HDFC Chairman Calls for Affordable Housing – 3

Setting the Stage for Urban Transformation
Urban transformation requires bold initiatives. Urban growth can be driven through radical changes in land acquisition policies, improved governance and inculcating skills and innovative capabilities in people.

The basis of increasing urban productivity lies in taking measures to use land more efficiently. We, however, tend to be trapped in a policy paralysis as far as land reforms are concerned. While countries like Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong have effectively reclaimed land where often the onus of reclamation rests with private developers, certainly a city like Mumbai has no reason to get cold feet on reclaiming land as long as environmental considerations are taken care of. Another example is that of the Urban Land (Ceiling & Regulation) Act which was repealed by the centre over a decade ago. In Maharashtra, ULCRA was repealed three years ago, but cases related to land disputes filed under this act are still pending in courts. These cases should have been withdrawn immediately after the repeal of the act.

Model Satellite City

India needs to work quickly on creating at least two dozen satellite cities around Tier I and Tier II cities. Satellite cities have to be built as ‘connected cities’ which means having sophisticated transport networks like trans harbour links, bridges and underground networks. No Indian city today has a 20-year visionary transportation plan. Significant changes in the Indian urban landscape can only become a reality if there is a strong will to simplify, streamline and de-politicise the process of land acquisition.

Having a system of governance calls for professionalism in the way our cities are run. Citizens need to know who is in charge of their city. The need of the hour is to have directly elected city managers who can function as the chief executive officer of the city. The city CEO has to have a predefined tenure and targets and must be empowered. In India, the actual development of power from the state to the local body level has not happened, so city accountability continues to fall between two stools. Clearly this needs to change.

High skilled people are a must to carve out distinctive global cities. India is a services driven economy and its strength lies in its human capital. Cities benefit when there is recognition of human skill sets that provide a competitive advantage. In India, the rise of the IT/BPO industry for instance, changed the face of many Indian cities. Besides creating many new job opportunities for a young workforce, real estate also got a boost with demand for large, high quality commercial space. To gain competitive advantage, India needs to swiftly develop leading positions in many more new niche areas which will help add value over the longer term. These niche markets are needed in both, the services and manufacturing sectors. For this, skill upgradation through continuous vocational and educational training is imperative for higher productivity.

At the urban governance level, there is an acute shortage of professionals such as urban and transportation planners, engineers, architects, civic administrators and technicians. Developing master plans have to be a core function. India needs to look at examples of cities that have imbibed a culture of sustainable urban planning. Effective urban planning facilitates the creation of infrastructure ahead of demand and helps to devise innovative ‘future ready solutions’. Singapore for example, is investing ahead to intensify land use through the development of underground space. It is putting in place subterranean land rights with a valuation framework and developing an underground master plan, which will add to the overall land bank. Indian cities will have to learn to think out-of-the-box and plough more efforts into R&D to develop resource and energy efficient city clusters.

They say education is the basis of any change. It has been HDFC’s privilege to support and be closely associated with the setting up of the Indian Institute of Human Settlements (IIHS), India’s first independent university, dedicated to all aspects of urban practice. The need for trained professionals with inter-disciplinary skills ranging across urban design, planning, engineering, architecture, ecology, economics and law is imperative for the sustainability and transformation of India’s cities.

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