Rethinking Urban Missions
The misplaced optimism that India is somehow protected from the COVID 19 pandemic has proved to be illusory, with the country emerging as third worst-hit county after USA and Brazil and rapidly escalating numbers of cases and deaths in urban India. Big 20 cities in highly urbanized states contribute 74% of the cases and 11 municipal corporations – Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Pune, Bangalore, Indore, Jaipur, Kolkata, Surat and Hyderabad have 65% of the caseloads. The outbreak has laid bare the life and livelihood conflicts through return migration of millions of informal sector workers to the villages as a result of the unplanned lockdown. In the absence of basic urban safety net, the livelihoods of daily wage earners and informal sector workers across the country have been severely disrupted. The crucial disconnect of housing- livelihood- public health has become evident. Since 2005, India witnessed fast-tracking of urban growth through mission mode urban rejuvenation to promote reforms and ensure efficiency in infrastructure and basic service delivery including affordable housing for the poor. In 2014, the country embarked upon the ambitious Smart Cities Mission (SCM) emphasizing on technology-enabled management of hard infrastructure and land monetization to woo the international and domestic investors in one hundred cities. There are contrasting opinions about the efficacy of the prevailing paradigm in addressing the long-pending structural issues of urban development, planning and governance architecture, making available affordable land and infrastructure for low-income groups and urban poor and ensuring ecological and environmental resilience to our cities.
Indian cities are facing systemic deficiencies and warrant a paradigm shift in policies. The pandemic provides an opportunity to introspect on the urban strategy, the urban missions in particular and examine their efficacy to deal with the structural limitations exposed during the pandemic. Objectives of the webinar are to dwell upon these issues and also discussing the possibilities of course corrections to keep pace with the socio-economic transformation and aspirations of the heterogeneous population by way of negotiating/resolving the competing claims of multiple stakeholders in our cities. It would be appropriate at this crucial juncture to examine our cities through the lens of housing- livelihood- public health nexus to reconfigure the urban strategy and repurpose the urban missions towards a resilient future.