India’s fortune lies in “well planned cities,” asserted Prime Minister Narendra Modi in one of his post-Budget webinars earlier this year. His prognosis though came with a lamentation that the country has witnessed the planned development of only one or two cities since Independence.
While he urged all stakeholders to come up with ideas for bettering urban planning, he laid emphasis on new cities, free of garbage, water secure and climate resilient, that would ultimately enable unhindered progress.
The PM’s urging may have possibly had a trickle-down effect.
In Nagaland, at an Independence Day address, on August 15, Chief Minister, Neiphiu Rio, announced a proposal for a “new modern planned city” in the state. The CM’s most ambitious development project yet, the proposal envisage the building of a city, covering some 39 square km in area, nestled in the gorgeous Chathe valley, in the newly created Chümoukedima district. According to him, the selected area has favourable geography and climatic conditions alongwith good connectivity well suited for the development of a planned city. As per his word, the state government has the consent of the land-owners and the proposal was being already evaluated by the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.
The optimism however was overcome by the ‘hows’ of implementing a project of such magnitude; building a new city from scratch, on undulating terrain, covering an area more than twice that of the Dimapur municipal area. Building planned cities are complex and multidisciplinary endeavour requiring collaboration among a diverse range of expertise from planning, environmental risk mitigation, designing and building to livability and sustainability.
History is also not on the side of the Government of Nagaland with a poor track record in putting to practice vision statements. Dimapur is a classic case, a city with a ‘Master Plan’ that was drawn up over 40 years ago, once highly regarded and even cited as case study in schools of architecture. It turned out that the plan was not put to practice, turning the city into a free for all.
Despite a poor implementation history and the apparent challenges, it is assumed the policy-makers, who dreamt up the project, have considered the complexities involved, including a clear-cut and loophole-free legal framework governing the land on which the city will stand. Dimapur is a lost cause already. Chümoukedima is not far behind from going the former’s way.
Money and assembling the required expertise should not be an issue when there is political will. The aim and purpose appear well-intentioned, but a greater concern is the impact it will have on the environment. It will come at great ecological costs in an area known for its greenery and agricultural potential.
The wish is to not have the ambitious project turn into a costly failure.
The writer is a Principal Correspondent at The Morung Express. Comments can be sent to [email protected]