FE Editorial : Building cities

Written by The Financial Express | Updated: Aug 1 2010, 03:23am hrs
Everyone recognises that Indias economic growth will be accompanied by further, more intense urbanisation. Currently, our cities generate almost 70% of the countrys taxes and they will become even more critical resource centres in the near future. Before we zoom in on how antiquated government architectures continue to stymie urban infrastructure projects, lets underline that such projects are not without positive impact on agricultural incomes and rural development. After all, when cities ability to satisfactorily absorb agricultures labour surplus increases, it incentivises mechanisation and other kinds of farm productivity enhancement. Given that Indian cities have been really lackadaisical about preparing for the existing rural influx, there is legitimate cause to worry when one looks at the projections for urban expansion. Analysts suggest that while it took 40 years for the urban population to rise by 230 million, the next 250 million will be added in just half the timewith 40% of Indias population expected to live in cities by 2030. In theory, our policymakers have embraced everything from community-sensitive approaches and systemic development of run-down areas to non-parochial adoption of sensible ideas. In practice, we have a whole different story. Consider the monsoon woes that spring up with torturous monotony every year. Instead of celebrating the rains, the people of Delhi and Mumbai find themselves entrapped in an ancient quagmire of flooded streets, clogged drains and short circuits. The traffic jams, of course, seem worse every year. If the countrys political and financial capitals are thus logjammed, one can only imagine the condition of smaller urban centres.

The Commonwealth Games, however scorned in certain pockets, have given the capital a significant facelift. Some question the need for new pavements, others complain that the chief minister has mutated into a drains inspector. But nobody can deny that this is a city at work, what with new flyovers, expressways, stadiums, public utilities and so on. But projects remain entrapped in a bureaucratic maze extending from the MCD and NDMC to the DDA and PWD. We grant that the Games are the first major international sporting event to be held in the capital in 27 yearsthey are also the worlds third-largest multi-discipline sports adventure. But Delhi deserves infrastructure development on an ongoing basis. Crunching up projects into an abbreviated time frame is a second-order option at best. To be fair, the Metro success story has shown that urban infrastructure projects can be delivered by Indian managers within budget and as per schedule. If this means chopping off the entrenched bureaucracys umbilical cord, few would shed tears.