Indian Urbanisation Story
India’s rapid economic development, especially since the 1990s is intrinsically related to its urbanisation process. The structural changes taking place in the economy and related poverty alleviation are both outcomes and accelerators of this urbanisation. This process has generated positive benefits for India’s gross domestic product and jobs for the young demographic dividend. Today, Indian cities generate two-thirds of India’s GDP, 90% of tax revenues, and the majority of jobs, with just one-third of the country’s population (New Climate Economy, 2014). It is projected that by 2030, while the urban population of India shall grow to 40.76%, the share of GDP contributed by urban areas shall touch approximately 70% (NHB, 2013). However, gaps remain in the overall quality of life for the urban residents.
Presently, Indian cities are home to an estimated 377 million people or 31.16% of the country's total population. While traditionally this urbanisation was oriented towards the large cities, the growth rates in these cities have declined since 1991 and faster growth is now observed in the adjoining districts.
For example, Greater Mumbai, India’s largest metropolis by population, witnessed an annual growth rate of 0.4%, while Thane, which borders Greater Mumbai to the north grew at 3.1% annually. Similarly, Delhi district witnessed a growth rate of 1.9% annually, while Gurgaon district just to the south, grew at an annual rate of 4.5%. By 2031, while there is an anticipated growth in diverse and widespread large and small urban centres, the 11 megacities in India will continue to dominate the India urban landscape in sheer population numbers.
There is a significant growth in the number of classified towns and urban agglomerations across India. The largest increase is seen in census towns - areas having urban features, but lacking any institutional setup such as a municipal body or cantonment board for governance.
Much of this growth has occurred in sprawl like manner with low density and large spatial footprints. In accordance with the Agglomeration Index, the World Bank in their report, ‘Leveraging Urbanisation in South Asia: Managing Spatial Transformation for Prosperity and Livability’, has estimated that urban sprawl actually accounts for 55.3% of India’s total population, indicating a wide gap between the official census figure of 31%. The report estimates that urban footprints are growing at twice the rate of urban populations, reflected directly in the increasing urban sprawls (Ellis and Roberts, 2016).
A distinguishing factor in Indian cities is the spatial continuum and agglomeration of low density centers. India now has 37 multi city urban agglomerations; the most striking being the Delhi-Lahore agglomeration - one continuously lit belt with an estimated population of 73 million (Elllis and Roberts, 2016).
Challenges Facing Indian Cities
Undoubtedly, the overall urbanisation process has generated positive externalities for India’s development with increased access to physical, economic and social infrastructure. However the pattern of urban growth (low density sprawl continuum across mega regions) has also produced negative outcomes; all Indian cities are facing a severe shortage of water supply, sewerage network, affordable housing, affordable transportation and other facilities.
The Indian cities are experiencing an unending spiral of habitats developing on peri-urban areas that lack infrastructure, yet are home to populations that cannot afford housing in the cities and commute to jobs within core cities using unsustainable commuting modes.
The poor quality or complete lack of urban services is leading to a rapid deterioration of quality of living within Indian cities. The additional emerging challenges for the Indian cities are their increasing vulnerabilities to climate change and the lack of institutional capacities to manage urban areas.
Similar to other developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, Indian cities attract people from rural areas that are unable to offer unskilled/semi-skilled migrants a minimum opportunity of livelihoods. This segment of people settle in: a) un-authorised residential areas, which are cheap, even though they lack civic amenities; or b) slums and squatter areas of cities. The existing housing shortage within Indian cities due to the mismatch between the demand and the supply is thus exacerbated.
A total of 108,227 slums blocks are reported from 2,543 cities (63%) out of the total 4,041 statutory towns (Chandramouli, 2011). The severity of the problem is clear - about 90% of the estimated urban housing shortage of 18.7 million units lies within the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) and Lower Income Groups (LIG).
In addition to slums, a number of housing clusters have mushroomed in and around various metropolitan centres in haphazard and unplanned manner, without a proper layout and devoid of service lines and other essential facilities. Due to lack of options, these unauthorised developments naturally develop on land parcels belonging to Government bodies, public/ private institutions or areas meant to be green belts.
Indian cities continue to face the challenge of pollution. Common causes of air pollution in Indian cities include combustion of fossil fuels used in transportation (diesel-fuelled vehicles), power generation and industrial sector; construction activities; open pits dug in cities to lay infrastructure; extreme heat and dry conditions in summers; and poor waste management.
Box 1: Sources of Key Air Pollutants
Particulate matter (PM) is a general indicator of pollution, receiving key contributions from fossil fuel burning, industrial processes and vehicular exhaust; SO2 emissions, on the other hand, are predominantly a by-product of thermal power generation. Globally, 80% of SO2 emissions in 1990 were attributable to fossil fuel use. NO2 is viewed by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) as an indicator of vehicular pollution, though it is produced in almost all combustion reactions. (Source: CPCB)
WHO focuses on four health-related air pollutants, namely, particulate matter (PM), measured as particles with an aerodynamic diameter lesser than 10 μm (PM10) and lesser than 2.5 μm (PM2.5), NO2, SO2 and O3.
Recently, Indian cities have been ranked among the most polluted cities for air quality. As per World Health Organization (WHO) rankings released in May 2016, four out of top 10 cities with worst air pollution levels are from India – Gwalior, Allahabad, Patna and Raipur (Reuters, 2016). Another six cities are listed between 11th to 20th spots. The WHO has also categorised air pollution as the sixth biggest cause of deaths in India, triggering an alarm with studies showing that breathing ailments are on the rise in Indian cities. As per Hindustan Times news article dated 4th June 2016, the report – the Global Urban Ambient Air Pollution Database – showed India’s upcoming towns and cities were grappling with toxic air, possibly because of limited government intervention and increasing vehicular congestion.
India’s pollution watchdog data for the last 15 years show that escalating air pollution in smaller cities such as Gwalior, Allahabad, Kanpur, Jodhpur, Ludhiana and Bhopal has outpaced that in big metro cities. A recent study published in Geophysical Research Letters, suggests that outdoor air pollution in the country is contributing to more than half a million premature deaths each year at the cost of hundreds of billions of dollars (Ghude, 2016).
Box 2: Measuring Air Pollution in India
India launched the National Air Quality Index (AQI) in April 2015, for monitoring the quality of air in 10 major urban centers across the country on a real-time basis and enhancing public awareness for taking mitigating action. The index considers eight pollutants - PM10, PM2.5, NO2, SO2, CO, O3, NH3 and Pb.
As part of the endeavour, the Union Environment Ministry proposed to extend the measurement of air quality to 22 state capitals and 44 other cities with a population exceeding one million.
Indian cities are increasingly exposed to climate change threats every year; these manifest in heat waves, increased rainfall and flooding that alternate with periods of water shortage and drought. It is established that anthropogenic activities play a significant role in changing the chemistry of atmosphere. The proportion of greenhouse gases has gone up and subsequently altered the climate regimes and extreme weather events globally. Climate change manifests in a variety of ways with both direct and indirect impacts. For example, heat waves have a direct impact on comfort level and health and indirectly result in increase in demand for water and electricity.
The occurrences of heat waves, both in terms of frequency and intensity are increasing in Indian cities particularly in the last two decades. This observation is also reflected in the IMD summary reports published between 2005 and 2015. Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Odisha have had heat waves eight times while Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan have suffered between four to six times in the 10 year period. Moreover, the impact of Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect, which raises both minimum and maximum temperatures in a city, is becoming more pronounced. A TERI research study shows an increase of 2 - 3 degrees centigrade variation in both temperatures during the last 15 years in Indian cities. The same study also indicates a 5 to 7 degree centigrade temperature difference between cities and their surrounding rural areas on summer nights.
Similarly, extreme rainfall events in India continue to deluge cities, cause unprecedented damage to property and claim precious lives. For example, Mumbai was flooded in 2005 due to an extreme rainfall event, when 944 mm of rain poured over the city in a 24 hour period. Other examples of extreme rainfall and subsequent floods have been seen in Uttarakhand (2013), Srinagar (2014) and Chennai (2015).
The impacts of climate change are particularly harsh for the vulnerable groups such as the poor, disabled, elderly, and children. For India, which is yet to fully come out of the vicious circle of poverty, the opportunity to choose a sustainable development path that can lower the greenhouse gas emissions and slow down the extreme climate variations is big.
India accounts for 6.5% of total CO2 emissions of 35669108 kT in 2013, behind China (29.5%), US (14.9%) and European Union (9.5%) (EDGAR). As per a government estimate (INCCA, 2010), gross GHG emissions in 2007 were 1904.73 million tons and net emissions were 1727.70 million tons (after deducting 177.03 million tons of emissions through land-use Change and Forestry activities). It can be seen that the dominant source of GHG emissions is from either the urban sector activities - electricity, transport, residential; or urban industries - cement, iron and steel etc.
There is a strong two-way relationship between economic development and energy consumption. Energy, regardless of the source, is a primary need for development. City-related production, mobility and transport patterns, deployment of urban infrastructure and private household consumption all lead to a substantial increase in urban energy demand (Sunak, 2010). While it is true that these activities lead to increased economic prosperity required for fuelling urbanisation, a sprawl-based growth also directly impacts energy consumption negatively. A study of 50 cities worldwide estimates that almost 60% of growth in expected energy consumption is directly related to urban sprawl, surpassing the impact of GDP and population growth.
In the case of New Delhi as per the Economic Survey of Delhi 2014-15, while the per capita income level of the state increased by nearly 13.5%, power consumption increased by 3.63%, and the peak demand increased from 3,626 MW in 2005-06 to 5,925 MW in 2014-15 (The Economic Times, 2015). The State of Environment report for Delhi states that 98% of the power demand generated in the state are by domestic and commercial users.
Lack of Governance and Poor Quality of Infrastructure
Good social and physical infrastructure facilities are crucial for economic growth, human development and poverty reduction. The expansion of city infrastructure in Indian is primarily in the domain of the municipal corporations and the development authorities. This devolution of powers in India has been enabled by the 73rd (rural Panchayati Raj) and the 74th (urban) Constitutional Amendments. Both these amendments define the broad set of functions and services to be delivered and the set of reforms to be implemented by the governing bodies.
The interesting part of the urban governance story is the increase of 2532 census towns and 242 statutory towns from 2001 census (Table 1). The new additions, especially census towns do not have an established urban governance institution such as an urban local body and are probably still governed by the 73rd Amendment. Some estimates note that only 26% of India’s population is governed by ULBs (Kapoor.M, 2016). In absence of this transition, the infrastructure planning and augmentation needed for urban services is neglected and consequently there is additional stress on the current infrastructure. Even in cities with an urban governance structure, the delivery is affected by fragmented institutional setup (AMRUT Apex Committee, 2015-16). The Indian government has been aggressively trying to upgrade the municipal services in the cities through the various missions. The previous JnNURM (2006-2014) and the current AMRUT (2015-2020) mission have supported efforts to upgrade the infrastructure services to reach an optimum benchmark level set by the MoUD.
An assessment of the Service Level Benchmarks (SLB) data for the year 2010-11 for 35 cities with population ranging from 1 lakh to 1 Crore in the JnNURM mission indicates a significant gap in the service delivery. Figure 2 illustrates the median values for various SLB Indicators for water supply, sewerage network and solid waste management. The indicators for each of the three are listed with their ‘benchmark’ or standard value under column titled ‘SLB’ and the most commonly found status of the services in the 35 cities is listed under the column titled ‘Median’. According to the data, most of these cities only have 66% coverage of water supply and 38% coverage of sewerage network. This trend is seen again in the newer data from AMRUT Apex Committee Panel of 2015-16. It notes that 60% of the Indian cities performing better in provision of water supply services as compared to connection to sewerage network. It also notes that almost 20-25% of Indian cities have more than 80% coverage of sewerage network, but they too lack efficient collection and treatment.
Box 3: Unequal Cost of Infrastructure
The High Powered Expert Committee report on Infrastructure 2011 notes that smaller cities suffer from higher per capita investment costs than larger cities. The per capita investment cost for water (production + distribution) is higher in Class IV cities (Rs. 5901) than Class I cities (Rs. 3517). The same is observed for other services such as sewerage (network + treatment) where the per capita investment costs for Class IV cities is twice that for Class I cities.
The size of cities is therefore understandably correlated with higher costs of distribution and is an additional challenge in the Indian urbanisation scenario that is showing trends of low-density outgrowths.
The rural to urban migration in India is showing increasing flows to the peripheries of large and small cities. In both cases, the areas are devoid of basic services and virtually untouched by norms of formal urban governance. The lack of affordable housing within the formal city area forces the existing economically weaker sections of the populations and the new migrants to settle on urban fringes with no transportation linkages (amongst other infrastructure) to the job centres. Even slum rehabilitation programmes have, until now, resettled the urban squatter settlements on the urban fringe thereby continuing to consume land and increasing the spatial footprint of the city. An example of this spatial expansion is the development of Delhi as a border-less city. Delhi’s urban continuum comprising a number of rapidly growing towns in Haryana and UP (GNCT, 2010) is coupled with increase in private vehicular fleet has given it the dubious distinction of being the “world’s most polluted city” (World Bank, 2015).
Low institutional capacities and fractured mandates prevent operationalisation of infrastructure and efficient service delivery. The current growth pattern of low density and spatially segregated urban areas or ‘sprawl’ is, unsustainable. The challenges of providing affordable housing and ensuring resource efficiency and sustainability have to be included within any progressive approaches of integrating land-use and transportation.
The subsequent sections will discuss the two primary factors; suburbanisation and transportation that drive this sprawl and their unique context to Indian cities.