GUWAHATI, the gateway to the North East, is experiencing tremendous growth in population, urbanisation, and migration from different districts of Assam and from small and medium northeastern towns, which has created a huge deficit in urban amenities and infrastructure of the city. Unplanned growth of the city and ignorance towards development of the hinterland or peri-urban areas have created unbalanced development, bringing about major disturbances in the urban-rural linkages. Guwahati is growing in population from almost 5,00,000 in 1991 to 9,68,549 in 2011. The population density of the city is recorded at 4,455 persons per sq km. The physical expansion of the city grew from 43.28 sq km in 1971 to 262 sq km in 2001 and presently to 328 sq km. Such growth demands improved infrastructural provision, land use developments, housing and allied services, residential and commercial areas, affordable townships, open areas, industries, and most importantly, provision of jobs.
Guwahati experiences rapid migration and also floating population from its economic sub-centres like Nalbari, Barpeta, Tihu, Sipajhar, Borkhetri, Sualkuchi, Sarthebari, Sonapur, Goalpara, Palasbari, Hajo, Changsari, Chaygaon, etc. The city is served by these towns in terms of labour force, goods and services, agricultural products, milk and meat, green and leafy vegetables and other perishable and non-perishable products. The mother city Guwahati, in return, acts as a hub for generation of secondary and tertiary services and as a centre for economic growth. This region around Guwahati possesses a high degree of resource potential and can be planned for economic, social and environmental development for holistic growth and development of the entire region.
A city�s physical expansion and requirement of higher degree of services to serve the population are an inevitable process. Expansion and development of cities and their dependent regions need to be effectively planned, envisioned with a holistic regional development approach that incorporates the wide aspects of opportunities, issues and concerns of development. The regional plan is often seen as a plan for balanced development that reduces competition of resource utilisation and minimises leapfrog development between different places within the region. Regional planning can help in reducing disparities, minimising push-and-pull effects of migration, utilises underutilised resources and takes into account economic, social and environmental goals � thus ensuring sustainability.
Keeping in mind the effective development of Guwahati and the region, the Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) has proposed a metropolitan region with a total area of 3,471 sq km. The Greater Guwahati Metropolitan Region includes parts of five districts � Kamrup (Metro), Kamrup, Nalbari, Darrang and Morigaon. The new Greater Guwahati Metropolitan Region (GMR) has been proposed to include 30 urban centres and 1,061 villages of 15 revenue circles. As per the 2011 census, the total population of the proposed GMR is 24 lakh, distributed in 48 per cent urban and 52 per cent rural areas. The proposed area of GMR includes reserve forest and forest (1072.14 sq km), water bodies excluding the Brahmaputra (261.61 sq km) and including the Brahmaputra (141 sq km). The GMR will include areas like Azara, Chandrapur, North Guwahati, Guwahati GMDA area, Sonapur, Barkhetri, Hajo, Chaygaon, Kamalpur, Goroimari, Palasbari, Sipajhar and Mayong. All these areas possess potentiality for growth and development in the agricultural sector, agro-based industries, and tourism with the satisfactory level of literacy rate of 91 per cent in the average and available workforce.
The socio-economic profile of GMR shows a high level of main worker rate (77 per cent), but indicates less participation in the workforce (39 per cent). This indicates that though literacy rate is more in the region, there are some hidden reasons that are not allowing the youth population in this region to join the workforce. Less availability of jobs or decreasing interest of the youths in the traditional agrarian economy might be the probable cause behind this.
A detailed investigation shows that each of the major towns of GMR exhibits a unique character and resource potential which can be brought under one umbrella for balanced regional growth. Hajo is famous for brass and bell metal industries and as a religious place for Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims. The socio-economic profile of Hajo consists of trading, small-scale business, brass products, agriculture, fishing and pottery making. The new Saraighat Bridge over the Brahmaputra has improved connectivity to Hajo-Nalbari from Guwahati. The Deepor Beel can be a place of interest due to its ecological and hydrological services.
Nalbari has the potential for growth as an education sub-centre and as a health city after Guwahati. Chaygaon, on the south bank, is historically important and can be treated as an industrial growth centre. Agro-based economic activities can be established by taking advantage of the available resources around Chaygaon.
The North Guwahati areas possess a high potential to grow. The economic base of Sipajhar in Darrang district is agriculture with other allied activities such as fishery, handicraft, animal husbandry, weaving, etc. Mayong in Morigaon district, which is historically known for its magic and necromancy, can be developed as a tourist destination. Different small-scale industries include the Jagiroad Paper Mill and dry fish market at Jagiroad, which is famous as one of the largest dry fish markets in Asia where about 4,000 people are engaged directly or indirectly.
Apart from all potentialities or opportunities, the GMR is flooded with problems related to growth and development. Some common infrastructural issues are water supply, floods, connectivity and condition of roads, waste treatment, drainage and condition of canals, housing, low living condition, vehicular traffic, lack of organised public amenities, etc. that degrade the overall quality of life.
Most of the areas in the GMR are fascinated with the �display effect� of the city, which is forcing the educated workforce to migrate to Guwahati. The whole area is dominated by the primacy of Guwahati and dwellers of the GMR are becoming dependent on the prime city for health care, education, jobs, recreational activities, etc. Moreover, social issues like uneven income distribution, dislike or less interest in traditional agriculture, low rate of workforce participation, less participation of literate women in the economy, low level of awareness and lack of encouragement/enthusiasm to participate in development are prevalent in the region.
The GMR region has ample opportunities as well as constraints for regional development that need to be envisioned before its development. The vision for the region may include strong urban-rural linkage, revitalisation of existing canals and rivers, transport connectivity, policy for development of residential spaces and preservation of ecological diversity, creation of satellite spaces, development of home-based economy, development of tourism in Hajo, Kamakhya, Deepor Beel and Mayong, improvement of quality of life etc. Moreover, socio-economic assessment, environmental impact analysis, techno-economic feasibility study, input-output analysis, and regional suitability study should be conducted before the initiation of development process of the GMR to achieve a balanced, efficient and holistic regional development.