Urbanization has the potential to be the single most important determinant of socioeconomic growth in India in the coming years and decades. In terms of sheer numbers, the largest global urban transformation of the 21st century is happening in India, with the real estate and infrastructure sector being a key contributor to this growth. If planned right, urbanization has a strategic role to play in modern development. On the flip side, many of India's metropolises and cities face unsustainable levels of stress on infrastructure, resources and public service delivery. To achieve sustainable growth, these cities will need to become more livable and safe, especially for women and senior citizens. This will necessitate having easy access to a pollution-free environment, adequate infrastructure facilities, reliable public services, and suitable opportunities for education, vocational training, and gainful employment.
India can be an ideal urban laboratory for the world. With its unique diversity of languages, cultures, climate zones and landscapes, combined with the government's efforts towards citizen-focused urban services, India is poised to establish unique global benchmarks in sustainable urbanization. Research and findings from its rapidly advancing urban agglomerations will enable many developing countries (particularly in Asia and Africa) to design their own policies and strategies to better prepare for their local influx and economic growth. India is predicted to have 300 million new urban residents by 2050, and the experience of settling them adequately will be a unique experiment in the socioeconomic history of the world.
Sustainable urbanization is not a chance occurrence. Masterplans are critical for managing it. At a granular level, India's urban system comprises 7,933 settlements, including statutory towns and census towns. But about half of our statutory towns are expanding in an unplanned manner without any scientific rationale to guide their growth. This leads to hazardous growth patterns with piecemeal interventions, ultimately resulting in urban sprawl. It is imperative to prepare scientific masterplans for all statutory towns and govern census towns as urban local bodies.
Water management will be a key factor in our ability to sustain our cities and provide their residents a decent quality of life. Thanks largely to climate change, Indian cities dominate both current and future lists of cities from across the world with the highest overall water risk. Our cities need to collect, treat and reuse used water on a vast scale, and also need adequate sewer facilities. Separate sewerage and drainage systems need to be constructed to facilitate water reuse. There is also a necessity for developing a rational and pragmatic policy for pricing water. With increasingly hot summers, water use in urban areas will rise rapidly, and creating a sound water management system will no longer be optional.
The world is watching India's urban growth pathways. We need to nurture our urbanization in indigenous ways, dealing with challenges by devising solutions integrating a large number of local factors. There is a lot that ancient Indian cities can teach us to this effect, but we also need to draw upon modern urban best practices that can be adapted to our unique socio-cultural milieu. Understanding key emerging socioeconomic trends in the urbanization process is imperative to forge a new framework for sustainable development at all levels, local, national and global.