A world that urbanizes cannot claim to be harmonious if some groups concentrate resources and opportunities while others remain impoverished and marginalized, India’s Secretary for Urban Development, Mr. M. Ramachandran has said.
Speaking at a seminar on Harmonious and Sustainable Cities organized by India’s Association of Municipalities and Development Authorities in partnership with UN-HABITAT, Mr. Ramachandran said urbanization did not necessarily mean unrestrained economic growth that generates poverty and exclusion.
“Harmonious and Sustainable Cities [is a theme which] reminds all of us that urbanization cannot be done at the expense of the natural environment. Cities have tremendous potential to combine safe and healthy living conditions and culturally rich and diverse lifestyles with remarkably low levels of energy consumption, resource use and waste,” he said.
However, to realize this potential there was need to promote more balanced urban development by trying to harmonize the various interests, diversity and inherent contradictions within cities, he added.
Mr. Ramachandran said that even though India had the second largest urban system in the world, with 310 million people and 5,161 cities and towns, the urbanization was characterized by widespread poverty, poor urban infrastructure, and environmental degradation.
Less than 60 percent of the households in India’s cities have sanitation facilities, and less than half have tap water on their premises. About 40 million people are also estimated to live in slums.
“Is it possible to talk about a well balanced system of cities in which regional planning plays a key role for more harmonious national development? Is it possible to articulate urban planning practices with new regional approaches to planning? How can local decision-makers work together with national authorities in search of more harmonious urban development?” he posed.
He asked participants at the seminar to seek harmony within cities and between the built and natural environment.
The minister said the share of the urban population in India is expected to reach 40% by 2021, and by 2011, urban areas could contribute around 65% of GDP. Given current trends in population growth and migration, India’s urban population is estimated to reach 575 million by 2030.
He added that the Government of India had delegated power to rural and urban local government bodies and offered strategic support to the urban centers, through the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission launched in 2005. Through this programme, the Government of India decided to support 63 major urban centers across the country.
The main goals of the programme are improving and expanding the economic and social infrastructure of cities; ensuring access to basic services at affordable prices on the part of the urban poor, including security of tenure in land and housing; initiating wide-ranging urban sector reforms; and strengthening municipal governments and their functions.
The chairman of the Association of Municipalities and Development Authorities, Mr. Noor Mohammad said managing rapid urbanization in India would be a major challenge for the next few decades, with far reaching ramifications on sustaining high economic growth rates, reducing urban poverty, improving the quality of life of urban citizens, and improving the environment and reducing carbon emissions.
“The scale of challenges in developing efficient and sustainable cities in India is multidisciplinary and complex. The chances of success are much higher when synergic partnerships are evolved to deal with these challenges,” Mr. Mohammad said.