India’s urban landscape has undergone significant transformation since gaining independence. Urbanisation has emerged as a crucial driver of economic growth, necessitating a reimagining and reshaping of Indian cities to ensure their sustainability and liveability. With the projected population reaching 1.5 billion by 2036, and an estimated 50 per cent of Indians residing in cities by 2050, addressing the complexities and challenges of urbanisation is paramount. Diving into the realm of urban planning, management and finance, there arises a pressing demand for all-encompassing reforms that can give rise to cities capable of nurturing economic growth, safeguarding the environment and elevating the overall well-being of their residents.
Urbanisation plays a pivotal role in India’s economic growth, with cities contributing over 70 per cent of the country’s GDP, despite occupying a mere three per cent of its land. However, the focus on urban functionality and liveability has been insufficient until recent years. Initiatives such as the provision of basic amenities like water supply and sanitation, implementation of technology-driven solutions and ensuring housing for all have been introduced. However, the impact of these interventions depends on effective grassroots planning for the coming decades.
The rapid urbanisation in India has brought forth a myriad of complexities and challenges, starting with the ambiguous distinction between urban and rural areas. Nearly half of the 7,933 designated urban towns in India were classified as census towns in 2021 and continue to be governed as rural entities. This problem persists, and has led to unplanned urbanisation.
Additionally, approximately 52 per cent of statutory towns lack proper master plans, with most developmental focus directed towards metropolitan cities and class I towns. Smaller and medium-sized towns, collectively constituting 26 per cent of the population and contributing over 44.2 per cent to the urban area, require equal attention from the states. Interestingly, class V and VI towns experienced significant population growth during 2001-2011, serving as intermediaries in the rural-urban continuum. Due to capacity deficits, these towns often lack sufficient attention, resulting in potential higher expenditure for infrastructure provision and corrective measures.
It is imperative to streamline the categorisation of urban areas and align their governance accordingly. Comprehensive master plans should be prepared for all towns, including census towns, taking into account their unique needs and growth potential. This would ensure balanced and sustainable urban development throughout the country. In my years of service, I have been fortunate to play a key role in driving urban development initiatives in India, and my experiences have reaffirmed the belief that strategic and planned urbanisation is crucial for the country’s sustainable growth. Throughout my career, I have witnessed the transformative power of well-designed urban policies and initiatives. As the CEO of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation (DMICDC), I spearheaded the ambitious project that aims to create globally competitive industrial hubs and smart cities along the Delhi-Mumbai corridor. The Aurangabad Industrial City (AURIC), India’s first greenfield industrial smart city as part of the DMIC, exemplifies the immense potential of planned urbanisation.My time as CEO of NITI Aayog further reinforced my faith in citizen-centric urban development. During this period, we launched transformative initiatives that aimed to empower cities to become more liveable, sustainable, and technologically advanced.
India’s G20 presidency is driving a transformative agenda for sustainable and inclusive urban infrastructure development through focused multilateral deliberations. Recognising the critical role of cities in global economic growth and sustainable development, India’s presidency has championed initiatives that prioritise the advancement of resilient and future-ready cities of tomorrow.
By embracing sustainable urban planning, strengthening governance structures, and addressing the complexities associated with urban growth, cities in India and other developing countries can become vibrant, inclusive, and environmentally conscious hubs that enhance the quality of life for their residents. The journey towards creating sustainable and liveable cities requires collective efforts from all stakeholders—the government, urban planners, citizens and private sector entities. Through collaboration, innovative solutions and a long-term vision, India can shape its urban landscape to be a shining example of sustainable development in the 21st century.
Kant is G20 Sherpa and former CEO, NITI Aayog. Views expressed are personal.