices speaking of 'urban renewal', voices that reflect an unnerving
optimism in the wake of such daunting statistics and the national
track record of urban management. Indeed, it is very hard to see
any ordered development in the country, as we fail to cover the
cumulative gap of a widening infrastructure deficit even in our
'best' cities. It is useful to note that the urban population increased
by 68 million between 1991 and 2001, and the consequences are visible
in enveloping urban chaos and a near collapse of infrastructure
across the country.
owing to a coincidence of various circumstances, India and China
are being spoken of in the same breath, and rapid urbanization and
its impact are thought of as one of the 'shared' factors in their
development. Unfortunately, the experience of urbanization - and,
crucially, of urban management - in the two countries is anything
but shared, and is, indeed, a study in contrasts. India lags far,
far behind China in terms, not just of vision, but in simple clarity
of thought, planning, funding and execution. There are segments
within the political leadership in India that still speak of development
in derogatory terms as 'a middle class concept', while some planners
describe urban development as 'anti- rural', and still others reject
the very possibility of planned urban development. Even as millions
pour into the cities, looking for a better life, an utter confusion
of perspectives prevails.
is no such confusion for China. Its leadership is entirely clear
on the way forward. Seventy-five million farmers will move from
rural China to its cities over just the next five years, and this
is being described as the biggest migration ever witnessed on the
planet. But there is no sense of disorder, no loss of control.
how will China do it? More than 15 million people move into cities
in China every year, and by 2010, the combined urban population
will cross 600 million - about 45 per cent of the total population.
By 2050, according to UN estimates, seven out of ten Chinese will
be living in cities.
all this growth is a difficult task that will test the creativity
and capacity of China's leaders and urban administrators. For every
per cent increase in urbanization, according to one estimate, China
must add some 300 to 400 square kilometers of housing, consume 1,800
kilometres of land, pump 140 million cubic metres of potable water,
generate 640 kilowats of energy, dispose of 1.14 billion cubic metres
of waste water each year, and expend some 270 billion Yuan (US $
35 billion) - and these are just the bare essentials.
there are no signs of panic, disorder or confusion. Over the next
five years, China is planning to build 300 new cities and this is
to be done from scratch, in sharp contrast to the haphazard emergence
of urban conglomerations from the disorders of burgeoning villages
and mofussil towns in India. By 2010, China will have nearly
200 cities with a population of over a million residents, and more
than a thousand cities with over 200,000 residents. By comparison,
the number of metropolitan (million plus) cities in India is expected
to grow to just 51 by 2011, and to 75 by 2021.
year alone, China has created a world record of 4.7 billion square
feet of construction, and is setting the fastest pace of development
at a scale that has never been witnessed in history. Entire ghost
towns are being constructed, not to meet a backlog, but to fulfill
projected needs. And the rampage doesn't stop with a housing and
construction boom financed by huge Foreign Direct Investments (FDI).
Backing this up is investment in infrastructure, provisions for
power and transportation, to match the scale of urbanization. According
to one estimate, China is expected to spend as much as 3.5 per cent
of its GDP on the development and expansion of the national transportation
system over the coming five to ten years. The railways alone are
to increase from the current 73,000 kilometres to 100,000 kilometres
by 2020. Recent growth has, however, left China currently gasping
for power, and acute shortages are experienced in both rural and
urban areas. But the Government has plans for 30 nuclear reactors
for power generation by 2020, and as many as 200 by 2050. China
has already created the 'world class' infrastructure of cities,
roads, ports and airports that is still just a slogan in India,
and this is certainly one of the reasons why China attracted US
$ 61 billion FDI in 2004, as against India's meager US $ 5 billion.
targets and projects do not, however, exhaust the Chinese vision,
and plans are also afoot to build 'eco cities' - "self-sustaining
urban centres the size of a large western capital" - which
would create prototypes for urban living to counter the effects
of the over-populated and polluted environment, and that would act
as magnets for investment funds into the rapidly growing economy.
these are not pipe dreams; these plans are fully provided for financially
and are ongoing. A steely determination helps make this possible.
Today, the Chinese Government places enormous emphasis on urban
planning and development, and China stands alone as the only country
in the world to have placed its urban planning regulations, promulgated
in 1989, as national law. These regulations enjoy a legal status
second only to the Chinese Constitution. In India, every municipality
invents, abrogates and violates its own by-laws on a routine basis,
and every effort to introduce some measure of uniformity in legislation
or practice, or even to impose a modicum of accountability, has
been drowned out in a cacophony of protests.
would be easy to simply ascribe all this to the difference between
an authoritarian and a democratic form of governance, and to attribute
India's failures to the greater freedoms and guarantees provided
to each citizen, as well as to the natural infirmities of democratic
institutions. Certainly, the sweeping powers that local officials
enjoy in China would directly impact on the capacities for successful
implementation. But the plans, the visions, the capacity to
assess emerging trends and future demands, and to think strategically,
are not the product of an authoritarian politics - and are not unique
to China or characteristic of authoritarian systems. They are products
of a systematic and scientific approach to urbanization and urban
management. It is not democracy, but extraordinarily incompetent
leadership, chronic administrative myopia, indiscipline, the tolerance
and 'regularisation' of large-scale violations of regulations and
laws, and lack of professionalism, that have triggered and sustain
India's urban crisis. Our urban laws and administration are so lax
that even where our intent and desire are admirable, the execution
will remain impossible unless we build certain simple key words,
such as competence and accountability, into our vocabulary - the
buck must stop somewhere.
Published in The Pioneer, December