Urban schemes: Implementation key

Make socially, economically inclusive centres of smart cities.

Three new flag ship schemes of the government, launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, are meant to change the face of urban India and life in India’s cities and towns. The three schemes are the Smart Cities Mission, the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (Amrut) and the Housing for All Mission. The Smart Cities Mission is a new idea but the other two are redone packages of the previous government’s programmes. Amrut is a new version of the UPA’s JNNURM and the housing programme is Rajiv Awas Yojna with a new name and style. Governments cannot resist the temptation of the politics of rebranding projects. But what is important is how they are reconceived and reworked. The needs and challenges sought to be addressed by the earlier schemes are important enough to demand the serious attention for the new government too. The government has done well to take them seriously.

All the programmes are ambitious in scope. Setting up of 100 smart cities and rejuvenation of 500 cities amounts to building a new urban landscape in the country. Economic development and urbanisation are mutually dependent processes. About 30 per cent of the population lives in cities and towns and with about 250 million people expected to leave rural areas in the next two decades, the country will be experiencing an urban explosion. The smart cities and Amrut programmes aim to make urban areas modern, efficient and most suitable for living and work. Small cities will serve as centres of growth and are expected to create a sustaining network in the coming years. It is important to provide employment opportunities, basic infrastructure like good transport, drainage and waste disposal facilities, make the environment pollution free and above all, ensure housing for the residents, especially those in the lower and middle income categories.  

Housing is the biggest challenge and the Housing for All programme aims to create 20 million houses by 2022. It rightly gives a greater role for states in formulation and implementation of plans and offers more Central subsidy. The states should be encouraged to devolve the programme further down. In all, in the plans for urban renewal, the need is to create economically and socially inclusive and interdependent centres of life rather than islands of better life. Tens of thousands of crores of rupees are going to be spent in the coming years, and the spending itself can help the economy. But large government programmes have a way of losing themselves for obvious reasons. There are high stakes in the success of these programmes and so, effective implementation is more important than conception.

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