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Urban Chaos — Anybody Thinking?

12 July, 2010

I was going through some recent reports on the state of urban infrastructure in India and what was needed over the next few decades for our cities to survive. For me, it was a highly depressing read even though most of the facts were well known. It doesn’t take much to look out of your Mumbai or Bangalore or Kolkata office window any time of the day and see the state of the roads and traffic. Or to open the newspaper in the morning and read about the water wars, the parking combats and the electricity outages that are routine features of our daily existence.

We know that no concept of long term urban planning exists in our country. Whatever we do, is for putting out a burning fire.

Affordable urban housing is a chimera that doesn’t appear to be achievable ever. Slums are to be nurtured because there is a vote bank there. Keep promising and keep getting the votes is the mantra.

Expressways or flyovers only get built when traffic reaches nightmarish levels. People continue to die every day travelling in Mumbai trains but there is little that we do to change things. Parks and open spaces are too far-fetched, let’s get basic sanitation first.

Power projects get announced and then derailed. No one seems to be even thinking of the drinking water problem that we are heading towards. Waste management – oh that’s a foreign concept – we are Indians and we like it this way only Sir.

Don’t get me wrong. Amongst all this really incredible inefficiency and lack of planning & action, once in a while, we do manage to put up a Metro or a Sea Link or an airport terminal – with the usual time and cost overruns but let that not take away any credit from those implementing these projects. 

But what’s even more incredible is that despite all this, the powers-that-be still have the gumption to get up and say that Mumbai is the next Shanghai. Or that India is the next superpower.

And what do we do – we clap, make the right noises about how great we are, and go back to sleep. Basking in this glory, our politicians and bureaucrats go back to their self serving activities.

Till the next disaster strikes.

With these overarching limitations, it remains to be seen how & when the phenomenal opportunities in Indian infrastructure will materialize. What we are doing today between infrastructure developers and financers is actually not even the tip-of-the-iceberg compared to what is desperately needed.

Whether this trickle would ever turn into a flood backed by long term planning, honest policy making and rigorous implementation is anyone’s guess. I know it doesn’t help to be negative. And instead we the citizens should get up and do something about it. And get our rulers and administrators to plan and act.

I am sure it is possible for us to plan looking at the next 25-30 years urban growth and the needs thereof. I am also sure there are staggering opportunities for the private sector to participate and implement projects and for the public sector to become more efficient.

What I am not sure is whether there is a political will or a bureaucracy’s desire to rise above self and look beyond the next election or the next transfer. 


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Urban Chaos — Anybody Thinking?

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