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Reimagining India’s Urban Space

  • 26 Sep 2022
  • 9 min read

This editorial is based on “Why our urban spaces need to be reimagined” which was published in The Indian Express on 24/09/2022. It talks about the necessity of reforms for the development of India's urban space.

For Prelims: India’s Urban Space, 74th Amendment of the Constitution, Atal Mission for Urban Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana-Urban (PMAY-U), Urban Heat Island, Urban Flooding, Indira Gandhi Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme, Sustainable Development Goals

For Mains: Provisions Related to Urban Governance in India, Current Major Challenges Related to Urban Space in India, Recent Initiatives Related to Urban Development

Urban Space is a breathing entity, it is ever-growing and evolving. Urbanisation in India is taking place at a fast pace; it is projected to have about 35% of India’s population living in urban areas by the end of 2022.

However, unsustainable urban planning is a huge limiting factor to achieving the real economic potentials of urbanisation as urban challenges have changed and require different approaches considering the current scenario.

As India is approaching the tipping point in its transition from rural to urban society, it is imperative that all sections of society have the best opportunities for economic growth.

What are Provisions Related to Urban Governance in India?

  • A pan-India vision for the urban area was first articulated in the 1980s with the creation of the National Commission on Urbanisation (1988).
  • Through the Directive Principles of State Policy and the 74th Amendment Act 1992, the Indian Constitution imposes a clear mandate for Democratic Decentralisation (Municipality) in India’s Urban Space.
  • The 15th Finance Commission report on local bodies also emphasised the city governance structures and the need for their financial empowerment.

What are the Current Major Challenges Related to Urban Space in India?

  • Purse, Purpose and Politicisation of the ULBs: In view of inadequate finances, the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) have been unable to fulfil their obligatory functions.
    • The functions of ULBs are often overlapped with special purpose agencies resulting in accountability mismatch.
    • In addition, urban local governments are seen more as platforms for political mobilisation than as effective tools for development.
  • Urban Heat Island: Natural land cover is reduced with dense concentrations of pavement, buildings, and other surfaces in urban areas that absorb and retain heat leading to the formation of urban heat island.
    • It increases energy costs (e.g., for air conditioning), air pollution levels, and heat-related illness and mortality.
  • Critical Infrastructure Shortages: Infrastructures are one of the layers that form a city. Majority of cities in India lack physical and cyber-based systems essential to the minimum operations of the local economy and local governance.
  • Inefficient Water Resource Management: Due to an increase in land prices and the lack of available land in city centres, new developments in Indian cities and towns are taking place in low-lying areas, often as encroachments on lakes, wetlands and rivers.
    • As a result, the natural drainage systems have become less effective, resulting in urban flooding.
    • Also, poor solid waste management is causing blockage to storm water that is leading to waterlogging and flooding.
  • Weak Urban Transport: The supply and demand of public transportation in urban areas are out of balance, so private vehicles are increasing, leading to congestion as the most prevalent issue of urban transport.
    • Also, the growing number of vehicles in Indian cities is viewed as the essential driver of climate change due to high dependence on combustible fuel.
  • Urban Poverty: The urban poor is largely the overflow of the rural poor who migrate to urban areas in search of alternative employment and livelihood. This creates overcrowding in the already packed urban infrastructure.
    • Due to the informal nature of work, migrants have no social security, causing them to be in fear of being expelled at any time as seen at the time of Covid-19.

What Should be the Way Forward?

  • Sustainable Urban Planning: There is a need to align towards sustainable solutions for urban issues that can include green infrastructure, mixed-use of public spaces and use of alternative energy sources such as solar and wind.
    • Good sustainable urban planning can help improve the welfare of people shaping their urban areas and neighbourhoods into healthier, more efficient spaces.
    • It will also help India to achieve Sustainable Development Goals specifically Goal 11 (making cities inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable).
  • Local E-Governance: Urban local bodies should maximise e-participation and include various social categories and in decision-making and bottom-up approach in policy-making through the use of new technologies such as social networks.
  • Urban Employment Guarantee: A replica of MGNREGA scheme is needed in urban areas to provide a basic standard of living to the urban poor. Social security measures for migrants and unorganised sector workers are also necessary.
    • The Indira Gandhi Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme has been rolled out in Rajasthan with the objective of providing economic support to the poor and needy families living in the cities through work to be provided on demand for 100 days in a year.
  • Towards Green Mobility: Public transport needs to be rethought and rebuilt, including by adopting e-buses, creating bus corridors, and using bus rapid transit systems to achieve green mobility in India’s urban space.
  • Special Cultural and Environment Zones: Indian cities can create Special Cultural and Environment Zones with zero-exploitation of that area and "Our City Our Culture" centres as a means to promote cultural values.
    • City Tourism can be promoted in cities and included in school activities (especially government schools) that will strengthen people's emotional attachment with their cities, as well as create jobs for the newly urbanised Indian population.

Drishti Mains Question

“Unsustainable urban planning is a huge limiting factor to achieving the real economic potentials of Urban space in India.” Comment

UPSC Civil Services Examination, Previous Year Question (PYQ)


Q. Local self-government can be best explained as an exercise in (2017)

(a) Federalism
(b) Democratic decentralisation
(c) Administrative delegation
(d) Direct democracy

Ans: (b)


Q. Do government’s schemes for up-lifting vulnerable and backward communities by protecting required social resources for them, lead to their exclusion in establishing businesses in urban economies? (2014)

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