New Delhi and Mumbai are world class cities. Just ask anybody who's never been outside of India. But don't go to the United Nations.
According to a new UN study of the world's largest cities, India's most prestigious metropolises are neither lovable nor livable. Despite frequently patting itself on the back for its trees (what of the garbage strewn around their boles!?), New Delhi ranked dead out of 95 cities on the UN's environmental index. And neither Delhi nor Mumbai was able to break into the top half in "prosperity."
On environmental sustainability, Delhi scored only 0.448 out of 1, much lower than Dhaka or Kathmandu, India's Economic Times newspaper reported.
The study rated air quality (particulate matter10), CO2 emissions and indoor pollution.
"While Delhi has progressed a lot and urban infrastructure development has been significant, the pollution level here is higher than most of the other cities.," the paper quoted Eduardo Lopez Moreno, head of the city monitoring branch of UN Human Settlement Programme, as saying.
Delhi's miserable air quality was blamed on a massive increase in personal cars and motorbikes over the past several years.
Of course, it's easier to live here than it is in many other Indian cities, if that's any consolation.
Releasing the report, AK Mishra, secretary, ministry of housing and urban poverty alleviation, said that surveys have found that about 60 percent of people in urban areas in India don't have an assured source of income and that most of the urban funds, whether meant for roads, sewage or water supply, go to "well-off" areas as compared to undeveloped areas inhabited by the poor, the paper said.
In terms of "prosperity," which can loosely be defined as quality of life, neither Mumbai nor Delhi scored too well, the Economic Times reports elsewhere.
Mumbai ranked 52 among 95 cities while Delhi came in 58th, according to the paper.
Shanghai, Beijing and Bangkok were all ranked higher than the two Indian cities, but on this measure, both managed to outscore Kathmandu and Dhaka.
Since environmental factors like air pollution played a role in the prosperity ranking, India's terrible scores there dragged its cities down. But gross inequality was a factor, too, ET said.
The report for the first time has exposed the trend of how city planning and urban development always protect the interest of the rich. It says that in many cities, urban planning has been controlled by the real estate business, the paper said. "Cities that report to the interests of the better off or only focus on strategic economic interventions in specific spaces, tend to create enclaves of prosperity for a select few," ET quotes the UN report as saying.
Meanwhile, across Asia, Africa and Latin America, the wealthy and politically connected elite make sure life remains hell for the poor.
"Through political influence, bribery and corruption, these powerful groups manage to distort urban plans, dodge spatial or legal rules, reduce the production of public goods and manipulate the power of eminent domain; in the process they capture unfair shares of a city's potential, resources and prosperity to the detriment of large, poor majorities of urban populations," the report says.