Views of Hardeep Singh Puri: “India is on the path to creating the world’s second largest metro network system”

Hardeep Singh Puri, Union Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs

India’s urban transport sector has seen major growth over the past few years. There has been a significant increase in investments in the sector. The total investment in urban rejuvenation during 2014-23 stood at Rs 18.07 trillion, as compared to Rs 1.78 trillion during 2004-14. Ambitious, large-scale schemes such as the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana Urban, the Smart Cities Mission, the Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban 2.0 and the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation 2.0 have enabled a quantum improvement in the quality of life across cities. In particular, substantial work has been done to improve urban infrastructure. Still, as India’s urban density increases, further improvements will be necessary. At various recent industry events, Hardeep Singh Puri, Union Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs, shared his views on the growth in India’s urban infrastructure sector and some key ideas for future urban planning and governance. Edited excerpts…

India has the fifth largest metro network in the world. At present, about 872 km of metro lines are operational in 20 cities — Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Chennai, Jai­pur, Kochi, Lucknow, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Nag­­­pur, Kanpur, Pune, and seven cities in the National Capital Region, with an average daily ridership of 8.5 million. Further, about 988 km of metro rail projects (including the Delhi-Mee­rut regional ra­pid transit system) are under construction in various cities across the country, including Delhi, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Che­n­nai, Ko­­chi, Mumbai, Na­g­pur, Ahmedabad, Ga­n­dhi­na­­gar, Pune, Kan­p­ur, Agra, Bhopal, Indore, Pat­na, Surat and Mee­r­ut. With all these operatio­nal and under-cons­truction projects, India is on the path to creating the world’s second lar­gest metro network system.

Besides the metro rail, the development of bus rapid transport systems is another focus area of the government. These are the kind of projects wherein states can build upon existing infrastructure, instead of pursuing greenfield development. Of course, public-private partnerships have to be promoted for such projects.

With a fund allocation of over Rs 150 billion for urban transport development, the ministry has prioritised reforms in areas such as revision of building by-laws, transit-oriented de­ve­lopme­nt, adoption of transferable development rights, integration of blue and green infrastructure th­rough nature-based solutions, affordable ho­u­s­ing through in-situ rehabilitation, and inc­re­ase in capacity building.

Key ideas for future urban planning

India’s rapid urbanisation pre­­sents a great economic op­portunity. Some of the key id­eas for fu­ture urban planning and governance that need to be realised on a priority basis are as follows.

  • The convenience and benefit of citizens should be at the heart of urban policy. Ma­king constant revisions to policies is imperative, albeit without changing the fundamental parameters. I believe that policy support is a continuous process that needs to be in­tegrated with the development cycle. It is not en­ough to just solicit citizen inputs before a master plan.
  • It has now become important to plan beyond traditional boundaries as the cities are no longer aligned with conventional administrative boundaries. Rapid urbanisation has led to the emergence of new spatial forms such as corridors, peri-urban combinations and me­ga policies, which need to be given due co­nsi­deration when undertaking urban planning.
  • A considerable shift is required from regulation to facilitation. There is a need to get rid of the planner’s mindset of imposing norms and rules, which, in the case of urban planning, have traditionally been res­trictive rather than development-oriented.
  • With greater access to real-time information and predictive trends for decision-making, there is a need to step beyond geographical in­formation system-based master planning to integrate data analytics in all the processes of urban planning.
  • There is also a need to push for financial self-reliance of cities, as well as to foster a culture of innovation. Cities must be reimagined as living labs. And the government is open to well-intentioned and well-conceived ideas for urban planning and design.

In sum

Urban planning needs to cover a cross-section of themes. Climate change is happening, while the importance of cities with respect to the economy is changing. Besides, the rural GDP, which is sustaining the economy, is also witnessing a ch­an­ge. In the run-up to 2047, aiming for a transformative change will entail making the right choices to accelerate innovation, finance strategic infrastructure, plan for economic development, build resilience and achieve high human development indicators for all.