“India’s global economic outreach, the growth of the Indian Diaspora in Australia and the student exchange programme between India and Australia have influenced Australia’s renewed interest in India,” said Harinder Sidhu, the Australian High Commissioner to India. “Though India and Australia discovered each other through trade relations, it is gradually making way for strategic partnership,” she added, while interacting with a team of public policy professionals at the CPPR office in Kochi on July 4, 2017. Ms Sidhu was in Kochi as part of an Australian delegation to mark the arrival of an Australian navy ship in Kochi. Jon Bonnar, Deputy Consul–General for South India, accompanied Ms Sidhu.
The shift of economic weight to the Indo–Pacific region is accompanied by strategic change. India and Australia are converging on security and strategic matters as never before to promote the stability and prosperity of the Indo–Pacific region, said the High Commissioner.
Ms Sidhu lauded Australia’s migration programme as a model for the rest of the world. Australia has successfully blended people from 200 different countries in the world. Every year, Australia receives migrants to the tune of 1 per cent of its total population. Most of them belong to the working age group and bring with them talent, creativity and innovation. Results of the Census 2106 of Australia reveal that Australia is home to more migrants from Asia than from Europe. Over 450,000 people of Indian heritage live in Australia, constituting nearly 2 per cent of Australia’s total population.
D Dhanuraj, Chairman, CPPR, apprised Ms Sidhu of the operation, core areas of research, three major study centres (Centre for Strategic Studies, Centre for Comparative Studies and Centre for Urban Studies) and academic wing of CPPR. The team had a discussion on the urbanisation challenges faced by India.
Dhanuraj touched on Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), a massive city-modernisation scheme of the former Manmohan Singh government launched in 2005. The Modi government replaced it with the Smart Cities Mission in 2015, with an aim to develop 100 cities as Smart Cities with advanced amenities and governance.
“Though the intent is good, the mission fails to define the smartness of the selected cities. The focus is on improving retrofitting infrastructure. It also prioritises development of parts of a city rather than the entire city,” said Dhanuraj.
The mission will cover only about 50 sq km of land area in Kochi, which is one of the cities selected for programme implementation. As a result, the remaining areas will remain undeveloped or underdeveloped. The creation of a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), a bureaucratic set-up to implement the programme is another drawback. The local governments will have no role in the mission. The 74th Constitutional Amendment clearly envisions devolving more power to the local governments. The Smart Cities Mission submerges the idea of decentralised power. India has to urbanise rapidly and the government has to push the growth of two- and three-tier cities, instead of focusing only on advancing existing cities, said Dhanuraj.
“Though Australia is one of the most highly urbanised countries, around 9 million of its 24 million people live in two cities, Melbourne and Sydney,” said Ms Sidhu. The concentration of jobs and opportunities around big cities is a major challenge for Australia. Australia’s cities remain low-density in comparison to other developed cities of the world, and the population density is half-a-person per sq km, she added.
P K Hormis Tharakan (Former RAW Chief and Advisor, CPPR) brought up the issue of terrorism and radicalisation. A discussion on rising instances of home-grown radicals in Australia and India followed. Ms Sidhu said that research institutes and universities in Australia and India could collaborate to understand and analyse the issue of radicalisation of educated youth.