Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Urban decay

Town and cities in Nagaland, particularly Dimapur and Kohima, an apogee of state urbanization are facing a severe crisis. Our planning processes have proved intrinsically defective; the two main cities are overcrowded where urban land is extremely scarce, services breaking down, urban management ineffectual with human miseries beyond belief. It is not just the big cities that are crumbling but sarcoma of urban decay and chaos is spreading to all urban centers, forming together the rapid phenomenon of urbanization explosion. What we are confronted with day in and day out in our urban centers is a crisis like situation. Unplanned urban growth has put civic services/amenities on the brink of collapse and if our response is not appropriate enough, we will be heading towards an imminent urban crisis. It is true that never in the history of our state, there has been such a mighty surge in urbanization. Every decade lakhs of people are added to urban population, out of which 30-40 percent leave behind pristine and inaccessible hinterlands, heading for the glare of city life in search of economic opportunities and better living standards. Instead of becoming engine for development these cities are quickly heading for a total breakdown. Over the past three decades number of people living in Dimapur and Kohima have increased manifold and it is expected to rise rapidly. Where will these people go? Where will these people be housed and employed in gainful employment? Urban policy makers need to ponder upon these issues and frame strategies for resource conservation/mobilization, environmental safeguards and sustainability, urban amenities, services, housing, urban poverty alleviation, mobility, urban management and monitoring. Otherwise urban decay is ominous which would take heavy toll, make retrofitting and gentrification an uphill task at a later date. Indeed instead of becoming engines of development, our urban centers are heading for a total collapse. The endless stream of migrants pouring into subhuman slum like areas and colonies/bastis in large number, turn these into giant slums. In fact in Dimapur there are lakhs of people living in obsolete/dilapidated condition or ramshackle of wooden or tarpaulin huts. In addition lakhs of migratory labourers from various parts of the country come to Dimapur searching for work. And almost half of them stay back in Dimapur in worst sub-human and overcrowded conditions. Civic services in all urban centers are going a bust. Overcrowded and cramped mini buses (in Kohima), chaotic roads, traffic gridlocks, clogged drains spewing out odour/filth and uncleared garbage piles, widespread informality, declining quality of life and loss of amenity are ominous portent of a still more apocalyptic future of urban life here. Clearly it is evident that at present the urban scene in the State is in deep crisis and calls for measures analogous to those used when a man is critically ill or a city wide hazard is struck. Just as physical infrastructure and administrative systems have collapsed, so has the process for raising resources. As such urban centers of the State, supposed to be generators of wellbeing are degenerating into mega liabilities for State and Urban Local Bodies (ULBs). At the same time over the years despite the positive role of urban centers in economic development, the State Government has failed to reckon the significance attached to urban areas and their proactive role in expansion of economic vitality and opportunities. Master plans conceived for development also lacked vision to harness underutilized uses at highly viable and strategic locations. With the result their ability to develop and provide goods/services has declined radically, affecting their capacity to support employment proportionate to growth. Since our State is situated in an ecological sensitive area, it makes existing urban problems more precarious and overwhelming. Hence, our city plans need to integrate economic development with urban planning for stimulation of sustained development and prosperity. Clearly there is an urgent need to foster investment in urban development and value oriented businesses to enhance the urban productivity.