Finally a plan to reform the concrete jungles
On December 3, 2005, prime minister Manmohan Singh launched an ambitious programme to improve the quality of life in the cities called the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (jnnurm). It covers 60 cities with over one million people. It will comprise of one sub-mission on urban infrastructure and governance, and another on basic services for the poor.
Though the Constitution recognises urban planning as a state subject under the jurisdiction of local bodies, the pm admitted that the Union government's financial intervention was necessary to help the infrastructure keep pace with urbanisation. The jnnurm will spend Rs 100,000 crore in the next seven years: half the amount will come from the Union government, while state and local urban bodies will provide the rest. In return for the Central funds, the state governments and urban local bodies are to work towards improving the financial state of the latter.
The programme lays stress on easing out traffic, shifting industrial/commercial establishments, improving water supply, overhauling sewerage systems and putting up services for urban poor. But there is no attempt to see urbanisation as a continuous process. "The government should concentrate on rural areas to stop migration to urban centres," says Jayashree Sengupta, a senior economist with the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation.
And from where will the Union government manage the required funds? At the launch of the programme, the pm emphasised tapping financial resources in the private sector. But experts hold that the private sector would get involved only if there is scope for profit and that comes at a public cost. "Involvement of the private sector in construction of roads and flyovers does not affect the public directly. As soon as it gets into basic urban services, public will feel the pinch," says Kavas Kapadia, professor of urban planning at School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi.
"But any beginning is good. Let's hope for the best," he added.
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