A recent study by the Indian Green Building Council predicts that, in the next 10 to 15 years, India will need at least 70 new cities with populations of 500,000 each to handle the rural-to-urban migration and avoid overpopulation in its existing metropolitan areas. In addition, as India's population is expected to exceed China’s by 2020, the federal government has begun pumping undisclosed sums of money into infrastructure and manufacturing.

The government has been planning ecologically healthy cities to deal with its projected status as the world’s most populous nation. “The majority of these developments will happen in and around the established and emerging cities and towns across the country,” says M. Anand, a senior counselor at the Indian Green Building Council.

In Maharashtra state, Pune is an example of such a city. Once a sleepy college town, this second-tier town now is attracting new business, such as auto manufacturing, from cities such as Delhi and Mumbai. It is the site of a planned “environmental township,” which is scheduled to be complete by 2016. In fact, Pune is slated to become the nation’s newest information technology hub.

To help these second-tier cities grow, the government has been working toward building infrastructure, including roads, airports and affordable housing. “[Second-tier cities] have always been good at doing more with less in every aspect, whether it is access to funding, infrastructure or quality personnel,” says Yusuf Turab, the managing director of YT Enterprises, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, which offers green training and certification as well architecture and planning support.

“In India, where the metro cities get a much larger share of energy and water per capita, most buildings in second-tier cities are forced to be more judicious in their resource use,” Turab says.

By 2030, a $1.2-trillion investment will be required to meet the projected demand for 700 million to 900 million sq meters of commercial and residential space, says a McKinsey Global Institute report. The projected real estate development would be the equivalent of building a new Chicago every year.

Just starting development, a major project is the $90-billion Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, a multiphase, public-private undertaking that will spread across 2,700 kilometers in six states. DMIC will include a 4,000-MW powerplant, three seaports and six airports. Plans call for 24 green and smart cities and a dedicated freight train running from Delhi to Mumbai.

 “India has been a reluctant urbanizer,” says Amitabh Kant, CEO and managing director of the DMIC Development Corp., which is 49% owned by the government and 51% owned by financial institutions. “In some ways, this is a huge opportunity for India to use new technologies to leapfrog into the future.”

A planned city called Dholera in the state of Gujarat underscores the trend. Currently a cluster of small villages, Dholera will have, if all goes according to plan, two million people and an international airport by 2040. The government is trying to develop Dholera into a hub of engineering, electronics, and pharmaceutical firms, which would create employment and as much as triple industrial output. The Indian government expects to draw in financing from abroad.

Kant expects planners to design transit-oriented developments and cities that are ideal for cycling and walking. To get these cities off the ground, the government must create good infrastructure, he says. Good infrastructure will determine whether the second-tier cities will stay at the forefront of India’s green movement, Kant adds.