In the post-independence period, Indian cities had remained auxiliary to the concerns of balanced regional development. The city as a territorial unit in regional planning and development had largely not been the focus; the urban was neglected in favour of the rural by most national leaders at the time (Batra, 2009). With the recent introduction of smart cities, it can be seen that they are being thought of more comprehensively as planning units in order to build sustainability.
The Need for Cities in Regional Planning and Development in India
Indian cities in contemporary times face tremendous growth that at the same time remains unsustainable. This necessitates that urban planning in India is tied up to more broad-based regional planning and development so that a strategy can be envisioned for urban areas on a regional scale taking into account broader economic, social and environmental factors. Such an approach requires knowledge of the macro and micro economic systems and their operations in a region including integrated governance, social differences amongst communities and also environmental conditions that can vary across places.
Mitigation of such differences through a structured approach and provision of an integrated framework can greatly enhance sustainability for cities in regional planning and development in India. Many Indian cities, for example, Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Ahmadabad, Chennai, Kolkata, Surat, Pune and Jaipur face the problem of overcrowding. This may have an adverse effect on their sustainability with an increase in waste production, poverty, crime, rising real estate prices and resource requirements, etc.
Without fully incorporating planned development of urban areas, service sector initiatives that characterise such cities will not be as influential, especially when issues such as overcrowding and inflation contribute to their growth. With increasing resource requirements, services such as supply of water and electricity will have to be managed more austerely or they might fail in coordinating demand with supply leading to a shortage. This calls for sound management of cities vis-à-vis regional planning and management such that cities work in conjunction with the larger policy apparatus. The absence of this can create bottlenecks and gaps in policy applications which are exacerbated when parts of cities remain underdeveloped.
Integrated spatial planning is especially required if we take the contiguity of rural and urban areas. For example, in case of rural to urban migration an integrated approach would entail looking into all aspects infrastructure development, basic amenities, education, healthcare, etc. contributing to the migration from rural to urban areas.
Amenities such as affordable housing, employment and accessible public transportation form basic aspects of urban infrastructure that are not integrated into all cities. A comprehensive and an integrated approach is required that combines human habitation, economic growth and environmental planning for cities in India (King et al., 2011). This requires attention to cities for them to experience sustainable growth in sync with cohesive regional planning and development.
Streamlining Urban Development in India
The Planning Commission (2011) projects that the number of people residing in urban areas will grow from 377 million to about 600 million by 2031, representing an increase of about 200 million in 20 years. With higher consuming powers possible and sources of credit in India becoming increasingly present mostly in urban areas, India would be fast moving towards a development model that favours urban areas as centres of commerce. As a result, cities would become attractive destinations where economic activities would be concentrated.
The consequent agglomeration and densification of economic activities along with increasing human habitation in urban areas provide greater economic efficiencies than dispersed rural areas with populations largely lacking in the skills required to participate in the modern economy. Under such circumstances, the spectre of the rural-urban divide develops which ignores the fact that rural/urban areas are largely coterminous with issues of migration and the development of intermediate formations such as peri-urban areas where the rural and the urban exist in nearby surroundings.
With cities left largely to the agency of municipal bodies and capital, many government policies in regional planning and development aim to address rural backwardness in what can be termed as a ‘prosperity gap’ in many cases. With an integrated framework for inclusion of cities in regional planning and development, establishing networks between the economic prosperity of the cities and the rural areas suffering from backwardness are possible. The economic capital flows can be better managed so that local rural economies can be linked to the booming urban ones and benefit in part from urban prosperity.
The case in point is the replacement of traditional local tastes in food by commercial agriculture which has kept farmers outside an integrated local economy on one hand with no connectivity to consumption, supplying middlemen who usually offer little returns for the farmer on the other. Instead, direct involvement with nearby consumption can enable farmers to avail greater monetary benefits (for instance by demanding higher returns from middlemen) if urban economies of consumption are integrated into local farming economies with the help of regional planning and development that includes adjustments in urban locations. This can allow Indian farmers to benefit from the shift from food to commercial crops.
Proper knowledge of consumption entailed through the connectivity with nearby urban centres of consumption would help in raising farmers’ incomes due to an integrated approach for cities. This would also provide a planning regime for urban centres to ascertain sources of food supply in a more efficient manner, which can help in managing food inflation by streamlining supply sources. This could in turn help in providing an income support system for certain farming communities.
Poverty is a phenomenon not limited to only rural areas, but is widespread also in urban areas. Poverty is also often coupled with unemployment which given the high cost of living in cities can make the problem even more acute. The commonness of these problems in Indian cities is a major challenge for urban development in India. Incorporating the cities in interconnected regional and developmental planning in part would allow for an integrated framework with which to address this issue.
Along with poverty and unemployment, another major challenge according to the Planning Commission is the adequacy of basic services in India. Many Indian cities lag in basic services such as affordable housing, provision of clean drinking water and sanitation. As per the Census 2011, 70.6 per cent of the urban population in India received water supply, compared to 91 per cent in China and 86 per cent in South Africa which are emerging economies like India. A sewage network is absent in 4,861 cities and towns in India and 13 per cent of urban Indian households defecate in the open. Only 27 per cent of urban transport in India is public transport. 65,494,604 people in India live in slums, many of whom are literate, with a literacy rate of 77.72 per cent nationally (Planning Commission, 2011). The numbers are a stark reminder of the developmental challenges faced by urban areas in India. These challenges cannot be met by cities by themselves. They require integrated solutions through regional planning and development.
Most sources of greenhouse gas emissions are from urban and industrial complexes, and as such urban areas are hugely significant in terms of the threat of climate change. This requires looking at urban areas in totality in a comprehensive approach as saving energy is primarily a technological challenge and cities are also hubs of technology. Urban areas also face greater risks to life and property due to the anticipated effects of climate change such as flooding due to cloudbursts, greater damage due to landslides, etc. These place cities at the forefront of climate change adaptation and a total approach that includes cities in regional planning and development is necessary.
With a lag in providing basic services, meeting the challenge of sustainability will be even more difficult for cities in India. Cities are in fact the hub for basic modern services to be disseminated to other regions of the country. In moving towards sustainable development with the contribution of basic services, cities must lead the way. This process must also be amplified by including cities in regional planning and development in India. Such a step would enable cities to extend and manage better the basic services they provide and act as hubs for disseminating. The extension of basic services in terms of accessibility and affordability can also help in bettering conditions for the poor and also provide better opportunities for employment. This is especially relevant in a country like India where the service sector constitutes a major aspect of employment.
Providing employment opportunities in cities must also be balanced with rural to urban migration. This acutely requires an integrated national approach for rural to urban migration in India. Migration is often accompanied with other issues such as health and safety issues alongside poverty and unemployment. This necessitates a more comprehensive lens for looking at the entire process through inclusion of cities in regional planning and development.
To achieve the goal of sustainability, systemic solutions should also be introduced into construction processes in urban areas with the help of construction regulations, use of construction technology, etc. This can also help in conserving energy in urban areas which are a huge source of energy consumption along with building infrastructure for introducing renewable energy into urban energy consumption. The task of building sustainability requires a proper order of governance that can be ordered in governing cities and their co-existence with the surrounding regions. This requires both centralization and decentralization working in consort. This decentralization should also include public participation and public management in the working of cities where community organizations are given space along with the market.
To move towards sustainability, cities must also move towards affordability, focus on small scale settlements as well, make all possible use of technologies, pay attention to its functional infrastructure, avoid practices that are environmentally wasteful and manage resources adequately (UN, 2012). Sustainability has to be treated as a comprehensive goal requiring an all-inclusive approach uniting regions or cities.