ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Private Cities

India's new private cities are accountable only to their stockholders and investors.

Despite the controversy that dogged its beginnings, Lavasa, near Pune, which has been touted as “free India’s first hill city”, is nearing completion of its first phase, with the launch of its first town, Dasve, later this year. Considerable debate has centred around the way the development project was fasttracked by the Maharashtra government, allowing dubious acquisition of land from some 18 villages in Pune district, as well as clearance on a host of environmental and infrastructural hurdles. Yet far more worrisome is the assiduously promoted neoliberal vision of India’s urban future that the project embodies, one in which the public functions of urban planning and development are relentlessly privatised.

The Lavasa paradigm of India’s “future cities” is no lonely pioneer. A recent chorus of voices from the private corporate sector has noted India’s need for “new cities” built in the publicprivate partnership mode. At the 2009 India Economic Summit, major real estate developers lamented the red tape and land acquisition difficulties that are holding up the “hundreds of new cities” required in the coming decades to relieve pressure on existing cities. The call for public-private partnerships was also taken up ahead of the 2010-11 Union Budget by one of India’s largest real estate developers, who argued that the state should leave the tasks of “conceptualisation and execution” of urban development to private players. Nor is the paradigm of private cities merely a demand on paper. Apart from Lavasa, the list of “cities” under private development includes Amby Valley in the Sahyadris close to Mumbai, described as a “first of its kind Megapolis”, as well as Nanocity near Chandigarh, which is being promoted privately but in partnership with the Haryana government. In 2008, a high-level group on the services sector constituted by the Planning Commission also mooted the creation of new satellite townships by state governments to allay rising costs for the information technology sector in existing cities. These towns would be developed by the private sector, with trunk services such as water and electricity, provided by state governments.

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