Thursday, March 30, 2023

Welcome to the jungle

In March this year, Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio was reported as saying that Nagaland needs a system to regulate the “mad rush for urbanisation”. He then cited that the decadal growth rate of urban population in the State is 67.38%. In comparison, the national average is 31.80% ~ less than half of Nagaland’s mean. On Tuesday also, the Chief Minister used the same words ~ mad rush for urbanisation (according to a DIPR bulletin) ~ while speaking at an event in Kohima. It stated that the Chief Minister lamented that towns in Nagaland face many problems due to a lack of proper planning. According to the Chief Minister, there is a need to cope with the demands of people coming to urban areas for various opportunities. Over the years, we have heard similar notes of concern come from politicians of different ilk and Governors too. Various research papers have also covered this issue. As per the 2011 Census, 28.9% of the 19.90 lakh population of Nagaland lives in the State’s urban areas and the remaining in rural areas. The contract is stark since 1961 when only 5.2% of the State’s population lived in urban areas and 94.8% in rural areas. Even in a State like Nagaland ~ a crippled economic apparatus notwithstanding ~ the towns and cities continue to pull people from the rural areas who come with hopes of alleviating their economic concerns. Needless to say, this unplanned concentration of people within a limited space has far-reaching consequences for both regions that undergo an exodus and areas that experience an extensive influx. One of the natural offshoots of the quick-fire declaration of new districts in the State ~ justified or otherwise ~ is the transformation of the urban centres, especially the administrative headquarters. Like in almost all the cases, Dimapur and her tryst with urbanisation serves as a cautionary tale. Unplanned and insensitive urbanisation activities saw it lose abundant green spaces and turn it into a vast expanse of concrete structures built haphazardly devoid of any practical procedures. Every available piece of open land has been acquired at exorbitant rates. Strikingly, the high prices have never acted as a deterrent for people wanting to grab whatever piece of land that is on offer ~ not for any other purpose but to fill it with some concrete structure. The ever-shrinking green space and the increasing concrete cover have brought a whole host of problems. Of the many, one that is a recurring seasonal problem concerns the widespread inundation of low-lying areas across Dimapur. With very little green space left to absorb rainwater during the monsoon, this excess water with no other outlet tends to remain on the ground, inundating areas and causing a lot of damage and inconvenience. With increasing rainfall, urban flooding will likely be a regular occurrence. Despite this, no practical measures have been adopted to overcome this problem. Overflowing drains, open sewers and floating litter are all but a common sight during the monsoon. Over the years, Dimapur has seen a fast expansion of concrete structures, so much so that people have resorted to building concrete structures along river banks ~ a sad proof of the level of negligence on the part of the authorities. Its newborns, Chümoukedima and Niuland, risk having similar stories written if caution and prudence are not exercised at the initial stage. Welcome, then, to the urban jungle. One could hazard a guess that the green covers of Tseminyu and Shamator are, up to a certain extent, more protected than those of Chümoukedima and Niuland. But they would ignore such caution at their own peril. If unplanned urbanisation is not checked immediately, the growing concrete cover will only aggravate all existing problems. Urbanisation need not be ~ to borrow the Chief Minister’s description ~ a mad rush. With planning and sensitivity, the new districts could show us the way. Otherwise, an urban catastrophe awaits.