How Meaningful Policy Initiatives Can Spurt Healthy Urbanisation - A Case Study of Hyderabad and Urban Telangana

 - Sakshi Post

Sri Arvind Kumar, IAS

Urbanisation is inevitable with the growth in the economy when the share of the primary sector declines and share of the manufacturing and services sector rises. Cities are engines of economic growth and the positive ripple effects of economic growth in urban areas leads to multi-fold increase in employment and income levels. 

Southern Indian states are more urban. The share of Urban Population in Telangana in 2022, as per Telangana Socio-Economic Outlook 2022, is 46.8% as against the national average of 31.16%. This puts Telangana among the top three urbanised States in the country and compares favourably with urban population of Tamil Nadu at 48.45%, Kerala at 47.23 % and Maharashtra at 45.23%.

What’s more heartening is that the growth of urbanisation in Telangana is faster than elsewhere, implying faster growth of GSDP & more job opportunities. Telangana will have more than 50% of its population urban before 2028, with Hyderabad Urban Agglomeration (HUA – the area within Outer Ring Road including Hyderabad) alone having at least 40% of the state’s population by then. This in turn implies that our GSDP will continue to be growing much faster than the rest of India.

Let us look at some of the innovative policy initiatives undertaken by the State Government enabling robust urbanisation in a planned manner. The first part deals with Hyderabad and growth initiatives and the second part deals with urban growth elsewhere in the state. 

Unlimited Floor Space Index (FSI) – Telangana perhaps is the only state which provides for unlimited FSI, implying vertical growth in urban areas and more built up area on a per unit land. While it may evoke mixed reactions, its important to clarify that all necessary precautions, in terms of fire safety, amenities & infrastructure & traffic impact assessment, are ensured. In the process, not only the city skyline is getting spectacular, the real estate community gets more value for money and users – both residential & institutional, save travel time & cost.  Plus, there is plenty of availability of land around the urban areas and cost continues to be one of the most affordable at the country level. What’s important is the ability of Urban Development Authorities such as HMDA and Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation to plan for the infrastructure – roads, water supply, electricity in advance and thus leading to development of planned greenfield townships such as Neopolis(will house a million working population by 2030) & Uppal Bagayath ( a planned residential township). 

TSBPASS - In a unique initiative, Telangana government brought out building permission approval process online and on a self certification mode wherein permissions upto 600 sq yards constructions are accorded instantly and anything beyond that in 21 days. There’s no need to meet any official. So far, 2.1 lakhs building applications have been processed and what’s more, the building permission fee is passed on to the concerned ULB instantly. This has minimised corruption and is a great step in maximising citizen’s interface with ULB.  The geo-spatial positioning of permissions granted is used to prioritise the new roads to be taken up and this marriage of actual new habitations with new roads and infrastructure has been perfect. 

Innovative project funding mechanism - In order to undertake any infrastructure work, Urban Local Bodies need infra funding. Its well established that constructing new/ improving roads lead to increased economic activities in immediate surroundings including increase in the capital value of adjacent lands. In a unique initiative, GHMC has stipulated for an automatic increase in construction charges and in property tax of such properties on both sides of such roads and this dedicated revenue stream makes these projects highly bankable. Its thus not surprising that most of the new projects in Hyderabad Urban Agglomeration are taken up based on project funding from Banks/ Institutions & on the strength of the balance sheet of the Local Bodies. This has ensured a manifold increase in urban infrastructure during the last decade. 

A dedicated Project based (with dedicated SPVs) approach to urban infrastructure – In a conscious move, the state government has set up project based dedicated SPVs for the development of urban infrastructure. Let me illustrate the importance & their contribution by pointing out 4 dedicated SPVs for urban roads – (1) Strategic Urban Road Development (the SRDP) programme was set up to create conflict-free corridors on the main traffic bearing thoroughfares to increase the average speed from 15 to 35 Kms per hour. A total of 35 major road works, including 19 flyovers, a cable-stayed bridge, 12 ROB/Underpass are already completed & operational and another 13 works are nearing completion under Phase I of the SRDP. The plan for Phase-II envisaging 27 more high intensity infra works  are ready. The total cost is about Rs 12000 crores and met entirely from institutional/ local body funding; (2) an extremely important SPV, aimed at identifying & creating missing link roads thereby ensuring maximum value for infra investment is Hyderabad Road Development Corporation (HRDC) set up in the year 2017. It has so far completed 25 such important missing link road projects and is now expanding to cover such missing link roads in HUA, around Hyderabad. HRDC by establishing new green-field and brown-field roads, new connectivity leading to reduced travel time is perhaps the most important urban infra intervention. It did amazing works during the covid lockdown time, converting an adversity into an opportunity by utilising the working time available without normal traffic; (3) Under Comprehensive Road Maintenance Project (CRMP), 930 kms of important major arterial roads in Hyderabad (3 or more laned) are identified and handed over to private infra agencies, through an open bid process for a 5 years period wherein the agencies engaged will take care of all maintenance related issues like re-carpeting, water logging, pothole filling, lane marking and keep the roads 24/7/365 motorable. This has ensured better upkeep of these important roads and a greater level of citizen satisfaction; (4) Hyderabad has more than 185 water bodies and over a period of time, the interconnectivity has suffered due to encroachment etc. and thus preventing flow of surplus water from a water body to another downstream. The negative effects were seen in the floods of 2020 wherein a number of low lying colonies were inundated. The Strategic Nala Development Project (SNDP) was thus created in 2021 to provide for interconnectivity of these water bodies and to prevent floods. About 100 Kms of storm water drains costing at Rs 985 crores have been taken up and nearing completion and will prevent flooding in at least 160 of such low lying vulnerable colonies. 

The only city processing 100% of its sewage waste - Hyderabad presently treats about 700 mld of sewage waste out of a total of about 1650 mld sewage generated. The state government has taken up construction of 31 decentralised STPs with a total capacity of 1260 MLD & it should be ready by September 2023. With this, the entire sewage waste of HUA shall be processed 100% - no other city in India has this feature. 

Waste To Energy (WTE) – Telangana already has a 20 MW plant running based on waste to energy (WTE) from the Refused Derived Fuel (RDF) at Jawahar Nagar under PPP mode. Four new plants ( including doubling the capacity at Jawahar Nagar) are under construction and Telangana shall produce 101 MW from WTE by March 2025, utilising 5100 MTs of RDF which is about 15000 MTs of waste & thus ensuring the daily waste for the next three decades are processed on a daily basis for HUA – a feet no other city will have in India. 

Lets now discuss some of the State level initiatives which are driving urbanisation at the state level. 

New Municipal Act – A new legislation - Telangana Municipalities Act (TMA) was enacted in 2019 replacing a number of archaic & multiple Acts. The central theme of this new Act is the citizen and how municipal services serve the citizens in a time bound transparent and user convenient model. Among others, it brings professionalism in preparing and managing municipal budgets, provides for a mandatory 10% of the municipal budget earmarked as “Green Budget” & makes all municipal services online & in a time bound manner. 

In order to bring infrastructure improvements while acknowledging the urban growth, the
number of ULBs were increased from 68 to 142 in 2019. To strengthen these new ULBs and also the existing ones, Rs 4700 crs worth of infrastructure works in these 142 ULBs- roads, street lights, civic amenities, green cover, drinking water and management of faecal sludge – by constructing Faecal Sludge Treatment Plants (FSTPs) to process all the saptage & faecal sludge in all these ULBs  were taken up by Telangana Urban Finance & Infrastructure Development Corporation (TUFIDC) and in less than 4 years, massive infrastructure improvements can be seen all around. 

In order to ensure that urban lung space is not impacted in any manner and in fact grown further, 19 urban forest blocks( from a total of 129 which are taken up for development ) are developed in the vicinity of Hyderabad – each ranging from 500-2500 acres and these have provided the necessary green cover and weekend getaways. All ULBs under the mandatory 10% green budget have got a green kitty of Rs 650 crores and, under the State’s green initiative, have got their own nurseries and the green cover in all ULBs including Hyderabad has increased in the last decade. It's no wonder that Hyderabad was selected twice as the“Tree City of the World” for 2020 and 2021 – the only city from India to have won twice from The Arbor Day Foundation and the FAO of the United Nations. Hyderabad also won the prestigious “AIPH World Green City Awards, 2022”. 

In our jest to create new infrastructure and better living conditions, the state has not lost its focus on its rich heritage and culture. About 24 stepwells of Kakatiya dynasty time which were either lost or nearly encroached are being restored to their original state. The state has also taken up the restoration of all important heritage sites – MJ Market, central library, Khurshidjahidevadi, Sheikpet Sarai, QutbShahi tombs, Lad Bazaar – to name few important ones and this has brought direct involvement of people with a sense of pride and ownership. 

There are city level initiatives undertaken uniformly by the state government – improvement of burial grounds & cremation grounds ( under a scheme called “Vaikuntadhamam”), development of integrated Veg and Non-veg markets, ensuring 100% Household a safe drinking water on a daily basis under “Mission Bhagiratha” scheme and providing “Dignity Housing” – a two bedroom 560 sft. housing unit free of cost to the urban poor. 

Today, the urban growth in Telangana is the fastest and growing further. All these initiatives have ensured that the quality of life in urban areas improves and that people have a strong security of social & physical infrastructure for them, leading them towards economic & social empowerment and living a dignified life. 

About author :

Sri Arvind Kumar, IAS 
Special Chief Secretary
Municipal Administration and Urban Development & Metropolitan Commissioner,

Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority (HMDA)

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