Skyscrapers, luxury cars, global brand outlets, deluxe hospitals, expensive schools, and glamour. Pretty much sums up the image of a modern city for some of us! Cities as centres of activity have existed in India since the earliest of civilizations, the Indus Valley. Over time, however, the nature of the activities have varied, ranging from religion, trade and commerce, to large-scale manufacturing centres. The concept of the modern city originated in the West with the Industrial Revolution, and spread across continents through colonial imposition. The foundation for modern cities in India, such as Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, to name a few, was laid when the British colonialists established manufacturing industries in these areas. Employment opportunities caused in-migration, and over the years, economies of these places prospered.
Post-independence, development measures have been undertaken continuously to help these cities flourish further. Globalisation has particularly had a massive impact, with several new brands and businesses making their in-roads into India through ventures in these cities. However, this process of urbanisation has unfolded in a very unpleasant manner in India due to various reasons.
The middle class makes up a very significant proportion of the urban population. Now a high percentage of this middle class in India, as sociologists explain, mainly comprises of the upper castes. Given that most of these people still believe in the inferiority of physical labour, an idea furthered by the Varna system, these middle-class households are dependent on domestic help. This is something that is not prevalent in the West, where only the very rich, upper classes employ domestic aids. There is, therefore, a high demand for poor people across the Indian city, who can work as domestic help. Furthermore, the socio-economic gap between the people in a Western city isn’t as stark as it is in India. Due to the differences in circumstances and value patterns, the Western model of a city, which we have adopted with little changes, does not provide for the accommodation of the poor sections. This has caused the disorganised growth of slums in Indian cities, presenting a polar opposite to the luxury complexes in expensive localities.
As India is a fast-growing and developing country, strides have been made in the recent past to modernise several relatively smaller cities and towns. This has resulted in the cropping up of innumerable ‘so called’ cities that often lack the most basic of amenities, such as efficient waste and sewage disposal mechanism, management of traffic, etc. Increasing population requirements have resulted in the growth of these cities in an unplanned and hasty manner. As a consequence, the beauty of the malls only remain a facade, hiding behind them the grim everyday realities of traffic jams, pollution, accidents, unofficial dumping grounds beside residential areas, to mention a few.
There is also a visible disregard for the areas that need administrative attention the most. Instead, the authorities are engaged in polishing the already better-off areas. One of the greatest concerns is with regard to the management of traffic in cities. Economic growth and lenient permission procedures are leading to increasing number of private vehicles on roads, which the latter is being unable to accommodate. Even if people want to use public transport, its below-average quality becomes an obstacle.While certainly the municipal administration of a handful of cities like Sikkim have been working efficiently, most others are busy with the surface-level working, while still others are snoring in their sleep.
These issues are having a lasting impact on the health and psychological well-being of city-dwellers at an alarming rate, as if stress from work wasn’t enough. Since a lot of irreversible harm has been caused already due to poorly planned constructions, the authorities in urban India need to come up with innovative ways to improve the situation from where it is. We as citizens of the country, equally shoulder the responsibility of ensuring that we are not fooled into cherishing short-term development. We must choose depth over appearance, and ensure that environment preservation measures are not limited to 5th of June.
Real development occurs only when the growth is sustainable in nature, and the benefits are shared by the society. Anything otherwise won’t last.
Picture Credits : researchgate.net