The world is witnessing urbanisation at an unprecedented pace and scale today, setting several challenges to policymakers and planners in building futuristic, but inclusive and sustainable cities and urban areas.
The challenges are on several fronts—social, demographic, environmental and economic. The aim is to redesign and develop the burgeoning cities into vibrant, environment-friendly areas that provide basic amenities to all citizens on an equitable and sustainable basis.
Therefore, the need of the hour is to implement the ‘New Urban Agenda’ by pursuing appropriate policies and addressing the challenges in terms of physical spaces and other issues for urban, peri-urban and rural areas at all levels—international, national and local.
Unprecedented urbanisation is taking place. It can’t be reversed even if one wishes. By the middle of this century, four out of every five people will be living in cities and towns. Urbanisation and development are interlinked as urbanisation is the driving force for growth. In 1976, 37.9 per cent of the world population was living in towns and cities. This increased to 45 per cent in 1996 and 54.4 per cent in 2016.
In India too, the pace of urbanisation has increased in recent years. While cities and towns occupy only two per cent of the total land, they contribute 70 per cent of the GDP—they are the main engines of growth. However, the galloping urbanisation is throwing up several challenges. For instance, cities and towns consume 60 per cent of the global energy and contribute 70 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.
The ‘New Urban Agenda’ emphasises the need to focus on these challenges. What we require is sustainable action and that’s why the UN formed the UN-Habitat. The need for UN-Habitat to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns was discussed in the UN General Assembly in 1978. Later, the UN-Habitat was created. It is a global advocacy platform mandated to provide policy and operational support for governments in identifying reforms and adopting laws that regulate urbanisation with regard to land use, urban planning, housing and infrastructure.
The Governing Council of UN-Habitat has 58 members, who are elected by the Economic and Social Council for a term of four years. The Governing Council is an intergovernmental decision-making body of UN-Habitat. The Habitat-III conference held at Quito, Ecuador, last year adopted the ‘New Urban Agenda’. This year at Nairobi, Kenya, where I was elected as President of the UN-Habitat’s Governing Council, the theme of the conference was “Opportunities for effective implementation of the New Urban Agenda”. It was indeed a rare honour given to India to preside over the Governing Council in 2017. Simultaneously, India was also elected as Chair of the Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Housing and Urban Development, which is an inter-governmental mechanism to collaborate and cooperate in the fields of housing and urban development.
Urbanisation provides both opportunities and challenges. The challenges include lack of planning, ineffective functioning of civic bodies and paucity of resources for urban local bodies. In a bid to address these shortcomings, the 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments were passed to devolve more powers and the three ‘Fs’— funds, functions and functionaries. However, it is not happening effectively. Similar conditions prevail in other countries.
In my presidential address at the General Council meeting in Nairobi, I had emphasised the need to empower the local bodies globally through devolution of three Fs. Also, the urban local bodies need to raise resources on their own through innovative planning and policies and provide better facilities and services to people through transparent and accountable governance. In other words, there is a need for a paradigm shift in urban governance.
The Modi-led NDA government has been moving in that direction for the last three years. Its flagship schemes like Smart Cities, AMRUT, Housing for All, HRIDAY and Swachh Bharat are aimed at not only addressing various deficits to provide better urban governance, but also seek to make cities and towns throbbing hubs of growth and sustainable development.
A series of reforms through incentives and disincentives have been put in place to achieve the goals. Incentives for universal housing, giving infrastructure status to affordable housing, allowing FDI and providing income tax exemption are among the important measures. In a historic announcement, PM Narendra Modi had announced reduction in interest—6.5 per cent interest subvention for economically weaker sections, 4 per cent for low income groups and 3 per cent for middle income groups—as housing is the basic requirement for sustainable development and a major component of inclusive development.
The government is promoting measures like waste-to-energy, waste-to-compost and reuse of construction waste as part of sustainable urbanisation.
Unless there is proper planning and issues related to infrastructure, housing, slum upgradation, employment and health in urban areas are addressed on a war footing through public and private participation, cities will become uninhabitable.
The Centre will leave no stone unturned in converting our urban settlements and cities into inclusive, safe and sustainable centres of innovation.
As part of the efforts to make cities sustainable and liveable, the ministries of Urban Development, and Housing and Poverty Alleviation have so far approved an investment of over `4 lakh crore for improving urban infrastructure under the new urban missions. And after the 14th Finance Commission recommendations, over `87,000 crore is being directly provided to cities as against only `27,000 crore under the 13th Finance Commission.