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A case for satellite townships
The New Indian Express  |  January 21, 2019

Manoj Nair

Faced with the conundrum of finding ways and means to improve the living quality index in the fastest-growing cities, planners across the world are now creating smarter cities. India is no exception. With its Tier I cities bursting at the seams, Tier II cities are also experiencing phenomenal growth due to inter- and intra-state movement of people. Further, the competitive environment is making international businesses move to Tier II cities. The quality of life and the ability to attract a workforce are the major determinants when businesses relocate to these cities.


While state governments see such business migration as a positive development, one that contributes to the economy, they cannot afford to relax and watch the chaos unfold in front of them. A reality check indicates the current infrastructure is either over-stressed or under-designed or both. The fault lines lie in a scenario where the planning of development and infrastructure follows economic growth, and not the other way round. In India, this approach is reflective of the age-old syndrome of ‘it has been that way and will eventually catch up’. One could attribute this to the priorities of the earlier urban planning school of thought with emphasis on economic uplifting of the marginalised societies as a short-term goal. In contrast, investing in the creation of robust physical infrastructure will ultimately benefit the people by way of sustainable long-term employment opportunities. But lack of a clear action plan, inadequate financial allocation and tardy implementation of plans add to the misery.


Further, population growth doesn’t always follow a standard distribution in cities with high growth economic activities rather such growth shows erratic peaks over a period of time before it tapers off to achieve constancy. The planners and municipal authorities in these stressed cities need to engage with the business stakeholders and validate their plans and solutions to address issues like population (residential) distribution, transport management and environmental management. Engaging professional city planners to create integrated master plans is the key to address many of these challenges.


Take the instance of Kochi, a Tier II city and one of the fastest growing cities in the country, where business migration is visible. Infrastructure projects of state and national importance and IT and knowledge-based businesses are considering relocating their companies here to leverage the economic advantage that Kerala has to offer. Kochi, with its transport connectivity supported by reliable communication infrastructure, is poised to become India’s next major IT destination. The IT sector is among the key contributors to the burgeoning population. With 3,000 crore of combined investment in the IT hub of Kakkanad, the public infrastructure will continue to be over-stressed. Within this IT corridor, SmartCity Kochi alone has commercial IT projects worth 2,200 crore, which will add 64 lakh sq. ft of built-up office spaces that will open for business from the last quarter of 2020 in phases until 2021.


The 2011 Census reveals that population density in the areas under the Cochin Corporation and Greater Cochin stands at 7,500 and 4,500 per sq. km, respectively. The current population of the IT corridor in Kakkanad, where InfoPark, Kochi employs over 35,000 people, is expected to increase to 1,00,000 plus by 2022. Considering a shift-based working and flexible work from home concept, one would witness a workforce population density of 25,000 per sq km, much higher than the figures in the corporation limits. This imminent growth requires authorities to plan and create adequate municipal infrastructure. In this context, creation of a satellite township model is a highly viable solution to address known and unforeseen challenges. Promoting such townships will help streamline and mitigate the load on the physical infrastructure, promote employee productivity and satisfaction, and lower employee attrition. A satellite township development could be a fully public funded approach, a public-private partnership or a completely private-funded initiative.


Scarcity of land, socioeconomic challenges related to land acquisition and delays in execution of infrastructure projects pose challenges. Alternative transportation modes like metro rail and waterways need to be prioritised to cater to the population in the secondary urban centres. The developers of these townships need to design the infrastructure to address future demands of the planned community, demarcate land for public infrastructure and have zero-discharge waste management programmes. It is imperative that the population density management and pollution control remain at the heart of the growth story to ensure the city’s ease of living index is improved upon.


The integrated satellite township model, based on the live-work-play concept, has proved effective in mitigating infrastructure shortfall in high-growth cities. It is a time-tested model within and outside India. It is time to revisit that model and make it more inclusive. The renewed approach towards industrial townships with 50 per cent area for economic activities and the rest for social and resident engagement, thus creating a self-contained township, is catching the eye of planners. The success of such a township is in its design of self-sustainable infrastructure with zero dependency on the civic infrastructure of the city corporations and municipalities. A manageable township size and infrastructure governance based on emerging IT-based solutions can lead to the creation of smart townships.


Manoj Nair

CEO, Smart City Kochi