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Urban poverty, pollution: Have Smart City mission, JNNURM made living sustainable?

By Ipsita Mishra*
Rural to urban migration is by far the major component of urbanization and is the chief mechanism by which urbanization trends have been accomplished. This has given rise to outgrowths and urban agglomeration and has added to the burden of resources by contributing to several challenges.
As we have witnessed in the recent past, the floods in Chennai and in North India in Mumbai and Bihar, including North Eastern Assam etc have created havoc in these regions. The drains are clogged, embankments broken, spread of diseases, no arrangement of sanitation and hygiene, lack of drinking water etc.
Who is responsible for this loss of life and property? Isn’t it normal that one should be prepared during rainy season? We witness urban poverty, polluted air due to Diwali in Delhi, lack of employment etc. We have Smart City Mission today, but the question is how sustainable our cities are?
A major initiative launched by the Central government was the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) in 2005 for focused and integrated development of the urban infrastructure. It focused on urban poor, housing, water supply and sanitation, urban transport etc. The Rajiv Awas Yojana was launched in 2011 for creating slum free India as a pilot project for two years. In spite of these initiatives there are several challenges faced due to urbanization.

Challenges faced and remedies

There are several challenges faced but those are not without solutions.
First, urban planning mechanisms need an overhaul to unify land record keeping, integrate land use with transport planning, and embed municipal plans into district and regional plans. The areas are vulnerable to the extreme weather conditions. Houses are very congested and buildings are constructed in low lying areas which makes it prone to manmade disasters. State planning departments and national planning institutions lack qualified planning professional.
The need of the hour is to expand the scope of planners from physical to integrated planning-Land use, environmental sustainability, social inclusion, risk reduction, economic productivity and financial diversity. For example, In Chennai floods, the airports also were submerged. It was evident later that airports were built in such land areas where they were not supposed to be constructed.
Second, due to lack of preparedness, there is lack of use of technology applications and municipal corporations are not working efficiently in metro cities. There should be catchment areas to conserve rainwater and water harvesting techniques along with filtration system should be developed.
Disaster management units should be well built and managed with better prevention, recovery and rehabilitation. Holistic revival of the river systems and early warning systems for those living along their banks is essential. Buffer stocks and food, with medical aid should be present for emergency situations. 
Third, major challenge is with the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) is that of revenue generation. Since the goods have private characteristics, so charging user fee will be feasible which will improve the revenue of ULBs. They can easily get loans from the banks henceforth. For financing urban projects, Municipal bonds which work on the concept of pooled finance which will be really helpful. 
Urbanization has its impact on all aspects of day-to-day life. Sustainable and equitable urban development is possible and should be catered to
Fourth, the roles of the regulators should be clearly defined. We need regulator, which can make level playing field and will be instrumental for affordable housing. For example Central Water Commission (CWC) does not forecast urban flooding but only for river. Hence this distinction should be clearly demarcated. 
Making cities climate change resilient, preparing local bodies' to handle disasters and not depend on National Disaster Response Force (NDRF)/ State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) every time should be the motto.
Fifth, there are other challenges of ecological balance, urban crime, poverty, employment, spread of diseases etc. The mega cities are facing increased criminal activities on account of unchecked migration, illegal settlements and diverse socio-cultural disparities, professional criminals etc. The gap between the rich and the poor is widened in urban areas.
Sixth, a paradigm shift is required in case of embankment management. The responsibility of these embankments should be deregulated and devolved to the community and the ownership right should reside with the state.
Seventh, vacancies should be filled up as soon as possible in local bodies. Policies and plans should not be done in haste but should reach logical end. Hybrid technology and Private partnership projects should be encouraged. Project management skills along with time management is important.
Eighth, models cities and villages should be looked up to. The ‘Kudumbshree’ model of Kerala built around three critical components, micro credit, entrepreneurship and empowerment, has today succeeded in addressing the basic needs of the less privileged women.
The Okhla Municipal Solid Waste Management project is the first commercial waste-to-energy facility in India that aims to convert one-third of the Delhi garbage into the much-needed electricity. Delhi Metro is one of the best in the world which is efficient as well as has earned green carbon points from UN.
Urbanization has its impact on all aspects of day-to-day life. Sustainable and equitable urban development is possible and should be catered to at any cost. We should leave this planet in a better condition for our future generations.
--
*Lawyer based in Sambalpur, Odisha

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