Interview

Coordination convergence and collaboration are integral to innovation in urban planning: Hitesh Vaidya

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Hitesh Vaidya, Director, NIUA

Coordinated, converged and collaborative efforts with respect to infrastructure, planning, and deployment have to be an integral part of any innovation especially given the multi governance institutional frameworks within urban ecosystem, says Hitesh Vaidya, Director, National Institute of Urban Affairs(NIUA), in conversation with Souvik Goswami of Elets News Networks(ENN)

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How NIUA is ensuring promotion of integrated solutions for Urban India?

Cities act as an important lever to the growth of the country. Each city contributes in its own manner towards increasing productivity, fostering innovation and optimising the overall infrastructure investment. NIUA is already providing cuttingedge technical assistance and capacity building support to India’s central, state, and local governments in the creation of an enabling environment in which urban development functionaries are empowered to plan, implement, and manage urban infrastructure projects. NIUA through its unique position as a thought leader on India’s urban agenda is advocating integrated solutions through policy and programme interventions. In addition to formulating effective policy guidelines and frameworks at national, state and city level, NIUA supports governments to expand their capacity in implementation and roll-out. One of the recent priorities has been aligning and orchestrating digitalization efforts of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs with relevant stakeholders.

This multi-pronged approach allows NIUA to sense and prototype various approaches and implement ones demonstrating positive results. The focus is to promote integrated solutions with an ecosystems approach at its centre, which allows multi-governance structures including various stakeholders to contribute towards achieving a common goal.

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How does government’s ‘Smart City Mission,’ ‘Swachh Bharat Mission’ help India’s urban transformation?

Both missions are playing a significant role in bringing paradigm shifts in India’s urban development approach and subsequently transformation. Both missions are contributing to the country’s efforts to create clean, sanitized, liveable, economically vibrant and inclusive cities. The programmes and rollout approaches adopted through these missions have been helpful in focusing on issues of urban planning, health, hygiene and integrated technological solutions and bringing them in the forefront of the transformational agenda. The approaches adopted by both missions have shown promise in pushing better performance and, hence, need to be scaled up and strengthened. The missions have also stimulated a tremendous amount of dialogue among diverse stakeholders, which has permeated through local, state and central levels of government, educational institutions, the financial professions, and NGOs to address many key challenges such as preserving natural, built and cultural heritage, renewing focus on improving the open space structures and developing sustainable transportation solutions, making governance citizen friendly and cost- effective and developing public health strategies for making cities safe and healthy. A critical aspect which would have a transformative impact on urban India is to enlighten relevant stakeholders about need for behavioural change in matters which have a social impact.

What is your opinion on the importance of technology & innovation for complete overhaul of urban spectrum?

Technology has played an important role in transforming our lives and economies in recent times. With proliferation of data and emergence of novel technologies, the potential for innovation within urban development is manifold. The quantum leap in innovation and technology field has provided an exciting platform for making rapid strides in providing better quality municipal services to citizens.

Coordinated, converged and collaborative efforts with respect to infrastructure, planning, development and deployment have to be an integral part of any innovation especially given the multiplicity of institutions within India’s urban ecosystem. Good governance is being facilitated much more than other administrative philosophies of the past decades. Innovation and technology has become the ultimate mantra for enabling good governance in its truest sense. As traditional approaches to urban development face limitations, innovative approaches across the urban spectrum would be the differentiating factor to achieve scale and sustainability.

What according to you are the challenges of urbanisation in India and how those can be tackled?

Next 15-20 years presents a tremendous challenge but also opportunity to innovate and leapfrog towards addressing India’s struggle related to adequate and affordable housing, public transportation, water supply, waste and waste-water treatment. India is gearing up to take its rightful place as one of the world’s largest economies and the process of urbanisation in India has great implications on quality of life, public health, economic vitality and on sustainable development.

There cannot be a single approach to address India’s urban challenges. The only way to address India’s urban challenges is to ensure that the underlying governance principles of participation, decentralisation, autonomy, and accountability of representative urban local governments is strongly upheld.

Also Read: COVID-19 is not the last pandemic, we need to be more prepared: Hitesh Vaidya

City planning in India is a reactive approach, which leads to limited innovation within severe constraints. Unless there is a systems approach to building urban spaces, Indian cities are bound to struggle in addressing the needs of its citizens. Some of the concerns of today are quality housing, while also tackling urban slums and homelessness; climate change, disaster preparedness among others.

Indian cities face a shortage of skilled professionals with the capacity to address the specific challenges that arise with urbanisation. Therefor there is also the strong need to build urban professionals at local level to build better cities and address the challenges of urban India’s value-chain networks. In the rush for urbanisation, we must include all sections of the populations for our cities to be accessible, inclusive and safe.

What is your vision for NIUA?

Today’s urbanization demands innovation systems that can play an important role to ensure a faster transformative process. This calls for updating and upgrading not just policies and responses but also, the need for institutions of governance to come up with appropriate tools, to handle the demands of the 21st century.

I strongly feel that National Institute of Urban Affairs, a think-tank of the Government of India, on urban issues, should emerge as an aggregator of urban knowledge and cater to the urban eco-system by becoming a one-point stop for all urban needs of the states and cities. NIUA, will support its constituents (centre, state and cities) through: developing standards for urban management; developing evidence- based tools and guidelines; through advocacy and knowledge sharing; positioning India urban story both at national and international level while providing handholding and capacity assistance to state and cities and guiding investments in urban India for priority and emerging areas. We, at the National Institute of Urban Affairs have to adapt to the changing complexity of urban ecosystem and play a pivotal role in transforming urban India.

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