Begin typing your search...
Editorial: Poorly-planned cities, a ticking time bomb
India’s ill-planned urban centres have been ticking time bombs as far as epidemics and their spread are concerned. Densely-packed metros such as Chennai, Mumbai, New Delhi and Ahmedabad are among the worst hit in the coronavirus crisis.
These cities are part of the country’s many urban agglomerations that have accounted for three-fourths of the cases and deaths due to the pandemic. As per a Census 2011 report published last year, over 1/3rd of Chennai’s total urban population (28.9 per cent) comprises of people living in slums, devoid of proper sanitation, access to clean drinking water and even bare minimum public utilities. In Mumbai, this number is at an unreal 41.8 per cent. With a population density of over 20,000 people per square kilometre, Mumbai is a sitting duck for communicable diseases such as the novel coronavirus.
Concerns of inadequate real estate aside, the air quality index of Indian cities has also been a bone of contention as far as the pandemic is concerned. With stupendously high levels of PM 2.5 in the air, citizens in metropolises such as Delhi and even small towns like Lucknow have found themselves especially vulnerable, owing to the compromised state of their respiratory systems. It might be worth recalling that India had as many as 21 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities, as per a study conducted by IQ Air.
The state of affairs vis-a-vis urban design and planning mandates an urgent need for the public discourse to be directed towards short term and long term improvements in the housing and public infrastructure space. A 2016 World Bank study said that a sprawled urban development model in India could set us back by $330 bn-$1.8 trillion more per year as opposed to a well-managed, compact urban development model by 2050. That amounts to about 1.2-6.3 per cent of the country’s GDP.
For starters, the government could consider limiting the population densities of cities in the range of 450-650 persons per hectare and shifting the concentration of development, away from the nerve centres. In fact, way back in 2011, a report on the Development of Sustainable Habitat Parameters in the field of urban planning had been prepared by a sub-committee constituted by the Ministry of Urban Development (now the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs) under the National Mission for Sustainable Habitat (NMSH).
It had offered suggestions such as the development of neighbourhoods that promoted walking, prioritisation of cycling networks, and focussing on Transit-Oriented Development (which is development near new or existing public transportation infrastructure that provides housing, employment, entertainment and civic functions within walking distance of transit).
In the aftermath of the pandemic, it’s imperative that the government and policymakers direct their attention towards urban planning with a renewed and inclusive focus on healthy social distancing (whether it’s residential areas, or commercial complexes or industrial hubs), ensuring that the lessons from the pandemic are imbibed for the greater common good.