Hidden urbanisation is costing Indian cities a great deal in terms of unrealised growth potential
Managing urbanisation, especially in countries like India where cities are the growth-drivers and centres of employment, is key to sustaining growth. The World Bank, therefore, warns in its latest report that South Asian nations, including India, could be undermining a great portion of their potential by failing to control and reverse hidden urbanisation—a scenario in which vast chunks of the urban population lives in settlements that may possess urban characters but do not meet the necessary criteria to be officially qualified as urban.
India’s growing slums are a testament to this failure. As per Census 2011, nearly 65.5 million—that’s over 5.4% of the country’s entire population—live in slums while 13.7% of the urban population are under the poverty line. In fact, those living in extreme poverty in India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh show higher under-5 mortality in urban areas than rural ones. A great deal of this can be attributed to the poor sanitation and healthcare conditions available to them. Morbidity and mortality arising out of such hidden urbanisation then translates into reduced productivity—while South Asia had 14% of the world’s urban population in 2011, it accounted for just 8% of the global GDP that year. The World Bank suggests measures such as land pooling and land readjustment to take care of hidden urbanisation. Such consolidation could allow for more efficient delivery of civic services and governance. For India, whose Smart Cities programme is being keenly worldwide, this would be a key test.