Reshaping the Development of Cities | 10 Dec 2021

This editorial is based on “It’s Time to Revisit, Rethink, Reshape Indian Cities” which was published in Hindustan Times on 09/12/2021. It talks about the significance of development of cities and issues such as unplanned development, poor land use decisions and ULB related issues.

India has been among the fastest growing economies in the world for close to two decades, and aspires to be among the top three largest economies in the world by 2047 — the 100th year of its Independence.

In this economic development of India, its cities have a major role to play. Cities are India’s economic powerhouses and a magnet for a large rural population seeking a better life. In the recent few years, a number of schemes have been launched specifically for the development of cities and the urban dwellers.

However, with reference to the efforts made for developing cities, the results have been dismal. The major cause for the same can be attributed to poor planning, infrastructural shortcomings and the plight of Urban Local Bodies (ULBs).

Urban Development in India

Challenges to Development of Cities

  • City-Centric Issues: Several city-centric issues such as air pollution, urban flooding, and droughts exist as obstacles in holistic development of urban India all of which point to infrastructural shortcomings and inadequate planning.
    • Land-use decisions are often made without an adequate empirical assessment of the consequences which disrupt the local ecology, and in turn, the economy.
  • Erroneous Classification of Urban Areas: A foundational challenge is the way of defining what is “urban” and what is “rural” in India.
    • Out of 7,933 towns that are counted as urban, almost half have the status of Census towns and continue to be governed as rural entities which adds to the vulnerability of unplanned urbanisation.
  • Unplanned Development of Statutory Towns: Even those urban settlements that have the status of “statutory towns” do not necessarily grow in a planned manner. About 52% of statutory towns in India lack any kind of master plan.
    • Most of the focus of planned development leans towards metropolitan cities (Class 1 towns).
    • The small and medium sized towns (Class 2, 3 and 4 towns), which together house 26% of the total population and need at least equal, if not more, attention remain untapped.
  • Issues Faced by Urban Local Bodies: The ULBs do not have a thorough know-how of the value of their assets.
    • A pervasive issue is the lack of adequate capacity of ULBs in taking innovative measures to overcome their financial limitations.
    • They also fall short in collecting sufficient property taxes in terms of rates and coverage.
  • Issues of Urban Transport: India’s ratio of buses to population is a low 1.2 per 1,000 people, compared to 8.6 in Thailand and 6.5 in South Africa.
    • State governments, which retain effective control over urban development have failed to operationalise the umbrella authorities to regulate transport.
    • The existing paradigm makes metro and bus services expensive for the majority, particularly those forced to live in the suburbs due to housing costs.

Way Forward

  • Integration for Inclusive Urban Development: Enhanced ambition requires the Central government to work with State governments to integrate key areas with its transport vision, such as affordable inner-city housing, including rental projects, access to civic services and health care, and enhanced sustainability, greenery and walkability.
    • All these are covered by Central budgetary schemes for cities. Only integration can bring about inclusive urbanisation.
  • Rethinking the Approach for City Development: For India to accomplish its Sustainable Development Goals and the United Nations’ New Urban Agenda, the government has to revisit, rethink, and reshape the way it plans and manages the country’s settlements and the connecting networks among them.
    • Cities need to be viewed as markets, places of several cultures and generators of employment opportunities and the natural environments within and surrounding them need to be protected too.
  • Overcoming Planning and Infrastructural Shortcomings: There is a need to build capacities in the country so that cities reap the fruit of urbanisation and generate the economic momentum needed to build a $5-trillion economy.
  • Role of Startups and Technology: Domestic private sector companies that are well aware of the organic growth and culture of urban India need to be nourished and built to generate solutions for India from Indian minds.
    • Startups need to be mentored and encouraged to cautiously bridge the gap between innovations and urban concerns.
    • Technology needs to be made a mainstay in urban planning education to ensure integrated planning.
  • Involvement of Citizenry: Citizens must be made stakeholders in city-making through awareness programmes about urban planning processes being made available to them and their elected leaders.
    • City leadership must also be enlightened and aware of how to make cities both liveable and inclusive.
  • Role of State Governments: State governments must develop a “state urbanisation strategy” which should stitch together the imperatives of all sectoral policies from industry and tourism to agriculture and the environment.
    • Unless this integration happens, coherence between spatial and economic policy will remain unconquered.


Cities experience constant evolution, they are not just drivers of economic growth, but are magnets of global knowledge exchanges and playgrounds for innovation. However, to enable them to fulfill their purpose, it is important to reshape the planning of the cities which is also inclusive of the components such land-use, housing, transportation etc.

Drishti Mains Question

Explain the significance of cities in the economic development of India and discuss the challenges associated with the development of cities.