Published in: 
Saturday, May 3, 2003

Throughout history cities have been centers of civilization and have been engines of growth for commerce and industry. They were hubs of their respective regional economies. Cities also foster and nurture new ideas and serve as centers of excellence for the arts. Owing to their inherent economic strength, and opportunities for growth, they are also beacons of hope for many a budding entrepreneur. Mumbai and New York City continue to attract thousands of such hopefuls every year who contribute to the city through their labour, services and entrepreneurial abilities.

Each of the Indian cities has a distinctive history, culture and charm of its own. During colonial times, our cities served as centers of power and many of them are the capitals of their respective states. Unfortunately due to a variety of factors ranging from population explosion and skewed urban planning to plain mis-governance, most of the Indian cities are crumbling and face a very bleak future.

Recently, there were two reports on the comparative merits of various Indian cities. One study commissioned by Outlook magazine rated the livability of various cities based on factors like education, health, prices, safety, transport etc. The other study commissioned by Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) looked at the best cities to do business in and compared parameters like access to finance, communications, professional education, road transport, hotel infrastructure etc. Incidentally the Delhi based research outfit Indicus Analytics did both the studies.

The Outlook report rated Chandigarh as the most livable out of the 55 cities it surveyed, and all the six metros figure in the top 10, excepting for Delhi. On the other hand, the CII report rated Delhi as the best city to do business and again all the six metros figure in the top 10 excepting for Kolkata. Our own Hyderabad ranked 4th in terms of livability and 9th in terms of business friendliness. The CII study indicated that 20 out of 35 cities (of 1 million plus population) have a overall negative rating in all the categories surveyed!

One should normally view any statistical data with healthy skepticism, as most of the time they can be interpreted to produce the desired results. But a careful analysis of both the reports reveal the underlying reality and show up the precarious position of our cities.

So, what is happening in all the other cities, which lie outside the top ten? Therein lies the real story of urban India. 2001 census data and long term demographic trends indicate that by 2025 roughly 40 % of Indian population will be living in urban centers. All of them cannot fit into the existing major metropolises, which are already bursting at their seams.

Both the reports indicate that the majority of Indian cities have inadequate infrastructure in terms of education, health care, public transport, housing and financial institutions which are essential for the growth of any city.

Obviously we need to do everything to rescue the dying metropolises. But we must also develop at least another 100 cities with all the infrastructure to cater to the growing urban population. You cannot have all the Industry located around Mumbai, Delhi or Hyderabad. There is a physical limit to the resources available in these cities and any additional growth in them will only lead to chaos and an urban nightmare. Look at Tamil Nadu. All district and small town are becoming busy industrial centers. The emphasis should be on integrated urban planning, true decentralization, quality school education, primary health care, sanitation, public transport and related infrastructure. These are the essential ingredients for any city to survive and flourish.

Just as rural India formed the backbone for the growth of India during the green revolution, urban India will be the engine of growth in the current century through its industries and services. It is high time that we wake up to this reality and rescue the great Indian cities from further destruction and plan for the future.