The Telangana urban policy is a paradigm shift in urban planning with a citizen-friendly futuristic vision. Rapid growth in urbanisation is resulting in over half of the world’s population either living in cities and towns or migrating there. It is projected that by 2050, nearly 70% of the people will be living in urban areas. This would lead to significant economic growth with the cities becoming the engines propelling it.
A key reason why large cities tend to have productivity advantages is their capacity to catalyse agglomeration and networking externalities, facilitating economies of scale. But this pervasive phenomenon increases the demand for urban infrastructure making the task of planning, finance and governance inherently challenging. This leads to exorbitant land and housing prices, shortage of civic amenities, traffic congestion, pollution, sprawl, slums, inequality, crime, etc.
Urban planning is a crucial tool to manage cities, but it is often a neglected subject in India. Unfortunately, the Indian planning system has forgotten that urban and town planning is critical for a growing country like India.
The government of India carved out National Urban Policy Framework (NUPF) in 2018. The policy outlines ten philosophical principles focusing majorly in the ten functional areas of urban space and management. However, under provisions of 7th Schedule of the Constitution, Urban Development and Urban Policy is a State subject.
Telangana has done very well in urban innovation. The youngest State has taken up several initiatives to develop cities and towns. Hyderabad, the capital city, has created a unique mark in global competitiveness and progressed on several fronts. Cities like Warangal, Karimnagar, Nizamabad and Khammam are being developed by promoting economic linkages with their surrounding areas.
Recently, the government constituted seven new Municipal Corporations in addition to the present six. Initiatives are on to develop master plans for all towns and cities in the State to promote orderly development of urban areas.
Junking Outdated Policies
In the context of large-scale urbanisation, it’s of utmost importance to do away with outdated urban development Acts, especially the Telangana Municipalities Act, 1965, and Telangana Town Planning Act, 1920. Despite large-scale reforms, the outdated Acts in force have constantly failed the urban system in the State to keep pace with socio-economic and cultural dynamism. Development is miserably hindered by challenges like multiplicity of organisations, lack of coordination, weak finances, unprecedented urban sprawl, uneconomic extension of infrastructure, slums, environmental degradation, and segregation between the rich and the poor.
Further, there are subjectivities under these existing Acts, providing an opaque system wherein too much power and discretion is vested in the hands of municipal employees. This is a key reason for citizen pain points resulting in delays, corruption and harassment.
There is thus an urgent need to shelve old archaic laws and come out afresh with emphasis on use of technology, transparency and self-certification. The ultimate idea is to make things easy for citizens so far as interaction with municipalities and services are concerned. And hence the new Municipal Act has been brought by the Telangana government.
Planning in Telangana
Harnessing the synergy between land, transport and urban economics and spatial planning to avail the opportunities unleashed by the Urban Revolution is important. Urban Planning must be brought to the fore to resolve complex urban challenges.
Hence, the Telangana State Urban Policy (TSUP) is essential for an integrated and coherent approach towards the future of urban planning. The TSUP will facilitate urban development in building interactions between land-use, transport and housing within cities, and then choosing the optimum solution based on specified goals.
The three core elements that the TSUP should focus on are planning, governance, and urban finance and infrastructure development. These three elements would build economically efficient, socially inclusive, environmentally sustainable and financially viable cities and towns that will drive the State to prosperity.
In the three functional areas, the broad recommendations focused by the TSUP will be as follows:
Planning: Instead of land-use led planning, let it be transport-led; promoting public transport and intelligent transportation systems (ITS) with proper provision for pedestrian and street infrastructure; expansion of cities and towns prioritising high density mixed land use with compulsory land allocation for public transport stops and depots; ensuring last-mile connectivity for all modes of transport; revisiting master plan preparation, implementation and monitoring framework; integrated approaches to poverty alleviation; affordable housing policy; local area and neighbourhood plans; land pooling scheme; access to water and sanitation for all; clean and healthy environment; adequate investment in skilled labour and local economic development; focus on renewable energy; comprehensive land policy to keep a check on uncontrolled agricultural to non-agricultural conversions, urban sprawl and integrated building and zonal regulations.
Governance: Getting rid of old archaic Acts, rules with an updated state-of-the-art legislation which meets the changing urban needs; empowering and strengthening the role for ULBs in economic development; fostering public participation in planning process administrative reforms to improve infrastructure delivery; simplified procedures related to municipal citizen services; integrating planning organisations and processes; building capacity across all levels; establishing urban centre of excellence towards professionalising urban management, rendering support to urban local bodies and government departments; making the elected representatives and municipal authorities more accountable, accessible and deal with 100% transparency; and increased role of District Collector in ensuring efficient service delivery of municipal services.
Finance and improved infrastructure: Innovative financing techniques, value capture financing, actionable development rights, etc; adequate investment in skilled labour and local economic development; raising own sources of municipal revenues – property tax reform; reforms to financially empower ULBs; credit rating of ULBs; all ULBs to have master plan, underground drainage and proper solid and liquid waste management plan; expansion and protection of green lung spaces in the cities and robust planned infrastructure.
(The author is Chief Public Relations Officer to the Chief Minister of Telangana)