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India’s urban development agenda: 2015 in review & road ahead

Mumbai : The year 2015 saw the launch of Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and Smart City Mission (SCM).

Both the schemes differ in their coverage and approach. Cities with a population of more than 1 lakh as per Census 2011 are eligible for funding under AMRUT. There are about 500 cities which meet this criterion.

SCM, on the other hand, has a smaller coverage at 100 cities. Also, here the cities do not self-select. The 100 cities have been allocated across states.

A state-wise quota based on the size of the urban population and number of statutory towns has been arrived at. The state governments, through an evaluation process, have identified the cities which will be eligible for funding under the SCM. The Central funding in both these missions has been budgeted at Rs 50,000 crore each.

AMRUT focuses on achieving identified 11 reform outcomes and implementing projects in the following sectors: water supply, sewerage, septage management, storm-water drainage, urban transport including non-motorised transport and parks.

AMRUT has made a departure from his preceding Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNuRM) by empowering the state governments to approve project proposals from urban local bodies (ULBs) and monitor their implementation. State Governments till now were used to following guidelines formulated by the Central Government.

Under the new dispensation of embracing the co-operative Federalism approach, state governments are not only empowered but also be responsible for formulating the implementation framework for AMRUT. This is an opportunity for the state governments to design the mission which can be tailored to meet their requirements.

Earlier, the success of the mission relied on the implementation capability of a Central ministry. Now decentralisation process provides an opportunity to create some success stories and the progressive states can show the way.

The SCM is touted as a game changing mission. This mission aims to formulate plans around the competitive position of the cities. The previous missions or schemes of Government of India have aimed more at infrastructure creation or at best improving service delivery.

In SCM, the direct focus is on improving quality of life of citizens. The underlying feature of the SCM is to keep the citizen at focus and capture their aspirations in the city vision. The projects should emanate from the vision so that the citizen’s aspirations could be met.

The SCM has been pragmatic in the sense that the entire city cannot be transformed in one go. Instead the SCM focuses on improving the living conditions in one area of the city. The SCM will serve as a demonstration project which can be scaled up and replicated in other parts of the city in a time-manner. The SCM for the first time also emphasises achieving convergence with other schemes/programmes of Government of India. This alignment will result in goal congruence and optimise the impact all the infrastructure investments.

The distinctive feature of SCM is the mandatory deployment of technology in improving services and ushering transparency in governance. This will force the urban local bodies to adopt and adapt technology in meeting the citizen aspirations.

Technology can aid the progressive ULBs in overcoming the challenge posed by the urbanisation process. The use of water meters with remote meter reading functionality, intelligent transportation systems, bus information systems, etc are being mandated in a way as some of the smart features that would need to be incorporated in the smart city proposals.

The SCM is refreshing in the sense that proposals are not based on any detailed project report (DPR) to be submitted by the ULBs but based on strategic considerations. The cities have to compete with each other in making the cut for getting funding in the first year.

The SCM provides the cities an opportunity to be creative in their thinking and develop a strategic blueprint for the city. The mandatory requirement of creation of a special purpose vehicle by the ULBs for availing of funding under the SCM is quite contentious.

On the positive side, it allows ULBs with weak implementation capacities to use the SPV to attract personnel with the required skill-sets to achieve the desired outcomes.

While AMRUT is seeking to strengthen the ULBs through mandatory requirement of transfer of functions as identified under the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act, the SCM is attempting to create a structure which is, in a way, out of bounds of the local government.

The other cautionary aspect is the expectation build up that has been with the launch of the SCM. Also today citizens are finding themselves empowered to raise accountability issues and be more demanding in their expectations from the ULBs. But, the fact of the matter is that ULBs are not empowered in any way to address the concerns raised by the citizens. So, when an empowered citizenry interacts with disempowered local governments, we can expect only dysfunctional outcomes.

The AMRUT in its new dispensation and the SCM potentially do hold considerable promise for the future.

But, the core issue often is that local government is seen an instrument of control rather than instrument to serve. Such missions need to be supplemented with genuine interventions to strengthen local governments. Of all the tiers of government, the local government holds the highest potential to impact lives of ordinary citizens.

The key to the future will lie in the question - are we seeing any attempts to strengthen local governments in its truest sense? Hopefully, the year 2016 ushers in this much needed change.

Abhay Kantak is Director – Urban, CRISIL Infrastructure Advisory.

(Disclaimer: India Water Review does not take any responsibility for the views expressed in the article. The article published also does not in anyway reflect the opinion of India Water Review.)

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