Urban Development as Engine of Growth

M Ramachandran, Distinguished Fellow, Skoch Development Foundation

Cities are engines of growth. Although, just over 30 per cent Indians live in cities, they contribute more than 60 per cent to the country’s GDP and 80 per cent of tax revenue. But city dwellers face many challenges from poor supply of water, power to other infrastructure related problems, writes M Ramachandran

Even though India’s urban population is at a level of 31 per cent, considered low compared to China’s 50 per cent, South Africa’s 61 per cent and Brazil’s 87 per cent, in terms of numbers it has gone up from 17 per cent in 1950 to the present level. The states of Kerala, Goa, Nagaland and Sikkim have for the first time registered decline in their rural population. Growth in urban population during the last decade has been as high as 153 per cent in Sikkim, 93 per cent in Kerala and 76 per cent in Tripura. The three most urbanised states in that order are Goa, Mizoram and Tamil Nadu while the three in the least urbanised category are Assam, Bihar and Himachal Pradesh. There is a total of 7,935 cities and towns in our country today, 3,894 of these being census towns, which has its own wide implications. We have 53 cities with million plus population, 7 each in Uttar Pradesh and Kerala, 6 in Maharashtra, 4 each in Gujarat and MP, to name the top three. According to one report, among the 100 fastest growing cities of the world, as many as 25 are in India. Our urban areas contribute as much as 60 per cent of the country’s GDP, and something like 80 per cent of our tax revenue.

So what is the positive news about our urban areas and cities? About 93 per cent of our urban households use electricity, 81 per cent households have latrine facility within the premises, 68 per cent households avail banking services, 77 per cent have TV, 82 per cent have telephone, 76 per cent have mobile and 35 per cent have two wheelers. Mobile Internet is expected to become primary platform for accessing internet with computer literates in urban areas being about 195 million and internet users crossing a figure of 137 million. But then the complexity of issues urban India is facing is highly challenging. One out of every six households in urban India is in a slum with 25 per cent of urban India living in slums. Five cities namely Visakhapatnam, Jabalpur, Mumbai, Vijayawada and Meerut have more than 40 per cent slum households. The seriousness of the problem becomes clear when the latest census reveals that of the 4,041 statutory towns in the country, as many as 2,543 have reported existence of slums. The top five states with larger slum population are the erstwhile combined Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal. Chandigarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Assam and Kerala figure in the last five.

Water Scarcity

When it comes to water, about 71 per cent of urban households have source of water within the premises whereas 8 per cent have to fetch it from more than one hundred meters away. No state seems to have taken any big initiative to ensure equitable access to water for all within the city or even for 24x7 water supply. The Maharashtra Sujal Nirmal Abhiyaan, which means an integrated approach to meet the challenges of water supply, is one long-term programme which continues to address this issue as a whole. Malkapur in Maharashtra is probably the first town to provide 24x7 water supply. Nagpur‘s agenda is to provide 24x7 water supply all over the city continues after completing a pilot project. Karnataka has not been able to achieve much success in translating its pilot success of such supply in Hubli-Dharwar-Belgaum in all the cities of the state. The Government of Gujarat has said on record that it has put in place long-term plans to provide drinking water to all areas covered by the 159 municipalities of the state, over and above the 8 municipal corporations. A provision of `2,500 crore has been made for regular supply of 140 lpcd of drinking water to all 159 towns. Since the state government has a vision about delivering drinking water to all as per norms, it is hopeful that by 2014 it will be able to cross the significant milestone of providing 140 lpcd of water to all urban bodies. Commitment to provide access to an assured quality of potable water to all the urban residents and to ensure equitable access to all for announced hours of supply still remains a neglected agenda item for most of the state governments. Considering the importance of the whole complexities of the urban water agenda such as access to all, reducing wastage, taking up recycling, better managing the water utilities, improving service delivery etc., it is time the centre decided to take up a mission on improved water management as part of the newly proposed 500 habitations programme so that not only water supply systems improve but they are placed on a solid platform.

Waste Management

Another key area of urban neglect is sanitation, waste management and sewage coverage. A report states that currently, of the estimated 62 million tonnes of municipal solid waste generated annually by the urban residents, more than 80 per cent is disposed of indiscriminately at dump yards in an unhygienic manner by the urban bodies leading to problems of health and environmental degradation. The PPP initiatives of attempting to handle waste better taken under the Urban mission are reported to have met with complications in states like UP.

Reports like the Hyderabad municipal commissioner asking the sanitation staff to clear up the garbage piled up leading to a stink in the city for a month, Pune’s solid waste management project which had exclusive claims of incorporating more than two thousand rag pickers in the management arrangement, having to face problems, a stinking issue that has affected the state capital of Kerala for about three years slowly melting away political differences with an all party meeting held to arrive at a consensus regarding waste management, state capital turning into garbage city because of waste getting accumulated and the disposal system getting thrown out of gear due to consistent rains, point towards something terribly lacking as far as handling this fundamental issue is concerned. Gone are the days when this subject could be just left to the local bodies only. The state governments need to come in proactively because there are issues of aggregation of waste, technology of disposal, funding for common disposal plants, locating landfill sites on which the state governments need to take common initiatives and carry the local bodies along in aiming at zero waste cities. Ahmedabad is one such city, which has a road map for a zero waste city by the year 2031. Very few Indian cities have adequate sewage treatment facilities. As a consequence untreated sewage gets disposed off in the rivers and open areas. One has not come across any state, which has a solid plan to handle this issue in a time-bound and steady manner. It is time for the centre to have a sub mission on solid waste management as part of the newly proposed 500 habitations programme so that the agenda of garbage free cities and keeping cities clean on a regular basis gets attention and permanent results 
are ensured.

Open defecation free cities is a key target to be aimed at and achieved by all our cities and this has been appropriately reinforced by the present government’s mission goal of achieving toilets for all by 2019. The National Urban Sanitation policy of 2008 had envisaged developing state sanitation strategies and preparing city sanitation plans as two essential starting points for all states. If states had taken up this agenda seriously, they would have been in a better position to seriously start implementation of the agenda in line with the prioritisation accorded by the present government. Madhya Pradesh stands out as an exception in that they launched the Mukhyamantri Shahari Swachhata Mission in 2012 with the objective of covering all the urban bodies of the state over a period of five years in a phased manner. During 2011-12 the state is reported to have got constructed 178 community toilets in 52 cities and 14,281 toilets in 13 cities/towns. 4 cities are considered to have attained the status of open defecation free. Ten more towns are to be so covered by 2014. Allocation of `459 crores has been provided for this programme for the five year period, 2012 to 2017.

Urban Strategy

Problems that our cities and towns face are many. No state has come out with a clearly formulated and stated urban strategy so far. This becomes important in the context of the huge requirement of resources and need to attract private partnership and investments to ensure better living standards for the urban residents. Three states had taken some initiatives in this regard such as Kerala preparing a state urbanisation report, Karnataka moving in the direction of having a stated urban policy but that was during the regime of the previous state government and Rajasthan forming a committee to give shape to such a  strategy. Nothing much has been heard further from these states. It is important that the central government should consider seriously the setting up of a second national urbanisation commission so that strategies for various segments of urban development can be worked out and suggested for the states to take up. This will go well with the various new initiatives the centre is now proposing and is desirable from the point of view of proper and organised development of our cities, our engines of growth.

In the absence of state wise detailed statements of urban initiatives and performance results on a regular periodic basis, the only measure of where the states stand seems to be the implementation of the Jnnurm, a seven year mission subsequently extended for two more years upto March 2014. Since the essence of the mission is based on implementation of reforms by the states and the urban bodies on the one hand and taking up of projects approved on the other, a good measure of the states’ urban development efforts would be to assess where they stand with regard to these two pillars. As at the end of March 2014, a total of 538 projects at an estimated cost of `602.01 billion were sanctioned under the infrastructure component for the 65 mission cities entailing an additional central assistance of `276.55 billion from the central government. 227 projects are complete and the rest are still under implementation. Gujarat has completed 52 out of 85 projects, Maharashtra has done 42 out of 92, Karnataka has done 26 out of 56, Andhra Pradesh has done 25 out of 54 and Tamil Nadu has completed 23 out of 66. Assam, Bihar, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand and Kerala have not been able to complete any project. Among the north eastern states, Arunachal, Nagaland and  Sikkim could complete one or two projects against the small number of total  projects  since allocation is in proportion to the urban population.

As far as the small towns programme of infrastructure development is concerned, 801 projects with total cost of `138.66 billion were approved with central assistance of `111.97 billion for 668 such towns. Another 347 projects were approved during the transition phase at a total cost of `129.50 billion with assured central assistance of `104.19 billion. Against the 801 projects, 452 have been completed with states like Tamil Nadu taking the lead in completion. Thus, the states have a huge challenge before them in term of speedily completing the already approved projects, which are spread out and which need substantial funding from the state governments as well as effective monitoring constantly addressing the issue of weak capacity of the smaller urban bodies.

As far as reforms implementation is concerned, 13 states are reported to have achieved 85 per cent and above progress. Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh would fall in this category. Least progress, that is less than 50 per cent implementation was recorded in states like Manipur, Nagaland and Sikkim.

City Comparision

There were various other new initiatives triggered by the mission. Service level benchmarking is a concept which would have enabled the states and the cities to take stock as to where they stand with regard to services to the residents in terms of water supply improvements, solid waste management, drainage and sewerage systems, city transport and use of information technology. Such a consistent exercise would, on the one hand, enable the cities to plan for continuous improvements and on the other, the citizens will get direct feedback as to what the service levels are and what improvements are planned.

No state seems to have taken up this agenda seriously and in the process service delivery, which should be at the core of governance at the local body level, is not improving substantially. Credit rating of cities was another action initiated. Have the cities brought about improvements in their rating or focussed on maintaining the high rating is a subject which seems to have got left behind. Nothing much has been heard from states about further empowering the third level of governance. Similarly the most critical agenda of capacity building at the local bodies level has not received the attention it merited from the states. The exceptions are: combined Andhra Pradesh, which sanctioned a revised administrative structure for the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation, decided to implement a comprehensive capacity building plan for the state and revised staffing norms for the other urban local bodies. A study shows that states like Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, which have implemented municipal cadres since long, have been acknowledged as states doing progressively on urban development.

Role of State Government

Credit for some of the stand alone urban initiatives would naturally go to the states concerned. Cities like Surat and Rajkot in Gujarat have implemented e-governance for improved service delivery, Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu has built approval and grievance management through the electronic system, Nagpur has done digital inclusion and municipal e-governance, Bhopal has brought in a municipal administration system online, Indore now has automated building plan approval system.

Some of the major projects particularly in the area of urban transport continue to be heavily dependent on central funding and support. The metro rail system remained confined to the city of Kolkata for years. But when Delhi got central support through a 50:50 JV between the centre and the Delhi government, it has really taken off. Now Bangalore in Karnataka, Chennai in Tamil Nadu, Hyderabad in the earlier Andhra Pradesh and now located in Telangana, Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur in Maharashtra, Jaipur in Rajasthan, Kochi in Kerala, Lucknow in UP and Ahmedabad in Gujarat (though not yet sanctioned by the centre) have metro systems under implementation. Of course, there has  been initial action in states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala to have mono rail system. Ahmedabad has proceeded consistently by first opting for a bus rapid transit system and then setting in motion action for a heavy metro. Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh has just outlined his vision of having metro system in Visakhapatnam, Vijayawada 
and Tirupati.

The trend continues. The southern and western states have better capacity and the inclination to change the face of our cities. States like Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu continue to maintain the lead and commitment to bring about changes in the urban areas. Since states across the country do not still have a system whereby details regarding work done in urban areas and improvements brought about are documented on a regular basis and in the absence of comparable data, we can only go by what is visible and what is stated in terms of policies and programmes by the states.

Smart Cities

The urban agenda is set to expand and more action is expected with the centre announcing a series of schemes for India’s cities and towns. These include one hundred smart cities, smart cities linked to transport connectivity along industrial corridors, three new smart cities in the Chennai-Bangalore Industrial corridor, every household to be covered by total sanitation by 2019, at least five hundred urban habitations to be supported for infrastructural improvements, enhanced pooled municipal debt obligation facility, support for more urban metro projects, housing for all by 2022, national heritage city development plan, ‘Namami Gange’ which should benefit all towns along the river, development of ghats and river front and support to make Delhi a world class city. Here is yet another huge opportunity for states to augment their capacities, prepare for timely implementation of projects, be proactive with facilitative policy support and measures to bring in private participation, wherever possible and feasible and thereby improve the face of our cities and towns, ensure landmark achievements in service delivery and citizen satisfaction. 

(The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of INCLUSION. Comments are welcome at info@skoch.in)

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