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New Delhi: Planned urbanization is critical for India as it moves from being predominantly rural to urban, with the growth of census towns—towns that have not been classified as cities but have lost their rural character—in the 2011 Census. The urban development ministry recently released the National Urban Spatial Planning and Development guidelines.

Urban development minister Kamal Nath spoke in an interview on creating a blueprint for systematic urban development. Edited excerpts:

What are India’s key urbanization challenges?

The challenges of urbanization in India are unprecedented. The urban population has increased from 285 million in 2001 to 400 million in 2011 and by 2030 is likely to reach over 600 million. India already has 53 plus cities and this number is expected to reach 70 by 2030. Today, nearly 31% of our citizens live in urban areas.

The greater the growth of the city, the greater appears the scale of its challenges, and, therefore, the urgency in addressing them.

Cities are particularly complicated because all aspects of what needs to be done—whether water supply or transport network, or even social infrastructure like education and housing—happens within its very tight, limited spatial boundaries.

A critical gap is that we keep expanding our city boundaries without care, to such an extent that the distinction between what’s urban and what’s rural is no longer clear. We need to plan today for tomorrow’s cities. But the current planning is limited in its thinking.

We also need to improve the integration of plans between departments. My experiences in the two related ministerial positions in the government—as the former road transport minister, and now as urban development minister—have served to highlight the complex dimensions of the challenge in crowded existing cities and in the unfettered expansion in the fringes of cities.

Third, the reason people do not adhere to plans is that they are poor in the first place. How do we solve the problem of insufficient housing and slums if we do not design for better density in proximity to transport and amenities. We are left chasing the problem, forced to regularize rather than regulate realistically.

The master plan of Delhi is prepared by the DDA (Delhi Development Authority) and approved by the ministry of urban development. It envisages a mid-term review to provide mid-course corrections. The Delhi master plan review that is underway has been made participative and six open houses were held; 4,294 suggestions were received. The number of the suggestions and that Delhi has about 1,640 unauthorized colonies are indications that the planning process and the master plan do not reflect ground realities.

Will there be a mechanism by which cities that put in place spatial plans become eligible for funding and other support from the ministry? And are there mechanisms for nudging cities that fail to put in place spatial plans?

Under JNNURM-II, we will examine supporting cities in preparing spatial plans based on the NUSPD (National Urban Spatial Planning and Development) guidelines, and these plans will set the context for development projects. The intent is to future-proof our cities from unplanned chaos by supporting (and) getting the basic networks built as per the spatial plan. We will also include incentives for capacity building, given the immense scarcity of good-quality planners and specialist planners.

How will the NUSPD guidelines be incorporated into JNNURM-II?

We must go beyond discussing the challenges of big cities. The development of small and medium towns is equally critical to India’s urbanization. In JNNURM-II, our focus will include small and medium towns as well.

We also have many important insights from the last mission. This time around JNNURM-II will separate the reform agenda from the project agenda.

Secondly, in JNNURM-I, we asked for CDPs, or Comprehensive City Development Plans. These were not spatial development plans—they were limited to providing a project-based context. For example, if a city came with a proposal for a BRTS (Bus Rapid Transit System), we would ask for the CDP, which had to reflect the full plan for the development of the BRTS, as well as a detailed project report. But the CDP was divorced from the land use or form of the city. This will change fundamentally in JNNURM-II, where spatial plans will act as the anchor for all interventions.

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