Urban Renewal: Policy and Response

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“Given the scale of money required for urban renewal, we need to tap
the private sector. For the first time, we are now going in for the PPP 
model in all urban infrastructure projects”
—S Jaipal Reddy, Minister for Urban Development
    "The JNNURM in the coming years should concentrate more on giving 
support to the smaller towns of the country, which are actually its life
blood to achieve a certain stage of urban excellence."
—Saugata Roy, Minister of State for Urban Development
       


Urban India is in focus. From a time when the focus was mainly on rural India, today we have come to a stage when rural-urban development is of equal importance. This was the essence of the discussion on "Urban Agenda: The Way Forward" organized by Skoch in New Delhi recently 

 

 

From R to L: Hari Sankaran, MD, IL&FS; Isher Judge Ahluwalia, Chairperson, ICRIER; T K A Nair, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister; M Ramachandran, Secretary, Urban Development; Sameer Kochhar, President, Skoch Development Foundation; S Jaipal Reddy, Minister for Urban Development; Saugata Roy, Minister of State for Urban Development; Arun Maira, Member, Planning Commission; T K Arun, Editor - Economic Times; Rituraj Kapila, Academic Foundation
 

The discussants argued on the nuances and thinking behind the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, its implementation and status on the ground, and suggested the way forward. Panelists noted that the JNNURM is reshaping our cities, with the local government institutions, the Centre and state governments working in tandem to ensure its success. As Jaipal Reddy, Union Minister for Urban Development, noted that the multi-faceted challenge before India was regeneration of old cities and tackling increased urbanization. In this connection, he pointed out that JNNURM was the only flagship programme of the government which was launched not because of any political pressure or because of some doctrine or ideological demand, but because the time for urbanisation had come.

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Agreeing, Saugata Roy, Minister of State for Urban Development, pointed out that JNNURM should increasingly focus on the smaller towns and cities as these urban centres lacked the necessary financial resources to take development forward. The discussants also noted that though population-wise, India is still to reach the world landmark of 50 per cent of its population living in urban areas, the urban issues facing the country are very complex and challenging, and there were no readymade solutions for the short run.

 

M Ramachandran, Secretary, Urban Development, pointed out in his presentation, there was a need to scale up investment in urban infrastructure, which historically has been only 0.2 to 0.25 per cent of the country's GDP. Agreeing that the problems of urban areas and their sustained development are no longer accepted stoically, instead, they are beginning to be tackled effectively. In fact, JNNURM is a reforms driven, fast track programme seeking to ensure planned development of identified cities with focus on efficiency in urban infrastructure and services delivery mechanism, community participation and accountability of urban local bodies and parastatals to the citizen. Today, cities can actively and confidently move forward by relying on the various facilitative measures available. 

However, an issue of concern raised by all the panelists was the huge quantum of funds that would be required to take the programme to its logical conclusion. As Jaipal Reddy emphasised, the huge investments made so far are only a drop in the ocean and one has to continually focus on making the urban local bodies self-sufficient, with their resources linked to the quality of services they provide. As Ramachandran noted, if a proper PPP regime is put in position, private participation is possible in building infrastructure or managing the basic services and ensuring that suitable delivery mechanisms are in place. For Hari Sankaran, Managing Director, IL&FS, the issue, however, was not of raising adequate resources, but one of finding the mechanism in which one could implement these projects expeditiously. According to him, private investments are expensive methods if projects are implemented tardily. They are efficient, if one can implement projects expeditiously. In this context, yet another issue that came up for discussion related to the need for levying appropriate service charges for facilities provided by the local government authorities.

 

     
“We need to create a modern industrial society in which those who are dependent on agriculture
find alternatives for higher,more productive employment.I think the approach for this is to simultaneously look at urban and the rural development”
—Isher Judge Ahluwalia, 
Chairperson, ICRIER
  “The book is comprehensive in the sense that it covers 
urban reforms, reform agenda for the urban local governments, e-governance, urban mobility, water and sanitation and benchmarking of urban services”
—M Ramachandran, 
Secretary, Urban Development
  “The Urban Renewal Mission has already had a tremendous impact  and today there is a great demand from all over the country for including more and more cities in the ambit of the mission”
—T K A Nair, 
Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister
 
     
  “Private investments are expensive methods of implementing projects tardily.  They are efficient if you can implement projects expeditiously and I think that is one singular issue that needs to be addressed in implementing projects, especially in urban areas”
—Hari Sankaran, MD, IL&FS
  “We need to think of mixed land use, we need to think of vertical towns, we need to design things in such a way that people actually don't have to spend large amounts of time in traffic or burning up fuel”
—T K Arun, Editor, Economic Times
  “It is not just the hard infrastructure that makes a great city, it is the soft infrastructure. And I say the soft infrastructure building must precede the hard infrastructure”
—Arun Maira, 
Member, Planning Commission

 

On her part, Isher Judge Ahluwalia, Chairperson, ICRIER, said that urban renewal was the biggest challenge that India was facing today. For her, tackling urban issues would not be possible if we did not synergise urban and rural development policies. "The salvation of the rural poor lies in how we resolve the issue of urban development. The issue is how do we create a modern industrial society in which those who are dependent on agriculture find alternatives for higher, more productive employment?" Here, it was important that the government looked for new and unconventional ways to raise the necessary resources to fund urban development programmes. The issue is not about public exchequer doling out funds for infrastructure. What is needed is that revenue bases are created at every level of the government, including at the level of the urban local bodies and state governments and for this we need improved governance.

To this, T K A Nair, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, said that today there was unanimity that programmes like JNNURM were needed and all governing bodies-whether local or state or central-were wanting to be part of the growth process. 

Importantly, the panelists noted that historically economic development in the country was linked to growth versus distribution, with the result that we achieved neither. It was only in the 1980s that the mantra changed to growth for distribution that we ended up getting higher growth and were now being able to tackle poverty also. 
But to ensure that this growth momentum is sustained, Arun Maira, Member, Planning Commission, said it was important that we also looked at capacity building as the huge investment in the urban development space would need a far greater number of qualified people than those are currently available. For our urbanization experiment to be successful, Maira said, the capacity building process for people and of institutions must begin now. "Also, since the current urban management techniques are outmoded, it was important that we have another closer look at the master plan concept. And one way to address such issues will be to strengthen the role of local governments in line with the 74th Amendment in so far as planning for a city or township is concerned. Community participation in the planning process is another key element that needs to be addressed." 

For T K Arun, Economic Times, the urbanization efforts need greater policy initiatives. We need to think of mixed land use, we need to think of vertical towns, we need to design things in such a way that people actually don't have to spend large amounts of time in traffic or burning up fuel, he added.

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