Aristotle had said, “Man is a political animal.” One meaning of this is that man by nature, wants to live in a ‘city’ or a ‘polis’. This means man wants to live in a place where there exists law and order and a government. Savage life is not preferred by man. Throughout history, it has been experienced that development means an extension or increase of urban areas and also an increase in preference of man to live in urban areas. That is, development corresponds to urbanisation in our times.
Now can this be thought the other way round? That is, if a country tries to develop economically, can it go for urbanisation? Perhaps this may be true. That is why the Indian government has been interested in urbanisation. The Modi government also announced policies to make ‘smart cities’ and ‘model villages’ in a time-bound manner. But after some initial activity, the programme seems to have been sidelined. Ramgopal Agarwala, Distinguished Fellow of NITI Aayog, New Delhi and a former Senior Advisor, World Bank, believes that the model village programme, envisaged by Modi in 2016, in which each Member of Parliament has to build at least five model villages in his/her constituency was difficult to implement. This is because in India, with six lakhs villages, the average population of a village is only about 1000. It is generally difficult even to provide basic facilities for health and education in rural areas as teachers and doctors are simply not willing to live in these villages. As villagers get educated and leave for towns, the so-called model villages may become half deserted. Agarwala suggests that model villages should be made in clusters. In this approach, for 100 or so villages in each subdivision (tehsil), a central town with a population of about 50,000 will be created with urban facilities. Only this type of a big urban centre can accommodate all facilities for the people of that town. This town will be administered by the local community.
Regarding funding of the model village programme, Agarwala suggests that it will come from capital gains due to land conversion accruing to the new urban authorities rather than land owners. The land owners can be compensated handsomely. In these villages, there will be provisions for guaranteed employment for all stakeholders. Value of the land, after conversion, will be determined not by market prices but by the present value of income generated from the land concerned. It is believed by Agarwal that in the new area, the value of multistoried buildings will be very high. About 50% of the acquired land can be auctioned to private developers at market prices. The town authority will earn a great amount of money. The most important thing is that in his plan of establishing model villages, even migrant labourers can get employment in the villages.
In the case of construction of smart cities, the method will be similar to that of model villages, according to Agarwala. He suggests that the infrastructure development of these cities will be largely self-financed through capital gains from land conversion and they would emerge as model cities which will accommodate nearly 400 million new urban citizens between now and 2050.
Failure of the model village
Prime Minister Modi had announced in 2016 that in his constituency Banaras, there would be a model village. This would be a model village developed in a proper way and in the following days, other MPs could plan for that type of a village in their constituencies. But even after three years, Modi’s dream model village programme has not been successful even in his own constituency. Some reports have revealed that in that chosen village, there has been almost nothing done except for the arrangement of drinking water. No hospital, no college, no sewerage system has been installed. Nothing has been done for the creation of jobs. People of the village have claimed that they have to go Banaras or elsewhere for jobs. Most importantly, the entire funding of that programme was allotted from outside government funds and the common villagers were not taken into the implementation process of the programme.
Smart City Programme
Smart City is known to be the brainchild of the International Business Machine in 2011. Actually, there is no universally acceptable definition of Smart City (Economic and Political Weekly by Khan, Taraporewala and Zeroh, December 15, 2018). Even the Indian government’s Ministry of Urban Development considers that the conceptualisation of it varies from city to city and country to country. Even in India, there is no one way of defining a smart city.
Smart cities are those that provide core infrastructure and give a decent quality of life to their citizens, a clean and sustainable environment and apply smart solutions. Rama Krishna Reddy Kummitha, Professor at Politecnieo di Milano, Italy, has suggested some steps to build a smart city (Economic and Political Weekly, March 30, 2019). First, it will enable policies for citizen led interventions and encourage participation of citizens. Secondly, it will encourage citizens to come forward with innovative ideas. Thirdly, it should focus on building strong partnerships among all involved players. Fourthly, it will focus on strengthening academic institutions to enhance human capital resources in the region.
Agarwal and many others have raised doubts over the future of model villages and smart cities. Actually, land acquisition for city building has been a very big problem. In most of the cases, proper compensation for the land is inextricably involved with the lives of the land owners.
Besides, farming as a whole may be affected when a vast reshuffle of land use is undertaken in township building and farming. This may hamper cultivation. Proper planning before entering into town building is a must. Only a few can be made in some selected places. Then what next?
SPMRM and Small-Town Development
In the present context, there are two areas for development. Souvonik Ray, Professor, Indian Institute of Engineering, Science and Technology, Shibpur thinks that Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Rurban Mission (SPMRM) and district and small town’s development programmes should be the targets of development. This is even more important after the Covid-19 situation. Large parts of rural areas in the country are not standalone settlements but parts of a cluster of settlements which are relatively proximate to each other. These clusters, once developed, can then be classified as ‘rurban’.
The government has taken the SPMRM programme by aiming at development of such rural areas by provisioning of economic, social and physical infrastructure facilities. The second is small town development in India. Out of 4500 district level small towns, not more than 10 % are having proper sewerage, drinking water and health facilities. So, these two programmes will increase the level of living of a vast majority of people in the country. Additionally, it will increase the job opportunity of millions. This is more important when crores of labourers - coming home - become jobless. Proper investment in these two sectors can help to challenge the ongoing economic depression.