“Thinking small and managing shortages” in urban policies have been a disaster for India, real estate doyen Kushal Pal Singh said, as he called for a fresh re-look in town planning to be ahead of projected growth of the economy to USD 5 trillion in the coming years. Singh, the Chairman Emeritus of India’s largest listed realty firm DLF Ltd, rued that the same “myopic” thinking is still continuing and said he has high hopes from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to set things right.
“There is a basic structural defect in the urbanisation policy of India…,” said the 93-year old property baron when asked why India was lagging behind in urbanisation and urban housing compared to other countries. He was on Thursday evening honoured with the EY Lifetime Achievement Award for his pioneering work in architecting the real-estate landscape of the country. Singh left an army posting in 1961 to join DLF, a company started by his father-in-law, Chaudhary Raghvendra Singh, in 1946.
Known for changing the rules and course of the sector, he took DLF
DLF in a way created Gurgaon, now known as Gurugram, on the outskirts of Delhi after Singh built his showpiece township DLF City, by acquiring land from farmers.
Singh’s contributions to the wider community and nation-building have won him numerous international and national awards, including the Padma Bhushan in 2010. He stepped down as the chairman after more than five decades in that position, in June 2020. DLF is now run by his son Rajiv.
Noting that India adopted a socialistic pattern of society as a way of living in the mid-50s, he said, “So, there as a resolution it became that think small and manage shortages as a policy because everything was in short supply. That’s how the controls came about.” However, he said that such small thinking, trying to manage shortages and imposition of controls in urbanisation policies did not help.
“… So many controls on urbanisation, not realizing that urbanization has to be looked at as a totally different game because as India progresses democratically people would like to live better,” he said. Singh said it is easier to make amends in industrial policies, but not in urbanisation. “But in urbanization, this thinking small and managing shortages, was a disaster for India… Once you think small, your road width is small, your apartment is small, your water supply is small, your electric supply, your whole drainage system is small. So, then what happens is your express highways get smaller.
“Not realizing that as time goes by people who have cycles and motorcycles will have cars. All the designing was done for one apartment, one car and maybe two motorcycles. Now there are 4 cars and no motorcycles,” he observed. Singh said it is not humanly possible for the government to demolish the buildings all around and make a wider road. Without putting blame on previous governments, he said the industrial output improved after the liberalisation of the Indian economy in 1991. “But in urbanization, the same myopic thinking is still going on… the key to the whole thing is the vision of master planning in urban infrastructure is missing even today,” Singh said.
He pointed out that the public sector, which was entrusted with the task of providing homes and also building other necessary urban infrastructure, could not cope up with the demand, leading to developments of slums and unauthorised colonies. “You have to have a vision say 100 years ahead, do you see roads while driving in Chandigarh, You don’t see traffic mess even today. The reason is because in urban planning you have to think far ahead, Singh said, while pointing out that framing of master planning is wrong even today.
“I shudder to think, imagine a position, if USD 5 trillion growth is projected by the government, and I can bet that this will happen. Because we have a very dynamic Prime Minister… India will be exceeding these targets. Because we have got talented entrepreneurs and a proactive government who supports him for growth.
With this kind of economic growth and rapid urbanisation, Singh said all the urban infrastructures like roads, water supplies and drainage system will fall short unless “you have development of urbanization in coordination, rather ahead of the projected growth of the country”.
Singh said the country needs to learn from the past and start afresh more intelligently in urbanisation policies. “Today, can anybody say we are very satisfied (with the urbanisation policy)? Yes, we are very satisfied with our IT revolution, we are satisfied with the agricultural revolution. Can we say that today in urbanization,” he asked. “Think big and create surplus bigger spaces. There is no shortage of spaces, I am saying there is a shortage of vision. And this vision comes from a dynamic person like the Prime Minister. The moment you get his attention, take it and you will find a paradigm shift in urbanization,” he said.
Singh said he has shown a realistic picture and not grim one on the problem with current urbanisation policies. “Do not say I have posed a grim picture, I have posed a very realistic picture. Let somebody challenge me. Today, for example when I go to Gurgaon there is a traffic jam, why should there be a traffic jam. There is a 3-lane highway on both sides. There should be 16 lanes on both sides,” he said.
DLF wanted to develop a 16-lane highway when it was developing Gurgaon but that did not happen, he said, “So, this has to be a part of a direction from the top to say that the whole urbanization policy has to be relooked,” Singh said. “The whole town planning is wrong, in my view. The whole thinking is wrong. We have to be positive that India will grow and grow democratically. India will need better spaces. There’s no shortage of land, there’s shortage of only thinking and shortage of only people who formulate the masterplan; that is my opinion,” Singh said.
“… If there is any person, it is Prime Minister Modi who can do it. He has the power to take decisions and he is understanding of the whole thing. I urge the media also…” “For the interest of the country, for the interest of the countrymen, please wake up. You will grow. India will grow more than 5 trillion, take it from me, regardless of the government; entrepreneurs will grow India. But, what will happen to this infrastructure?” Mckinsey Report had projected that India needs one Chicago every year.
“Has any township come after Gurgaon? And, they will never come in the private sector, there’s a reason. So, I suggested, it is a joint venture between public and private…” Singh said the corruption has “come down a lot” especially after the enactment of the real estate law RERA in 2016.