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We need National Urban Policy urgently

Recent United Nations report on World Urbanization Prospects has revealed that in next ten years Delhi will become world’s largest city in terms of population overtaking Tokyo. The population of Delhi today is around 29 million as against Tokyo’s 37 million. However, by 2028, Delhi’s population will cross 37 million thus overtaking a shrinking Tokyo. The city which is already reeling under pollution concerns, there seems to be no respite from the problem in the coming years unless some drastic steps are taken. 

It is not the problem of Delhi alone. Today, 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 68% by 2050. In the coming years, India will become world’s most populous country, a record till now held by China. Though it is difficult to project exactly when this will happen as it is dependent on fertility rate, population will increase substantially in the coming years. According to one estimation Indiaís population is projected to peak at 1.7 billion in 2060.

India has the highest rural population in the world and it also means that there is good scope for further urbanisation in the country. Urbanisation rate which is presently hovering around 30% will climb up to 50% by 2050. By 2050, it is projected that India will have added 416 million urban dwellers. At present, India is home to five mega cities, with over 10 million population, but by 2030 this number will go up to seven. There will be opportunities all around which will come along with some challenges too. It all depends on how we approach the issue – if the glass is half empty, it also means that it is half full. 

If Andhra Pradesh dreams to have its capital city ready (first phase) with a population of 1.5 million and with world class amenities and facilities in less than ten years, others too can mimic those efforts. Indeed, a city with world class facilities with work to office average distance not more than 3.5 kilometers will attract population not only from rest of the country but also from rest of the world. Any planning need to make provision for that eventuality. Therefore, timely successfull completion of Amaravati city project is crucial for tackling issues arising out of faster pace of urbanisation. 

But time is running out for us as a nation as urbanisation is taking place at a rapid pace and our ‘business as usual’ mindset can land us in bigger trouble than we had ever faced. Remember, India has 14 out of 20 most polluted cities listed by WHO. Delhi and whole of NCR is still facing pollution problem with no feasible solution in the offing. Crowded public transport system, poor condition of public roads due to bad maintenance and poor quality of materials used, shrinking public spaces, poor and inadequately equipped public health centres and above all land sharks hand in glove with authorities and politicians waiting to grab any vacant land available in the cities are some of the major problems which are to be dealt with to ensure that the benefits of urbanisation reaches the masses.

However, the entire issue of urbanisation which is taking place at a rapid pace cannot be approached in a chaotic and haphazard manner. It is strange that we lack a sound urban policy for the country even after more than 25 years of liberalisation. India is one of the 193 countries who have signed the New Urban Agenda of UN Habitat in Quito in October 2016. However, it is heartening to note that the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs has recently formed a committee to draft India’s National Urban Policy and one hopes things will move faster henceforth in framing National Urban Policy. It is an opportunity to steer our urban transformation in a more efficient direction and we should not miss it.

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