By Anum Yoon
It’s hardly a secret that India has been expanding in just about every way over the last 20 years or so. Its population, its infrastructure and its degree of technological advancement have all been approaching a line that more and more resembles a cliff than a steep hill.
The number of people living just in Indian cities is expected to grow from 377 million all the way to 590 million in the next 15 years. To match this growth, India will need to build millions of square miles of residential and commercial space. Shockingly, this roughly translates to constructing a brand new city of Chicago from scratch every year just so there will be enough places for people to live and work.
That means when people migrate and buildings start going up, it’s vital to make sure that those buildings are adequately inhabitable, and that they are built with the proper roads and transportation to connect them. To do so, it’s estimated the SCI will facilitate the construction of 2.5 billion square meters of roads and an incredible 7,400 kilometers of public railroads. To put those numbers in perspective, that’s more than 20 times the area of roads and rails constructed in India for the last seven years.
SCI is planning cities with a focus on sustainability in order to dampen this potential impact. One of the primary ways the program seeks to accomplish this goal is by planning highly concentrated cities. Instead of the sprawling urban centers almost completely dependent on car ownership that we’ve come to know and loathe here in the United States, India is planning to construct dense cities that can be successfully navigated with public transportation. An added bonus of this type of urban planning is that the monetary and energy cost of municipal services will be cut by as much as 30 to 40 percent.
As important as agriculture is, that sector will not have enough work for all of those expected to be on the job hunt. Even if it did, growth in that sector would not amount to the kind of explosive economic growth all of those new cities will desperately need. For that to happen, there will need to be openings in the service and industrial sectors, which created 83 percent of the country’s gross domestic product three years ago.
Of course, jobs in this sector will primarily be found in urban areas, which will mean great things for the quality of life in those new metropolises. Recognizing that fact has led SCI to invest in things besides just roads and rails, like employment opportunities, for instance.
VGF has already been used to kickstart sustainability programs in India like the National Solar Mission. However, the use of VGF in the solar industry may have also demonstrated some of its shortcomings. Since companies bid for the VGF grant and the lowest bid wins, solar companies have complained that the bids have dropped the grant to a number that doesn’t make their business viable. This essentially defeats the purpose of having VGF in the first place. This means lots of industries critical to India’s growth that will need some initial financing may not get the level financing they need.
If SCI does not properly finance public transport, this sprawl could result in massive traffic problems that would have a very negative effect on economic growth. Families in India’s third biggest city, Bangalore, lose as much as 2 to 4 percent of their income because of the cost of commuting. Also, the costs of shipping to these sprawling areas on cities’ peripheries is five times what it would be in the United States in a comparable area.
With the right funds and structure in place, Prime Minister Modi may be able to create the dense, well-connected, economically-advanced and environmentally-safe cities he so desperately wants. In other words, India can climb that approaching cliff without falling off.
Anum Yoon is a writer who is passionate about personal finance and sustainability. She often looks for ways she can incorporate money management with environmental awareness. You can read her updates on Current on Currency.