One of the more curious paradoxes in the Indian growth story is our staggering lack of attention and thought to urban planning. Cities account for over 60 per cent of India's GDP, yet political parties divert most government funds to rural areas in the fond belief of getting votes. The tragedy is that most of these funds don't even reach the intended beneficiaries. So while cities carry the burden of our dreams and expectations as a nation, they are in a horrendous mess-as any city dweller experiences every day. Only 30 per cent of sewage in our cities is treated, the supply of water is short by 30 per cent and only 70 per cent of our waste is collected. Add traffic snarls and the quality of air, and you have the perfect recipe for an urban nightmare. This can only get worse. Because the stark reality is that India is urbanising at such an unprecedented scale that in the next decade its cities are likely to house over 600 million people. Since 2001, 22 million people have migrated from rural to urban areas. By 2030, India will have 68 cities of more than one million, three of which-Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata-will have a combined population of 80 million. Yet, owing to neglect by successive governments, in several cases growth has preceded infrastructure and the process of development is more a question of catching up with the past. Fortunately, the new Government has placed urbanisation at the top of its agenda from the outset, announcing an ambitious plan to invest over Rs.7,000 crore to build 100 'smart cities'. When the plan was first announced in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's election manifesto, it caused a good deal of consternation among policymakers and urban planners who called to mind visions of futuristic experiments around the world. Thankfully, it's now become clear that the Government's plan is far more practical. It has employed the word 'smart' to denote a range of improvements in institutional and physical infrastructure. The plan talks of making selected cities more investment-friendly, giving them better housing and 24x7 water and electricity supply. It also focuses on sanitation, clean air, education, health, security, entertainment, sports and mobility. More technology and private participation is implicit in the plan, but it is not at its core. This may sound simple but it is long overdue. Small projects have been launched to clean up the mess but the Government has to take these to a national level. I feel that what it boils down to is better governance. For smarter cities, we need smarter politicians, smarter bureaucrats and smarter citizens. There is, in fact, a need for fundamental political reform with more democracy- and therefore more accountability-at a local level. Civic authorities need to be far more empowered to raise funds and deal with local issues. Our cover story this week, written by Senior Writer Amulya Gopalakrishnan, takes you inside the Modi Government's smart city plan and gives a comprehensive overview of the various debates surrounding this new buzzword in urban planning. Along with this, we also have the Best Cities report which we started last year. The study, done by Gramener, a data visualisation and analytics company, examines 30 capital and metro cities and 20 emerging cities on 12 parameters, data for several of which was provided by economic research firm Indicus Analytics, including for the cleanliness index, added this year in keeping with the Swachh Bharat campaign. Our Beijing correspondent Ananth Krishnan has also filed a report on how China has dealt with urbanisation and the creation of smart cities. Hopefully, our Best Cities study will spur competition to govern cities better, and with the new Government's focus on cities, we realise their immense value to the nation.