Tuesday, June 28th, 2022

Urban Infrastructure Management Issues And Challenges In India

 Dr. Ramesh Kumar
 Research Scholar
 Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University
 Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh
 Dr. P. Udaya Bhaskar
 Andhra Pradesh Public Service Commission
 Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh

As cities in developing world are under demographic transition and the forces of economic liberalization taking grip over them, they are engulfed by a number of problems. The pressures of population growth and globalization, however, demand these cities to be more competitive and their infrastructure should be responsive to promote welfare of its population. Unfortunately, most cities are not well equipped to tackle some of these problems like water scarcity, slums management, urban waste management, sewage, transportation etc., which led to the failure of local government institutions in the provision of public goods and services in an efficient and effective manner. Such failures provide an institutional vacuum in making the service delivery process efficient and responsive. Non-profit networks can emerge in such settings by forging partnerships between the stakeholders, thereby, steering appropriate governance structures.

Urbanization is an integral part of the process of economic growth.  As in most countries, India’s towns and cities make a major contribution to the country’s economy. With less than 1/3 of India’s people, its urban areas generate over 2/3 of the country’s GDP and account for 90% of government revenues.

Urbanization in India has expanded rapidly as increasing numbers of people migrate to towns and cities in search of economic opportunity. Slums now account for 1/4 of all urban housing. In Mumbai, for instance, more than half the population lives in slums, many of which are situated near employment centers in the heart of town, unlike in most other developing countries.

Meeting the needs of India’s soaring urban populations is and will therefore continue to be a strategic policy matter. Critical issues that need to be addressed are:

  • Poor local governance.
  • Weak finances.
  • Inappropriate planning that leads to high costs of housing and office space; in some Indian cities these costs are among the highest in the world.
  • Critical infrastructure shortages and major service deficiencies that include erratic water and power supply, and woefully inadequate transportation systems.
  • Rapidly deteriorating environment.


  • Many urban governments lack a modern planning framework.
  • The multiplicity of local bodies obstructs efficient planning and land use.
  • Rigid master plans and restrictive zoning regulations limit the land available for building, constricting cities’ abilities to grow in accordance with changing needs.


  • Building regulations that limit urban density – such as floor space indexes – reduce the number of houses available, thereby pushing up property prices.
  • Outdated rent control regulations reduce the number of houses available on rent – a critical option for the poor.
  • Poor access to micro finance and mortgage finance limit the ability of low income groups to buy or improve their homes.
  • Policy, planning and regulation deficiencies lead to a proliferation of slums.
  • Weak finances of urban local bodies and service providers leave them unable to expand the trunk infrastructure that housing developers need to develop new sites.
A Slum Housing Colony in Mumbai

Service Delivery

  • Most services are delivered by city governments with unclear lines of accountability.
  • There is a strong bias towards adding physical infrastructure rather than providing financially and environmentally sustainable services.
  • Service providers are unable to recover operations and maintenance costs and depend on the government for finance.
  • Independent regulatory authorities that set tariffs, decide on subsidies and enforce service quality are generally absent.


  • Most urban bodies do not generate the revenues needed to renew infrastructure, nor do they have the creditworthiness to access capital markets for funds.
  • Urban transport planning needs to be more holistic – there is a focus on moving vehicles rather than meeting the needs of the large numbers of people who walk or ride bicycles in India’s towns and cities.


  • The deteriorating urban environment is taking a toll on people’s health and productivity and diminishing their quality of life.

In the past, urbanisation and its concomitant challenges commanded low priority in national political discourse. Recently, however, the economic and demographic rise of cities in many parts of the country, especially Southern and Western India, and the National Capital Region, are drawing greater attention. This is likely to rise further in the coming years as urbanisation mounts.

The World Bank will look to support policy reform in critical areas such as land use planning and municipal finance, as well as institutional reform. It will work with all three tiers of government in designing programs to address slums, housing and urban infrastructure requirements.


The phenomena of urbanization, globalization and liberalisation are increasing pressure on service delivery in the cities of developing countries that are engulfed by vast number of problems. Unfortunately, most of the cities are ill equipped to tackle the problems and pressures because either they gave inadequate thought about the trajectories of city growth or because they did not plan and allocate resources to do it; even otherwise, there are inefficiencies built-in through traditional designs of institutions of service delivery made on political and bureaucratic forces. This is leading to government failures in service delivery, which can be addressed by institutional innovations under partnership mode (apart from governance reforms) to steer urban governance in right direction. However, policy reforms are also needed so that right kinds of incentives prevail for nurturing new institutions (Virmani 2005).

Better planning, reducing conflict with environment, best water management systems, good governance, digitalisation of land records, eco-friendly construction methods will improve living standards of the urban population.

  1. Virmani, A. (2005), ‘Institutions, Governance and Policy Reform: A Framework for Analysis’ Economic and Political Weekly of India XXXX(22).

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