Urbanism under attack, says head of high-level committee

“Haphazard planning has led to a situation where there are few public spaces, walkways and paths”

“Haphazard planning has led to a situation where there are few public spaces, walkways and paths”

India is in dire need of urban planners as there is more awareness than ever of the need for planned urbanization, thanks to worsening congestion, pollution and health problems caused by a mode of sedentary life, Keshav Varma, chairman of the High-Level Planning Committee of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) said here on Sunday.

Talk to The Hindu on the sidelines of Bodhi 2022 – a national urban development conclave being held here, he said haphazard planning has led to a situation where there are few public spaces, walkways and pathways. This forces people to stay indoors.

The country urgently needs 10,000 urban planners, who should be assigned to civic agencies and development authorities. They could even be displayed on a contractual basis. Such capacity building is crucial for the effective implementation of urban development projects. Unfortunately, framework rules do not allow lateral recruitment of planners, with the result that most Indian cities remain unplanned.

The worst is when the projects are implemented by engineers who ignore the concepts of urban planning. They even modify the approved plans to create more space for pedestrians. A planned and well-maintained infrastructure is also crucial. The decision was taken in Ahmedabad in the mid-1990s to build wide boulevards, including reducing the width of the roads. This led to an increase in property values ​​on either side, which in turn generated more tax revenue, Mr Varma said.

The quality of roads and related infrastructure also matters, he recalled, and explained how he used to travel with the concerned road contractor in a high-speed car at midnight in the mid-1990s, carrying a full glass of water. Any spillage would be a sign of an inferior coating quality and a holdback of up to 10% on its payment. This focus on quality has kept these roads in top condition.

Mr. Varma further cited the need for cities to be globally connected, to foster economic development and competitiveness. Hub cities like Kochi have a huge reach in this regard, fostering business environments and preparing climate-resilient infrastructure. For this, planned transportation, affordable housing, other basic services and community improvement activities should be given due consideration.