Urban-rural convergence

Urban India is growing at an unprecedented rate. The census 2011 says for the first time since Independence, the absolute increase in population is more in urban areas than in rural areas. The level of urbanisation increased from 27.81% in 2001 to 31.16% in 2011, with a total urban population of 377 million.

The key reasons cited for such growth in urban population are rural-migration, natural increase, inclusion of peripheral areas within the boundaries of cities and towns and reclassification of rural settlements to urban.

A global study on urban land expansion, where land expansion is equated to change in land use and land cover, says India is among the three countries that have seen the highest rates of urban land expansion, China and Africa being the other two.

The projections made by various studies about India's future urbanisation present a challenging situation. McKinsey's report on 'India's Urban Awakening' 2010, predicts that about 590 million people will be living in urban areas by 2030 in India and equates it to twice the total population of the US. To accommodate this population, the report estimates that about 700-900 square million metres of residential and commercial space would have to be built, which would be like creating a new Chicago city every year besides the 2.5 billion square metres of roads which have to be built and 7,400 km of Metro and subways to be constructed, estimated to be 20 times the capacity added in the last ten years.

The report of the High Powered Committee on Indian Urban Infrastructure and Services (2011) says the urban areas' share in the national GDP is bound to increase from 62-63% in 2009-10 to about 75% in 2030. Cities will continue to be India's engines of economic growth. However, to have sustained growth, an investment worth R39.2 lakh crore on urban infrastructure and services would have to be made available over a 20-year period. This does not include the cost of land acquisition and an additional investment of R19.9 lakh crore for operations and management of the infrastructure and services.

The question is what is the future of urbanisation that we have set for ourselves? Would we allow urban population increase and urban sprawl to continue the way it has been or would we rather plan and guide the urbanisation process and reap the benefits of urbanisation instead of facing the everyday challenges of overcrowding, deficit urban services and lack of basic infrastructure in our cities? If the villages and small towns were to have matching infrastructure and employment opportunities, would it contain migration to large cities?

Quick, comfortable and affordable means of transport in regions surrounding large cities would deter people from migrating to the cities and encourage them to stay in small towns and villages and just commute for work/education and other requirements. This would also lead to an inclusive development of urban and rural areas in the region.

The cities in India show peripheral expansion where small municipalities and large villages merge with the core city and become part of the larger metropolitan area. So infrastructure provision should not be a question of urban and rural, but should be planned for a continuous metropolitan area or for a larger 'urban region' that includes agglomeration area, urban periphery and urban fringes.

For example the connectivity for clusters of small towns and villages with the larger metropolitan area/city would have to be planned first and the decisions on investment and phasing of such a transport linkages should follow .This approach, known as city-cluster development, will help contain migration from villages to urban centres and promote inclusive development.

Urban centres would typically house industry and service sectors and would have access to knowledge and skills and hence will remain the hub for economic development. However, social development, education and basic infrastructure should all be made available to urban and rural areas alike.

Service-level benchmarks should also be set for rural areas and transitioning cities as well. This spatial, functional and infrastructural linkages to growing cities with own hinterlands need to be promoted and secured so that they become centres of agglomeration economies.

Estimates show about 70% of the commercial buildings that will exist in Indian cities by 2030 have yet to be built. It is said that India has an advantage of not having built the infrastructure of tomorrow, and it holds good for both urban and rural infrastructure. This is an opportune moment to think on these lines where both urban and rural infrastructure is built in an integrated manner where they complement each other.

This is also an opportune moment to bring in policies that support in creating green infrastructure. Urbanisation is a continuing process and some of the villages will urbanise in future. A few of the states like Rajasthan are planning to build human resource capacity of the district level Town and Country Planning Organisation and have appointed young urban planners to support these. The Town and Country Planning Organisation of Rajasthan is also preparing development plans for villages.

The district planning committees and the metropolitan planning committees stipulated under the 73th and 74th Constitution Amendment Acts, respectively, could have a major role to play in integrating urban and rural planning and coming up of regional infrastructure. As the urban centres grow in size and sprawl more and more towards villages, an integrated approach to planning for and provision of regional infrastructure should be focused upon.

If we look at cities alone, even under JNNURM the infrastructure projects funded were stand-alone projects and had no precedence of a larger infrastructure plan, or even a part of an integrated development vision of the city.

While NIJNNURM seeks to influence larger reaches of cities and towns with larger volumes of funding and capacity building initiatives, it should also consider funding infrastructure that connects larger urban centres with smaller surrounding towns, agglomeration areas, transitioning areas or areas of influence to metro cities.

We have to urban and rural areas as complimentary to each other and this should reflect in policies, planning practices and investment decisions. Central and state-sponsored schemes should refrain from disjointed policies, at least for the infrastructure and services sector. Only then can we move towards inclusive and sustainable development.

Tags: TERI, Census 2011, Urban India, Rural Areas, Urban Infrastructure, land use