What is 500 Healthy Cities Programme?

Introduction

According to Census of India, India’s population stood at 1210 million in the year 2011 with an urbanisation level of 31.1%. Urbanisation is an increase in the number of people living in towns and cities. India is the second largest urban system in the world with almost 11% of the total global population residing in Indian cities. If absolute numbers are considered, the urban population in India is more than highly urbanised countries or regions across the world. According to Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), 2019, urban growth is expected to contribute to 73% of the total population increase by 2036. The fact that the country has reached a turning point wherein half of the country would be urban in a few decades is one of the main challenges that this nation needs to address along with the others.

Healthy City

Also Read: Reforms in Urban Planning Capacity in India

The challenge of Urbanization

Over the years, cities have expanded and become burdened by the stresses and strains of unplanned urbanization, the brunt of which is faced by the poor and the marginalised, the biodiversity and the economy. In fact, Covid-19 revealed the dire need for planning and management of cities, with an emphasis on the health of citizens. Issues like lack of availability of serviced land, traffic congestion, pressure on basic infrastructure, extreme air pollution, urban flooding, water scarcity and droughts are not merely a reflection of infrastructural shortcomings in the cities. Rather, these issues indicate a deep and substantial lack of adequate urban planning and governance frameworks.

The matter of concern lies in the fact that despite huge investment, Indian cities still face many challenges related to efficiency and sustainability. Urbanisation is the driving force of the Indian economy and urban India will power the growth of the Indian economy. Therefore, urban challenges, including urban planning requires greater policy attention in our country, else a huge opportunity for rapid, sustainable and equitable growth would be at risk of being missed. Observing that urban India will bolster Indian economy’s growth, NITI Aayog in a report titled ‘Reforms in Urban Planning Capacity in India’ recommended reforms in urban planning capacity. The recommendation came after the country witnessed massive shortage of health infrastructure during the first and the second wave of the pandemic.

Healthy Cities Programme

Healthy cities programme is a central sector scheme recommended by a high-level advisory committee on urban planning for building 500 healthy cities in the next five years along with a thorough revamp of town-planning acts in states to meet future challenges of urbanisation wherein priority cities and towns would be selected jointly by the States and the local bodies. Every city must aspire to become a ‘healthy city for all’ by 2030. This would need a convergence of multi-sectoral efforts at the intersections of spatial planning, public health, and socio-economic development. The focus of planning urban development must encompass not only the million-plus cities but also hundreds of small- and medium-sized towns.

The report made suggestions for unblocking bottlenecks in the value chain of urban planning capacity in India by recommending ‘500 Healthy Cities Programme’ in September, 2021 as listed below.

  1. Interventions for Planning of Healthy Cities: Every city must aspire to become a ‘Healthy City for All’ by 2030. The report recommends a Central Sector Scheme ‘500 Healthy Cities Programme’, for a period of 5 years, wherein priority cities and towns would be selected jointly by the states and local bodies.
  2. Optimum Utilization of Urban Land: All the cities and towns under the proposed ‘Healthy Cities Programme’ should strengthen development control regulations based on scientific evidence to maximize the efficiency of urban land (or planning area). The report recommends a sub-scheme ‘Preparation/Revision of Development Control Regulations’ to serve the purpose.
  3. Ramping Up of Human Resource capacities: To combat the shortage of urban planners in the public sector, the report recommends that the states/UTs may need to
    1. expedite the filling up of vacant positions of town planners, and
    2. additionally sanction 8268 town planners’ posts as lateral entry positions for a minimum period of 3 years and a maximum of 5 years to meet the gaps.
  4. Ensuring Qualified Professionals for Undertaking Urban Planning: State town and country planning departments face an acute shortage of town planners. This is compounded by the fact that in several states, ironically, a qualification in town planning is not even an essential criterion for such jobs. States may need to undertake requisite amendments in their recruitment rules to ensure the entry of qualified candidates into town-planning positions.
  5. Strengthening Urban Governance: There is a need to bring in more institutional clarity and also multi-disciplinary expertise to solve urban challenges. The report recommends the constitution of a high-powered committee to re-engineer the present urban-planning governance structure. The key aspects that would need to be addressed in this effort are:
    1. clear division of the roles and responsibilities of various authorities, appropriate revision of rules and regulations, etc.,
    2. creation of a more dynamic organizational structure, standardisation of the job descriptions of town planners and other experts, and
    3. extensive adoption of technology for enabling public participation and inter-agency coordination.
  6. Revision of Town and Country Planning Acts: Most States have enacted the Town and Country Planning Acts, that enable them to prepare and notify master plans for implementation. However, many need to be reviewed and upgraded. Therefore, the formation of an apex committee at the state level is recommended to undertake a regular review of planning legislations (including town and country planning or urban and regional development acts or other relevant acts).
  7. Demystifying Planning and Involving Citizens: While it is important to maintain the master plans’ technical rigour, it is equally important to demystify them for enabling citizens’ participation at relevant stages. Therefore, the committee strongly recommends a ‘Citizen Outreach Campaign’ for demystifying urban planning.
  8. Enhancing the Role of Private Sector: The report recommends that concerted measures must be taken at multiple levels to strengthen the role of the private sector to improve the overall planning capacity in the country. These include the adoption of fair processes for procuring technical consultancy services, strengthening project structuring and management skills in the public sector, and empanelment of private sector consultancies.
  9. Advancing the Urban Planning Education System: The Central universities and technical institutions in all the other States/UTs are encouraged to offer postgraduate degree programmes (MTech Planning) to cater to the requirement of planners in the country in a phased manner. The committee also recommends that all such institutions may synergize with Ministry of Rural Development, Ministry of Panchayati Raj and respective state rural development departments/directorates and develop demand-driven short-term programmes on rural area planning. ‘Planning’ as an umbrella term, including all its specializations such as environment, housing, transportation, infrastructure, logistics, rural area, regional, etc., or any other nomenclature approved by AICTE, should be included as a discipline under the National Institute Ranking Framework (NIRF) of MoE to encourage a healthy competition among the institutions. The committee recommends that AICTE may retain the names of specializations based on industry requirements, while limiting them to an appropriate number, as 25 nomenclatures seem too high for market acknowledgement and absorption. Faculty shortage in educational institutions conducting degree and PhD programmes in planning need to be resolved in a time bound manner.
  10. Measures for Strengthening Human Resource and Match Demand–Supply: The report recommends the constitution of a ‘National Council of Town and Country Planners’ as a statutory body of the Government of India. Also, a ‘National Digital Platform of Town and Country Planners’ is suggested to be created within the National Urban Innovation Stack of MoHUA. This portal will enable self-registration of all planners and evolve as a marketplace for potential employers and urban planners.

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