It’s Fine, You Just Need $1.2 Trillion

India’s cities are something of a nightmare. This is not news for anyone who has walked through Calcutta at night and seen the hundreds of people sleeping on pavements or watched as an ambulance tries in vain to get through Mumbai’s traffic or wondered why there are huge sprawling building sites on the edge of every city which appear to have been abandoned. The news is that the urban nightmare has barely started.

A new report by McKinsey Global Institute [h/t FT] says India will have to spend $1.2 trillion dollars if it wants to prepare properly for the urban migration that is about to overwhelm its cities in the coming decades. By 2030, it reckons there will be 590 million living in India’s cities – 40% of the population – up from 340 million at the moment.

These numbers are frankly mind-boggling. India’s cities are a choked, manic, barely functioning riot. How they are expected to cope with almost double the numbers beggars comprehension. By the time Delhi has finished expanding it will be somewhere in Antarctica.

Thank God someone has bothered to spell out the problem and provide some comprehensive answers. The report goes into great detail about how you start involving people in urban growth and renewal, where the priorities are and what the budget should be. At the moment, India spends $17 per person on its city-folk and this needs to rise to $134, it says, bringing it line with China which spends $116 per person.

Even with this nice, neat plan, however, it will be an absolute miracle if the clunking, bewildered hippopotamus that is the Indian Administration Service manages to get even half of this done. As the FT points out, India has had 10 years of peaking urban migration and has done bugger all to prepare for it. Infrastructure spending is central to the next five-year plan in India, but as everyone in this country knows, infrastructure development is first and foremost a marvellous way for politicians and bureaucrats to get filthy rich. I look forward to seeing the queue at New Delhi railway station ticket office looking something like this in 10 years’ time:

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