Creating affordable urban capacity....Subir Roy
Redeveloping slums can change the quality of life for the majority of metropolitan Indians living in slums
How to tackle the massive urban explosion India is and likely to continue experiencing in the foreseeable future? Two comprehensive reports have put a figure to the huge resources required to create capacity to meet the needs expected by 2030. The urban infrastructure report initiated by the ministry of urban development says Rs 39 lakh crore (around half of current GDP); the McKinsey Global Institute's report, "India's Urban Awakening", says $1.2 trillion (Rs 60 lakh crore, around 80 per cent of current GDP).
One way to address this enormous resource crunch is to shrink costs - innovate, think different, find affordable solutions. Interestingly, one set of solutions lies away from the problem areas themselves - to tackle A, do something in B. The bigger the city, the more it costs to create the same capacity. So costs go down if we focus on smaller urban areas. More capacity in smaller cities with job potential will enable them to shoulder a larger share of the growing urban burden.
Next, when working on a city, look more at its periphery than at its centre. Make the peri-urban areas a part of the planning of new capacity, as it is cheaper to create capacity at the periphery than at the core. The current dynamic is that, as a city grows, its peri-urban areas - parts of peripheral municipalities - become a de facto part of the city organically. Those living there have a lower quality of life, but also lay claim to a lot of the city's capacity by coming there for work, education or healthcare.
Eventually, when these areas become indistinguishably part of the greater urban conglomeration, clamour grows for facilities in them, like piped water and drainage, approaching the standards of the municipal corporation area. Then the peripheral municipalities are merged into the corporation area. But by that time these areas have become "hard", built up with neighbourhoods made up of unplanned narrow lanes, poor drainage and sanitation. So the solution for the future is to evolve land-use plans for what may still be rural areas next to a city, ensuring that when they urbanise they will do so sensibly and in a less costly way. A classical case of this is the IT corridor which was proposed at the south-eastern edge of Bangalore, but which never came off - because when the decision makers got down to the job, the area in question had already been built up.
To this is linked the third concept. In planning for peri-urban or adjoining rural areas, think a little big. Visualise large mixed-use areas where people can live and work and do not have to commute. Long journeys from suburbs to business areas create incredible pressure on transport, as in Mumbai.
The obvious generic term is "satellite towns", but one hesitates to use it because so many errors have been committed in the past over them. Many have thus remained poor cousins of the main cities, to which people continue to commute. A thumb rule indicates that for a smaller pleasant town next to a city to be self-contained in terms of home, workplace, education, healthcare, shopping and entertainment, it should encompass at least 5,000 acres.
Within a city, roads are a key element of cost. So go for vastly ramped-up public transport. If there is a regular CNG-powered bus service, then the need to use private cars will lessen. Apart from lowering automotive pollution, this will reduce the incremental demand for road space - and the need to widen existing roads, build flyovers and hugely costly metro rail projects. Seat for passenger seat, metro rail is 10 times costlier than metro bus. Encouraging alternate office clusters away from the central business district also goes a long way in cutting down on commutes, and partly facilitates living closer to the workplace. Bandra-Kurla Complex in Mumbai, Rajarhat in Kolkata and Whitefield in Bangalore come to mind.
Another key cost element in creating urban capacity is housing. There is little scope for more housing in heavily built-up areas, but all Indian cities have a great curse and correspondingly a great opportunity - slums. Redeveloping or rejuvenating slums can totally change the quality of life for the majority of metropolitan Indians living in slums. But there is a catch here. The model known and largely practised so far, sought to be used for Dharavi in Mumbai, is deeply flawed. Instead of building apartments for slum-dwellers which then quickly change hands, create facilities like sanitation and provision of drinking water, and encourage slum-dwellers to rebuild their own homes and non-polluting workshops. Then they can remain where they are and lead useful economic activities.
The author is a senior fellow at the Centre for Public Policy, IIM Bangalore, working on urban development