Expectations from the Union budget 2020 – An Urban and Transport Planning Perspective

Every year the Union Budget comes with a new hope, with a possibility of what can be a game-changer or mood-changer this year due to which more often than not, it is the big announcements get focused instead of the smaller things that really matter! The union budget announcements have been coming with a lot of media speculations especially since the market sentiment is low.

Over the last few years the agricultural growth, consumption and industrial investments have been going down due to which the eyeballs are on this budget and what the government will do to change things. The last budget has not been able to create much hope in the markets, so the expectations are much higher this year! India currently needs a massive financial boost in order to combat the effects of the slowdown, and rising unemployment. As per a recent report, our country requires investment in the infrastructure sector to a tune of 100 trillion in the next 5 years to be able to reach its target of GDP.

Over the recent years, the gap between the rich and poor is increasing, and when it comes in the news that the combined total wealth of the 63 Indian Billionaires is higher than the Union Budget for FY2019, it really gets worrying. With the increasing rate of poverty and unemployment, the urban areas become highly affected where the accessibility and commuting gets heavily effected with the level of affluence.

In addition, Indian urban agglomerates are bursting from the seams with more than a crore population in multiple cities now, while the infrastructure of the city on other hand is unable to cope up with this kind of numbers. There is an urgent need for a budget to maintain these cities. On the other hand, for the smaller towns there is a need for 24 hours’ electrification of households, provision of housing for all, and building airports and railways stations as well as road connectivity is a priority.

There is a need for creating funds for not just the A and B level cities for maintenance but also funds for the smaller towns which have the potential to become the next big cities. Funds have to be allocated for improving physical integration with a focus on rail and road connecting other cities.

There is a need to focus on Public Transportation, as more buses and bus-based transport needs to be increased. There is a need for improvement and strengthening of state transport undertakings as well as Transport Development Corporations. There is a need for traffic congestion, Accidents, and reducing the impacts of post accidents.

Smart cities seemed like a great idea when it came up however the way they have been rolled out has been really something that leaves a lot to be desired. Firstly, the funds allocated to smart cities are too meager for peri-urban areas or extensions of already existing A and B level cities. These funds, however, could be a game-changer for small towns with big aspirations! So when the cities were selected, smaller towns should have been prioritised rather than large cities as we need more cities that are smart rather than a few densely populated cities.

Globally, the way to control urban population has been the use of FSI (density) and Green Belts to restrict how far the city can spread. However, in India that has been a futile exercise as cities have just kept spreading in different directions without proper planning. Research shows that 30 lakhs are the maximum number of people that a city can hold without compromising on the basic amenities and access to all. So Instead of 100 smart cities with 1 crore population, what India needs is 3,000 cities with maximum of 30 lakh population.

The Government needs to create a vision statement on where the country is heading towards and what are the priorities. Government needs to remove the issues that are stopping infrastructure growth.

Environment and Tourism is another area that the Budget has to focus on, as bringing in local, national and international tourists is one of the best ways for the country and cities to flourish. If Government starts focusing on creating sustainable cities with no pollution, having recreational activities, non-motorized transport, then a large number of people from not only nearby cities but also from other countries would like to visit.

There needs to be some understanding of local availability of materials which will complement the climatic conditions of the area. Also, there is a need to create vibrant cities in every 200 km radius to stop the migration of people into the metropolitan. And this would also help in achieving the vision of making in India and skill India. Heritage conservation is a great idea to achieve growth and development of small towns which has a rich history. India is very rich in heritage and culture which can help the country to create more businesses and jobs to increase the GDP.

Focus in towards Sustainable Urban Transport Project (SUTP) and providing non-fossil-based fuel buses and trains which will help the environment and stops the dependency on fossil fuels. The development of better traffic networks and increasing the mass transit solutions which shall incline more and more users and help in boosting public transport.

This budget is a great opportunity to create a new wave of enthusiasm in the market which can encourage a new set of industry leaders, new jobs and new skills. It gives an opportunity if not taken then the country would further spiral into social and economic unrest.

– By Vivek Pai (Author is the urban planner)

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