The launch of the three Missions – Smart Cities, AMRUT and Housing for All has set in motion the realisation of an urban vision for our cities. More than 1 lakh crore has been earmarked for these schemes. According to a research paper by McKinsey, by 2030 India will have 590 million people living in cities - nearly twice the population of the USA today.
What does this mean? We will need to build a new Chicago every year to fulfill the ambition of Housing for All in urban areas by 2022. Stage One of the City Challenge under the Smart Cities Mission has already kicked off. Each state has to nominate cities on the basis of four broad criteria and a total of 13 sub criteria to competitively select the first batch of 20 cities.
While all this is great, what can we do in the short term? The fact remains that even some of the big city corporations are scrambling for funds to maintain and improve city infrastructure, even as we have set ourselves some ambitious goals.
In my view, when it comes to the housing needs of a city, promoting integrated townships can help solve many of our urban woes in our journey toward finally realising the urban vision for our cities.
The concept of integrated townships is not new to India. Jamshedpur, Bhilai, Rourkela and Durgapur are some of the early townships of India. After them came satellite towns like Gandhinagar, Faridabad, Gurgaon and sub cities like Navi Mumbai, Rohini and Dwarka.
Most of us who live in big cities and metros have to battle it out in a “concrete jungle” with crippling commute times, bumper-to-bumper traffic, frequent power and water cuts and high levels of pollution. In comparison, life in an integrated city with cleaner air and large open green spaces offers quick access to shopping, banking, entertainment, regulated traffic, continuous water and power supply, along with schools, healthcare and fitness facilities nearby while still being close to a big city.
The Jusco township in Jamshedpur, Hiranandani in Powai and Magarpatta in Pune are some well-known examples. Over the last ten years, many states have come forward with policies for integrated townships though we still have states that do not have a policy in place yet.
There are more than 200 integrated townships covering more than 2 lakh acres that are under approval for planning and construction, especially around the four metros. My take is that over the next two to five years, we will see an increase in the new launches of integrated township projects around all the big cities of the country.
With so many benefits, what is stopping development of integrated townships from becoming integral to the urban vision for cities? Well, they currently face the same problems that plague the real estate sector in the country today – land acquisition, red tape, high capital investment and lack of infrastructure around the peripheries. The central government has already opened the doors for External Commercial Borrowings (ECBs) in integrated township development, providing access to cheap sources of finance. Granting infrastructure status to such townships will open the door to cheaper sources of funding from more established sources and provide tax benefits to developers, enabling them to fulfil the demand for affordable housing as well.
The other big hurdle that developers face is of getting approvals. Today a township project involves between 35-50 approvals depending on the location, size and state. Single window clearance will save developers valuable time and resources and step up the pace of growth for such townships.
Eventually, for Smart Cities to become a reality, we have to start from the basic building blocks. Houses have to become smart. Integrated townships within and on the outskirts of a city have to become smart. Multiple townships have to start dotting every city. In the end, it is people who have to become smarter. This, to my mind, will be the centrepiece of the urban vision for our cities.