Delhi has become the world’s second most populous city after Tokyo, more than doubling its population since 1990 to 25 million, according to a UN report on the World Urbanisation Prospects. Tokyo and New Delhi are followed by Shanghai with 23 million, and Mexico City, Mumbai and Sao Paulo, each with 21 million inhabitants. The report said the largest urban growth will take place in India. By 2050, India is projected to add 404 million urban dwellers, way more than China’s projection of 292 million. This is bound to put an onerous burden on our urban planners as they will have to upgrade the creaking infrastructure in Indian cities.
The Modi government’s idea of building 100 smart cities is novel and aims to draw people away from metropolises to smaller, “satellite” towns with all the facilities of big cities. But the government must build a self-sustaining mechanism for modernising infrastructure in the cities and involve people in the process. What these plans ignore is the need to curb population growth. No matter how many smart cities are built, the planet will begin to feel the increasingly unbearable strain of providing food, water and clean air to a growing number of people.
Unless there is a drastic reduction in population, the paucity of gainful employment, compounded by the increase in longevity, cannot but cause social tension which, in turn, is bound to lead to an explosive political situation. At one time, urban growth was equated with “progress” while villages were seen as areas of intellectual and economic backwardness. But, as the latest figures show, the acceptable limits of urbanisation appear to have been crossed with baneful consequences for humanity. Official and non-official agencies should place far greater emphasis than before on small families and the conservation of the earth’s limited resources. The “pale blue dot” in the blackness of space is crying out to be saved.