India's urban renewal plan goes wrong

The Centre's ambitious urban renewal plan has one basic flaw: in the name of public-private participation it tries to give greater agency to private corporations than elected bodies. nidhi jamwal exposes the subversion of democratic institutions

Published: Sunday 07 June 2015

India's urban renewal plan goes wrong

-- (Credit: Agnimirh basu / CSE)On December 3, 2005, prime minister Manmohan Singh launched "the single largest initiative of the Government of India for a planned development of our cities". The programme, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (jnnurm), acknowledged that urbanisation was a "relentless process" that had caused an acute urban crisis. Infrastructure development had not kept pace with urban growth and the people who were paying for this were the most vulnerable people: those living in expanding slum sprawls and the homeless. Urban poverty was fuelling crime and unregulated growth, increasing environmental damage, Singh noted in his inaugural speech.

The Centre set aside Rs 50,000 crore under jnnurm, covering a period of seven years beginning with the 2005-2006 fiscal. Another Rs 50,000 crore was to be raised through private sector participation.During this period, the mission proposed to develop 63 Indian cities into model sustainable cities. In return, cities would have to implement mandatory and optional reforms, the mission guidelines said, "to ensure improvement in urban governance so that urban local bodies (ulbs) and parastatal agencies became financially sound with enhanced credit rating and ability to access market capital for undertaking new programmes and expansion of services. In this improved environment, public-private participation models for provisioning of various services would also become feasible". Singh claimed that the mission, in keeping with his government's National Common Minimum Programme, sought "to do away with those statutes that inhibit the functioning of land and housing markets".

The carrot of Rs 100,000 crore lured state governments and urban bodies into hurriedly preparing development plans that were mandatory for accessing jnnurm funds. Consultants, hired overnight, started preparing plans in less than a month with "active public consultation" as directed by the mission. The Centre hired appraisal agencies to assess plans; within three months of jnnurm's launch, over 23 infrastructure projects worth Rs 86,482.95 crore had been approved.

Some sanctioned projects are going to aggravate urban crisis, warn experts. For instance, till March 31, 2006, four projects were cleared in the transport sector -- three flyovers for Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, and bridges in Nagpur, Maharashtra -- at a cost of Rs 6,128 crore and Rs 8,628 crore. All these projects are against the National Urban Transport Policy of the Indian government that proposes to strengthen the public transport system.

Similarly, there are projects that will augment water supply to cities such as Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Indore and Nagpur, but with no provision for dealing with the sewage that augmented supply will generate.

Narendar Pani of The Economic Times has summed up jnnurm in an article, Dressing up the urban crisis, saying it "could result in a huge expenditure on underutilised infrastructure, even as access to basic services gets more difficult and urban taxes increase inequality".

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