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Holistic Development

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One of the major challenges that Uttarakhand faces is that of urban development. Owing to the nature of the terrain, there is limited space to build and expand. The usual direction to build is upwards but, being earthquake prone, this requires use of technology and material that is beyond us at the present. Even providing the basic amenities is becoming a complex task.

In contrast, the villages in the mountains are emptying out for a number of reasons, mostly the youth not finding employment, particularly the kind they aspire to. And the first stop on their way outwards are the state’s cities in the plains, leading to further overcrowding. In addition, Dehradun still retains its reputation as a city for retirees, even though that is no longer its USP. This means properties continue to be bought by many senior citizens from outside. Also, it has become an increasing trend for people residing in the hot plains of North India to buy alternate homes in places like Mussoorie and Nainital. With increasing income levels, there is a boom in construction activity attracting large migrant populations from UP, Bihar, etc. All of these need to be accommodated – leading to further scarcity of land.

No town planner in the eighties or even the nineties could have envisaged this situation, which is why the zoning patterns and regulations are entirely out of date. Out of the box solutions are required, which is what the smart city project should have been all about. It is for the government to, first, obtain a comprehensive database on the challenges, shortcomings, opportunities and solutions for the problem. Presently, every department and ministry is going its own way. Projects are pursued not so much because of their necessity but the happenstance of having obtained the necessary funds.

A political consensus has to be developed on a philosophy for the state’s urbanisation, particularly in the background of its environmental importance. Utilisation of land should be economical and designed for multiple purposes. Value should be correctly ascertained so that people get used to paying the right price from the start, instead of getting subsidised facilities that end up becoming unsustainable. Infrastructure should be of high quality and well-maintained. That which increases pressure on the city, such as unnecessary use of cars, should be discouraged. High quality public transport should be introduced. Just the few facilities that have emerged due to the smart city initiative give an indication of how things can be better if only we try.