Mahesh Vijapurkar

Though about half of states like Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra are urbanized, though according to the 2011 Census, only about a third of the country’s population lives in urban areas. Cities are growing, smaller towns emerging into cities, and yet we haven’t a clear idea about building cities.

Though post-Independence, Chandigarh, Bhubaneshwar, Gandhinagar, Kandla, have been built, and Navi Mumbai region is the world’s largest new city in the making, and Amravati is the new project, urban management across the country is poor. It would seem despite so-called ‘planning’, we only lurch towards ‘development’.

For about a year, new constructions in Mumbai have been banned by the High Court because the city has no means of disposing of the construction rubble. Now, Thane, adjacent to it, has a similar curb because the city has not dealt with the water supply but engaged in other development but city-centric. Delhi has a Jal Board to supply water by tankers because vast areas are without piped supply.

So is the case with Hyderabad, and while allowing new construction, which need specific criteria to be met by the builder-developers, the civic bodies ignore their responsibility. Provision of water and solid waste disposal consequent to construction is apparently not their concern. These shortfalls, including the obligatory garbage collection, should make anyone in a city or town wince.

Some towns and cities are without even the nominal internal bus services which force private vehicles to crowd the roads.

There could hardly be a single city which can be adequate in all respects, though not on the scale, say, of any European town. Cities, apparently not places of choice to live in but brings people there in droves for livelihoods. They expand the urban spaces but turn worse.

In this scenario, the ‘smart city’ concept is only a small band aid for putrefying wounds, though welcome, because any small bit would help, but not enough. In every aspect, the cities and towns do not lag in demand but certainly are with respect to supply of services. Backlogs are mindbogglingly huge. Municipalized Navi Mumbai which is only a part of the larger city project, has about a third of it in slums.

Nothing seem to work for the city mainly because anything done is always behind the demand-supply curve. Most cities and towns have uncollected garbage, sidewalk wending denying pedestrians their rights, overflowing traffic on streets which crawl, potholes, homelessness apart from the slums, unaffordable housing, as a minimum of the adverse features. Yet, we are a rapidly urbanizing country.

It is as if these inadequacies are the very nature of the cities but points to how bad we are in planning and executing policies. There could be reasons like financial constraints but that aspect could be easily overcome by stopping leakages – both by corruption and poor execution and inflated invoices. It boils down to the most elusive thing in public life – integrity.

Much more disquieting is the willingness of the citizens to allow this disastrous drift but towns and cities grow. It is an outcome of the citizen’s cynicism on the basis of past and continuing lack of good governance, and the belief among the ruling classes that the citizens do not deserve any better because they lump what has been given so far. So why change