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UPSC Essentials | Society & Social Justice : Urbanisation and associated issues (Part 3)

(In UPSC Essentials’ series Society & Social Justice, which we have started for social issues topics of UPSC CSE, our subject experts will give an overview of the theme from both, static and dynamic points of view. ‘Express Inputs’ will widen your horizon on the issue. For the month of August, we take up the topic of ‘Urbanisation and associated issues’. In part 1, Pranay Aggarwal in conversation with Manas Srivastava talked about the definition, process, positive and negative impacts, and more. He also addresses a past UPSC question related to the topic. In part 2, he talked about rurbanisation, social effect of urbanisation, urban floods, and more. In part 3 today, he talks mainly about urban governance, solutions, case studies and source to study more.)

About the Expert: Pranay Aggarwal is an educator and mentor for aspirants preparing for UPSC Civil Services Examination. With more than 10 years of experience guiding civil service aspirants, he is acknowledged as an expert on civil service exam preparation especially on subjects such as Social Issues and Sociology. He is the India representative on Research Committee on Education for UNESCO’s International Sociological Association and a member of Indian Sociological Society’s committee on social movements. He is also the Convenor of Indian Civil Services Association, a think tank of senior bureaucrats.

Relevance of the topic: With the increasing pace of urbanisation along with the baggage of problems seen in recent times, this topic becomes essential for UPSC preparation. It is an important theme in GS I (Society), GS II, GS III, Prelims and Personality test. Aspirants will find it relevant for Essays as well. You are advised to go through the part 1  and part 2 before reading this part.

Manas: Previous parts focused on problems, let’s focus on solutions now. What should be the nature of urban governance?

Pranay Aggarwal: Addressing the issues associated with urbanisation requires a comprehensive and multi-faceted approach involving urban governance, the role of government, NGOs, and individual citizens. Here are some key solutions:

1. Effective Urban Governance: Strong urban governance structures and institutions are essential for addressing urban challenges. This includes efficient urban planning, transparent decision-making processes, and coordination among government departments. Good governance practices help in managing resources, implementing policies, and ensuring accountability in service delivery.

2. Infrastructure development: Governments need to prioritise investment in infrastructure to meet the growing demands of urban areas. This includes improving transportation networks, expanding public transit systems, upgrading water supply and sanitation facilities, and promoting sustainable energy solutions. Adequate and well-maintained infrastructure is crucial for addressing issues of congestion, pollution, and resource scarcity.

3. Affordable housing: Governments should focus on providing affordable housing options for urban residents. This can be achieved through policies that encourage the construction of low-cost housing, implementation of slum redevelopment programmes, and initiatives to improve access to housing finance. Collaboration with the private sector and NGOs can also play a role in addressing the housing shortage.

4. Sustainable urban planning: Adopting sustainable urban planning practices is vital for managing urban growth and mitigating environmental impacts. This involves promoting compact and mixed-use development, preserving green spaces, implementing waste management systems, and encouraging energy-efficient designs. Urban planning should prioritise creating livable, walkable, and inclusive communities.

5. Social inclusion and empowerment: Governments, NGOs, and citizens should work together to promote social inclusion and empower marginalised groups. This includes providing equal access to education, healthcare, and basic services, as well as creating opportunities for skills development and livelihood generation. NGOs play a crucial role in advocating for the rights of marginalised communities and facilitating their participation in decision-making processes.

6. Citizen engagement and Participation: Active citizen engagement is crucial for sustainable urban development. Governments should encourage participation through mechanisms such as citizen forums, public consultations, and involvement in urban planning processes. Engaged citizens can contribute local knowledge, ideas, and resources to address urban challenges and hold authorities accountable.

7. Collaboration with NGOs: NGOs play a vital role in complementing government efforts by implementing community-driven initiatives, delivering services, and advocating for vulnerable populations. Collaborative partnerships between the government and NGOs can help leverage expertise, resources, and community networks for effective urban development.

8. Promoting sustainable lifestyles: Citizens can contribute to addressing urban challenges by adopting sustainable lifestyles. This includes practicing responsible resource consumption, reducing waste, promoting public transportation, and supporting eco-friendly initiatives. Citizen awareness and behavioral changes are key to achieving sustainable urban development.

By adopting these solutions and fostering collaboration among urban governance bodies, governments, NGOs, and citizens, it is possible to address the challenges associated with urbanization and create inclusive, resilient, and sustainable cities for all.

Manas: What are your suggestions for better city management and urban governance?

Pranay Aggarwal: The way forward in city management and urban governance requires a holistic approach that addresses the multifaceted challenges of urbanisation. Some key steps and strategies for a progressive path are:

1. Integrated urban planning: Embrace integrated urban planning that considers social, economic, and environmental dimensions. Develop long-term visions for cities, ensuring sustainable land use, efficient infrastructure, and balanced development.

2. Citizen participation: Foster active citizen participation in decision-making processes. Engage communities through participatory approaches, inclusive consultations, and feedback mechanisms. Empower citizens to shape urban policies and initiatives that reflect their needs and aspirations.

3. Collaborative governance: Encourage collaboration among government bodies, civil society organisations, private sector entities, and academia. Foster partnerships to leverage diverse expertise, resources, and knowledge. Promote multi-stakeholder engagement for effective urban governance.

4. Data-driven decision making: Embrace data-driven approaches in urban management. Leverage technology, urban analytics, and digital platforms to collect, analyse, and utilise data for evidence-based decision making. Implement smart city solutions that enhance efficiency and service delivery.

5. Sustainable development: Prioritise sustainability in urban development. Adopt eco-friendly practices, promote renewable energy, and enhance resource efficiency. Implement climate adaptation and mitigation strategies. Foster green infrastructure and biodiversity conservation within cities.

6. Resilience and disaster management: Strengthen urban resilience through effective disaster management strategies. Invest in robust infrastructure, early warning systems, and emergency response mechanisms. Develop contingency plans to mitigate the impacts of natural and human-made disasters.

7. Inclusive and affordable housing: Address housing affordability and inclusivity by implementing policies that ensure access to decent and affordable housing for all residents. Promote mixed-income developments, social housing initiatives, and slum rehabilitation programmes.

8. Transportation and mobility: Prioritise sustainable and efficient transportation systems. Invest in public transit, cycling infrastructure, and pedestrian-friendly designs. Reduce reliance on private vehicles and promote alternative modes of transport. Improve last-mile connectivity.

9. Social inclusion and equity: Foster social inclusion and equity in urban management. Ensure equitable access to services, amenities, and opportunities for all residents. Address disparities and promote social cohesion through targeted policies and programmes.

10. Capacity building and knowledge exchange: Invest in capacity building for urban practitioners and policymakers. Promote knowledge exchange, peer learning, and best practices sharing among cities. Embrace international collaboration and partnerships to learn from successful urban management approaches worldwide.

Going ahead, urban governance requires a collaborative and inclusive approach, driven by the principles of sustainability, social equity, and resilience. With effective urban management, cities can transform into thriving, livable, and inclusive spaces that meet the needs of present and future generations.

Manas: Any important success stories or case study you want to mention for the aspirants with reference to urbanisation?

Pranay Aggarwal: While no Indian city is ‘perfect’ or even near perfect, many have done a remarkable job in improving citizens’ lives in certain key areas. There are several good examples of successes in various aspects of municipal governance from India, which UPSC aspirants can quote in their answers on urbanisation.

For instance, Shimla and Coimbatore have emerged as sustainable cities and bagged the top two ranks in NITI Aayog’s SDG Urban Index. Surat has progressed well in generating renewable power through wind and solar energy. Indore has done a remarkable clean-up job in recent years and ranks as the cleanest city in Swachh Survekshan conducted by the Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs.

Cities like Raipur and Chennai have streamlined property tax management by adopting a GIS-based system. Chandigarh has done well in groundwater augmentation. Vadodara Municipal Corporation successfully issued municipal bonds on the BSE, which will help it to streamline its finances to pay for vital capital projects.

These case studies can help IAS aspirants not only in the UPSC exam but also in their future roles as bureaucrats and potential municipal commissioners. For existing bureaucrats and other civic bodies, they provide a benchmark and a replicable model.

Manas: Any suggestions for students on sources to read on urbanisation?

Pranay Aggarwal: Students may refer to any of the below reports on urbanisation:

1. World Cities Report 2022 by UN Habitat – It provides useful insights into the future of cities based on existing trends, challenges, and opportunities.

2. ‘Reforms in Urban Planning Capacity in India’ report by NITI Aayog – It has made extensive recommendations to unblock the bottlenecks in effective urban planning in India and suggested a slew of urban reforms.

3. The Second ARC report on local governance holistically covers municipal governance issues and suggests reforms, many of which remain unimplemented and can be used by UPSC aspirants in their answers.

While these reports holistically cover various important urban issues, municipal governance, and reforms; students are advised to read them very selectively and incorporate relevant issues, statistics, and suggestions in their notes; always keeping in mind that they will be writing mostly short answers in the civil services exam.


Point to ponder: Why India needs good urbanisation policy?

Durga Shanker Mishra and O P Agarwal write in The Indian Express: A policy is needed to guide the planning and management of cities towards enabling India’s growth ambitions and also giving its residents a good quality of life, in a sustainable manner. Let’s know more.

Cities are drivers of economic growth. As India urbanises, it must ensure that its cities offer a decent quality of life and facilitate job creation. These imperatives are fundamental to India’s ambitions of becoming a five trillion-dollar economy by 2025 and a 10 trillion-dollar economy by 2030.

From a population of 377 million in 2011, Indian cities are projected to house 870 million people by 2050, according to the UN’s projections — by far the highest among all nations. Delhi is likely to become the world’s most populous urban agglomeration by 2030, surpassing Tokyo. Clearly, a major demographic transformation is taking place.

Notwithstanding their criticality, cities face several challenges today. Inadequate affordable housing has meant that almost one-sixth of the urban population lives in slums. Water supply is unreliable. Mountains of solid waste sit on the fringes of our cities. Poor drainage, congested roads and deteriorating air quality are other challenges. For our growth ambitions to succeed, not only do these gaps have to be filled, but even greater needs, necessitated by the growing population, have to be accommodated. Estimates by a high-powered expert committee and by the McKinsey Global Institute indicated in 2011-12 that nearly Rs 39-60 lakh crore are to be invested in urban infrastructure in the next 30 years. These amounts are outside the range of what the public budget can support.

The need is for a well-thought-out urbanisation policy to guide the planning and management of cities towards accommodating and enabling India’s growth ambitions and also assuring its residents a good quality of life, in a sustainable manner. In this piece, we highlight some of the key issues that such a policy should address.

First, how large and dense should our cities be? Should they house 35-40 million people or limit themselves to 2-3 million? Large cities offer agglomeration economies but are complex to manage. Dense cities are harbingers of infrastructure-related economies but are vulnerable to the spread of disease, as evident from the Covid-19 pandemic. A proper balance between agglomeration economies and manageability as well as density and distance will hold the key in determining the right size for our cities. A way around this is a kind of decentralised urbanisation where multiple cities are clustered into growth regions. These would facilitate agglomeration economies and yet be of a manageable size. The Paris region offers an excellent example, with several townships within its ambit. Services like metro rail are provided at the regional level but local roads and primary schools are the responsibility of local governments.

The second issue concerns finances. Resources other than the public budget need to be tapped. Capital markets are an obvious choice but involving them would require pricing basic services in a manner that allows a reasonable return on investments. High prices will make services unaffordable. How does one resolve this conflict? Monetising land assets is an option. More efficient service delivery through the private sector is another. Should cities continue to depend on grants from the state or central governments or should they raise a larger share of its needs, for example by improving property tax collections? Should central finances support specific types of investments or should there be more flexible support that allows cities to prioritise their needs?

Third, urban dwellers should be able to live, work and play safely and happily. India has boasted of well-planned cities from time immemorial. Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa have been role models for the rest of the world. The country must focus on good urban planning, instead of prioritising construction. Decisions on what to build need to emerge from a good plan, not in isolation. Planning must be dynamic enough to adjust to a city’s growth.

Fourth, should the planning boundary be limited to a city’s political and administrative boundary or should it encompass regional linkages? There are strong economic linkages between cities and their rural hinterland. There are linkages between multiple cities in a region as well as between cities and peri-urban areas. Should these interdependencies not be leveraged? Should the land-use plan for a city be divorced from a regional economic plan or be guided by it?

Fifth, we cannot afford to lose sight of sustainability. Despite having 18 per cent of the world population, India has only 2.5 per cent of the world’s landmass and 4 per cent of the world’s freshwater. Hence, global standards of land and water use may be too generous for us. Resource efficiency should be integral to urban planning.

Sixth, the challenge of climate change is upon us. A large share of our future carbon emissions will be in cities. Fortunately, our cities are still growing, and we are well placed to guide them into a low-carbon growth path. Energy-efficient buildings, sustainable building materials, clean energy, water harvesting, segregation of waste, electric mobility, public transport, walking and cycling are sustainable practices that need to be mainstreamed into urban planning. Building resilience to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change will also be critical.

Seventh, developments in technology that make it easier to work remotely will test older paradigms of office-based work. This work culture could change travel patterns and the need for transport infrastructure. An urbanisation policy should take cognisance of future mobility patterns. Increasingly, travel patterns are getting limited to shorter distances, requiring more non-motorised transport infrastructure rather than high-speed systems better suited to longer trips.

A sound urbanisation policy will guide how the growing urban population lives, works, and plays in India’s cities of the future. Such a policy is the need of the hour and cannot be delayed.

JUST FYI: Some of the initiatives of Government of India for urban sector

Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT)

The purpose of Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) is to:

(i) Ensure that every household has access to a tap with an assured supply of water and a sewerage connection;

(ii) Increase the amenity value of cities by developing greenery and well-maintained open spaces (parks); and

(iii) Reduce pollution by switching to public transport or constructing facilities for non-motorized transport (e.g. walking and cycling).

National Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY) 

The scheme focuses on the holistic development of heritage cities under the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.The Scheme HRIDAY offers tremendous opportunity for an integrated, inclusive and sustainable development of some heritage in India.

Smart Cities Mission

It is an innovative and new initiative by the Government of India to drive economic growth and improve the quality of life of people by enabling local development and harnessing technology as a means to create smart outcomes for citizens.

Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana-National Urban Livelihoods Mission (DAY-NULM)

To reduce poverty and vulnerability of the urban poor households by enabling them to access gainful self employment and skilled wage employment opportunities, resulting in an appreciable improvement in their livelihoods on a sustainable basis, through building strong grassroots level institutions of the poor.

The mission aims at providing shelters equipped with essential services to the urban homeless in a phased manner.

In addition, the mission would also address the livelihood concerns of the urban street vendors by facilitating access to suitable spaces, institutional credit, social security and skills to the urban street vendors for accessing emerging market opportunities.

Pradhan Mantri Aawas Yojana (PMAY)

It is a flagship Mission of Government of India being implemented by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA), and was launched on 25th June 2015.

The Mission provides Central Assistance to the implementing agencies through States/Union Territories (UTs) and Central Nodal Agencies (CNAs) for providing houses to all eligible families/ beneficiaries.

PM Svanidhi (Pradhan Mantri Street Vendor’s AtmaNirbhar Nidhi Scheme)

The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs launched a scheme PM Street Vendor’s AtmaNirbhar Nidhi (PM SVANidhi) to empower Street Vendors by not only extending loans to them but also for their holistic development and economic upliftment.

(Refer sources: India.gov.in, pmaymis.gov.in, nulm.gov.in )

Previous topics on Society and Social Justice:

UPSC Essentials: Society & Social Justice | Population and associated issues (Part 1)

UPSC Essentials: Society & Social Justice | Population and associated issues (Part 2)

UPSC Essentials| Society & Social Justice — Urbanisation and associated issues (Part 1)

UPSC Essentials | Society & Social Justice : Urbanisation and associated issues (Part 2)

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