Breaking new ground the Kerala way – Necessity of Holistic Urban Planning: Lessons from Kerala’s New Urban Commission | 5 January 2024 | UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis

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What's the article about?

  • It talks about the need for an urban commission to address the challenges of urbanization, which has led to phenomenal changes across the world. 


  • GS1: Urbanization, their problems and their remedies


  • As 2024 dawns, a beacon of hope emerges in the urban landscape of India. The state of Kerala has established a new Urban Commission, the first in almost 38 years since the National Commission on Urbanisation formed by Rajiv Gandhi.
  • This article delves into the necessity of such commissions, the challenges facing urban development in India, and the potential of Kerala's initiative to serve as a model for other states.


  • The world has witnessed a dramatic shift towards urbanization, with over half of the population now residing in cities. This rapid process has brought about significant changes, impacting climate, land use, building patterns, and creating inequalities in wealth, infrastructure, and access to basic necessities.
  • Need for an Urban Commission:
    • Rapid Urbanization:
      • The global urbanization rate has skyrocketed to 56%, with India witnessing significant urban growth.
      • This rapid change has led to challenges like climate change, spatial inequalities, informal settlements, pollution, and housing shortages.
    • Shifting Paradigms:
      • The Nehruvian era of centralized planning with a focus on master plans gave way to the post-1990s era of privatization and project-based approaches.
      • However, these piecemeal initiatives have failed to address the complexities of urban development.
    • Governance Challenges: Devolution of powers to cities remains incomplete, with financial architecture over-centralized and governance structures often inadequate.
  • A Critical Look at Urban Development in India:
    • Post-Independence Periods:
      • The article highlights two distinct periods: the Nehruvian era (1950s-1980s) with its focus on holistic development and centralized planning, and the post-1990s era with its emphasis on privatization, project-oriented approaches, and globalized “engine of growth” models.
      • Both periods have had their shortcomings, failing to address issues like social housing, public health, and inclusive development.
    • Mission-Based Approaches: Programs like Swachh Bharat Mission, AMRUT, HRIDAY, and PMAY, while addressing specific concerns, fall short of providing a comprehensive and holistic approach to urban development.
    • Fragmented Governance: The delay in transferring crucial subjects to cities and the debate surrounding elected officials versus appointed managers further contribute to the complexities of urban governance.
  • Kerala Urban Commission: A Beacon of Hope:
    • Addressing Complexities:
      • Kerala's Urban Commission, with its diverse panel of experts, aims to tackle the intricate issues plaguing Indian cities.
      • Its focus on Kerala's unique urban landscape, estimated at 90% by NITI Aayog, sets a crucial precedent for context-specific development strategies.
    • 25-Year Roadmap:
      • The commission's 12-month mandate seeks to lay a roadmap for at least 25 years of sustainable urban development.
      • This long-term vision stands in stark contrast to the short-sightedness of many past initiatives.
  • A Lighthouse for Other States:
    • Learning from Kerala: Other highly urbanized states like Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Punjab can learn from Kerala's initiative and establish their own urban commissions.
    • Moving Forward: The success of the Kerala Urban Commission and its potential to inspire other states lie in its ability to provide a comprehensive, inclusive, and sustainable urban development roadmap that addresses the complex challenges of the 21st century.

Way Forward:

  • Kerala's Urban Commission marks a significant step towards reimagining India's urban landscape.
  • By acknowledging the complexities of urban development, embracing a long-term vision, and setting a precedent for tailored state-level strategies, this initiative offers a beacon of hope for inclusive and sustainable cities across the nation.
  • It is time for other states to follow suit and actively engage in reclaiming the urban vision for India's future.

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