Need for integrated urban development in order to usher in healthy cities

By Sudhansu R Das

The urban India with around 50 crore people is supposed to develop the intellectual muscles, buy rural products, create proper environment for the pursuit of art, advanced skill, research and new technology etc. Unfortunately, it does not happen mainly due to lack of proper understanding of an India specific urban development vision.  

The government should identify the economists and planners who can plan for urban development after thoroughly understanding the city’s landscape, art, culture, business scope, heritage and environment etc. A healthy city is a perfect blend of art, commerce, culture, environment and social life etc. The cities buy the rural produce and create enthusiasm among villagers to produce more. A transparent market environment can always increase the income level of the villagers. 

But, a city can’t be disproportionately inclined to commercial activities only as it erodes ethnic culture which is essential to create enthusiasm, build healthy social life and boost productivity. Aggressive commercialization of different services also creates large scale opportunity exclusion for talents who belong to lower income group families. For example, a sports talent from a low income group family cannot realize his potential due to monetization of sports amenities though there are a few sportsmen who succeed in spite of poverty and lack of sports amenities.  People from low and medium income group families hardly access the quality health care, housing and education facilities in big cities. 

Many state governments build roads connecting city with villages in order to boost the realty sector and earn easy revenue. Once the road or railway lines are built people start buying houses; the cost of land increases many fold. People who are close to ruling politicians get the hint before road projects are declared and they buy land at throw away price to earn huge profit after roads and railway lines are built. The roads which boost the real estate growth remain unrepaired for years together giving inconvenience, deaths and injury to people. The government should not allow any city to expand without providing the basic amenities like quality health care, education, housing, transport facility and clean water etc.  Instead basic amenities should be developed in rural areas so that people won’t leave their village homes.

A large number of people migrate from the rural area to urban area; as a result, the excess population in cities crumbles the city infrastructures. They migrate to cities for higher income and perish in slums. The lockdown during the pandemic has given a clear picture of the plight of the millions of migrant laborers. Their dream of providing quality education to children does not always happen due to the high cost of education. Barring a few schools in Hyderabad the rest of the schools are no better than many good schools in small cities. The so-called big schools operate like commercial entities and maximize profit without giving quality education; those schools mislead parents with misleading publicity stunts. The educated and conscious citizens should act so that those schools would not waste the valuable time of children.  They build sports infrastructures only to rent it out to outsiders and seldom provide sports facilities to their own students. In the name of education they grab vast land for commercial uses other than education. There is always an insatiable hunger for profit at the cost of education. The majority of people who come to the city earn some extra income at the cost of their health and peace of mind. A large number of youth from Arunachal Pradesh and Assam work in Hyderabad for a small income of Rs 10000 to Rs 12000 per month. It takes three days to reach Arunachal Pradesh and the migrants suffer the pain of isolation for a long time as they visit their native place once in a year. North East India should protect and preserve the natural sector to create employment so that people would not migrate to far off cities for livelihood.

The city planners should necessarily learn to demarcate the city into heritage zone, spiritual zone, commercial zone, residential zone, historical zone, high rise building zone, office premises zone, hawkers’ zone and green zone etc. Unfortunately no Indian city observes such a zone system; the urban zone system is followed in many developed nations. Errand real estate growth is found in the city’s heritage zone, in the history zone and in the green zone. Business zone is overlaps any zone wherever there is little scope for business. In fact, there has been no Maa Baap for the Indian cities for the last many decades. Indians should learn to adopt good practices and discard the negative one from the western countries. The education system in India has not yet repaired the core Indian spirit which was systematically destroyed by the British education system.

Hundreds of lakes, green covers, open space and natural rock gardens have been converted into ugly buildings which are starving for drinking water. The destruction of hundreds of lakes in Hyderabad has created water scarcity; the government had spent thousands of crores of taxpayers’ money to bring Godavari water to cities and sell the water to helpless residents at an exorbitant cost.  All Indian metros have lost their ground and surface water to a large extent; as a result, they pay huge sums to buy water. There has been constant effort to dry the cities so that people will be compelled to buy water. Ultimately it helps water bottle industries. Nobody questions why the water bodies have disappeared. There is always a vague answer “people need development.” Nobody knows what kind of development at the cost of life giving natural resources like water.

The recent ICMR study found the ancient city C.uttack has the highest number of deaths due to heart attack. The main reasons of the cardiac failure in the city are loss of open space, conversion of open grounds into buildings, disappearance of water bodies, disappearance of green cover from the banks of the two big rivers the Mahanadi and the Kathajodi which flow on both sides of the city. Stress due to lack of quality jobs, growing unemployment among the local bustis, lack of quality doctors, food habit change, lifestyle change and food adulteration etc., aggravate health situation. There has not been any concrete master plan to develop the city into a healthy urban center.  Open drains in many areas, roads with hundreds of potholes and cuts, lack of parking space, road encroachment due to over population of automobiles give the city the look of a mad city. There are many small and big Indian cities which have become unlivable due to thoughtless planning, rampant corruption and populism. This is high time for the people and the politicians with a sense of belongingness to the nation need to act. 

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