Editorials, GS-1, Uncategorized

Cities at crossroads.

Public service delivery improved only in cities where state governments provided an enabling environment for innovation and better governance.

Urbanisation is the talk of the town. A number of new initiatives have been launched by the government of India in the last two years, raising the level of ambition of Indian cities — smart cities, clean cities (Swachh Bharat), rejuvenated cities (Amrut), and housing for all.

The first recognition of the importance of urbanisation, after years of neglect by both the Centre and the states, came in 2005 when the government of India launched the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) in December 2005. The mission ran its course till March 2014, with mixed results.

Public service delivery improved only in cities where state governments provided an enabling environment for innovation and better governance.

For the new initiatives to succeed:

  1. Though some funding through the new missions will help, as in the case of JNNURM, our cities have to be empowered with finances and capacity by the state governments and helped by the government of India. Without this, private funds will not come forth to supplement the limited funds of the government and the hope of public-private partnership will not materialise.
  2. Greater autonomy to the elected urban local governments in the running of city affairs. This will improve the quality of life of their citizens and also play their role as engines of rapid growth.

Why cities matter?

  1. To make GDP growth of 8 to 10 per cent per annum, which is necessary to improve economic conditions in India and remove/ reduce poverty within a short period, this can only be driven by industry and services sectors, which can grow much faster than agriculture.
  2. After having grown at close to 4 per cent per annum during the Eleventh Plan period (2007-08 to 2011-12), agricultural growth in India has slowed down to less than 2 per cent in more recent years. Undoubtedly, Indian agriculture can and should grow at 4 to 4.5 per cent per annum and, for this, we need to make large investments in research and development, soil and water management and agricultural extension. But rapid growth of GDP will have to be driven by non-agricultural sectors.
  3. Structural transformation: Faster growth of industry and services leads to a decline in the share of agriculture in both GDP and employment.

With far too many people dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, productivity of labour is low in Indian agriculture as farmers engage in labour-intensive farming. This limits their potential to earn a higher income. Since it is not possible for the existing rural population to earn a decent living in rural areas, they have to, and do, move to the cities. To absorb the exodus of people from rural to urban areas, we need to fix our cities. We need to provide employment, skills and opportunity for people to engage in industry and services sectors.

  1. By generating economies of agglomeration and by acting as centres of knowledge and innovation, they make investments in industry and services more productive.
  2. Existing problems like the severe air pollution in Delhi, traffic congestion in Bangalore, the floods in Chennai or the garbage menace in a number of cities, technology provides only a small part of the solution.

State governments will have to come on board in a partnership mode with the urban local bodies, the community and the private sector to make public-private partnerships work.

Making cities clean and sustainable?


The sewage treatment capacity in cities would have to be expanded by 63 per cent.

Only 20 per cent of solid waste can be treated scientifically at present.

As of now wastes are transferred to landfills and untreated sewage is released into hidden waterways.

Promising Initiative:-

Centre has asked fertilizer companies to sell municipal compost.

This will reduce waste pile up in society.


Communities  can be encouraged to create food gardens in every area possible using this resource.

Residents can start segregating their waste at home, and municipalities acquire the systems to manage it.

Contract loopholes:-

Tonnage-based contracts issued by cities have created a vested interest in transporting waste to landfills, rather than to reduce it through rules that require segregation, composting and recycling.

Changing the perspective:-

Swachh Bharat Mission should move from citizen behaviour and the visual appeal of clean cities to waste reduction and recycling.

A variety of financial instruments like Central funds, corporate sponsorship and the Swachh Bharat cess on services can be used.


Achieving sustainable clean cities will ultimately depend on the attention devoted to human development and environmental governance.

Cities need inclusive city planning, affordable housing, water and sanitation

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