By Yashika Jain, National Law University, Delhi.

Under the Ministry of Urban Development, UPA government launched a massive city modernisation scheme, named after the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission. The scheme was launched in December 2005. Initially, the scheme was launched for a period of 7 years, but later was extended for a period of 2 years and continued till 2014.

India, being a developing nation, has mostly focused on the development of its villages and the major reasons behind the same were that, first, more than 69% of the Indian Population resides in the rural areas and second, urban India was always found to be developing in one way or another, atleast in a way far better than the rural areas. However, once industrialization and urbanisation came to the forefront, the development started at a massive scale. Large scale migration from rural to urban areas brought majority of the population to cities. However this development lacked direction and was mostly unplanned. Urgent need for infrastructure could not be met due to unprecedented migration and led to proliferation of slums, increasing pollution, increased poverty in urban areas and ecological damage due to development of industries in forested regions were some of the effects of such development. So a step in the form of Urban Development Scheme was taken by the government for a sustainable socio-economic development of urban cities and towns. This mission of UPA government aimed at providing various facilities to the urban population for providing them a better standard of living and these facilities included security of tenure, improved housing, drinking water supply, sanitation, education, health care and social security.

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But as the government at the Centre changed, the dreams of Congress leaders were at once shattered. NDA led government put up a hold on various projects under JNNURM and refused allocation of funds to various sub schemes under it. Various projects that were started under the program were left off mid way without any certainty of future actions. The current government justified this non-allocation of the funds based on its financial constraints. It stated that the original scheme struggled towards the end of the Congress term due to various problems such as land acquisition, non-availability of contractors and re-tendering issues, as a result of which many projects that were undertaken were let off unfinished. Now if it decides to fund all the projects till completion, it will have to fork out a whopping 7,871 crores and the centre is no way prepared for such commitment. The government after various States’ representations during interactions, urged that it could not ignore all the ongoing projects. Various sources have revealed that a formula has been worked out by the government as per which the Centre shall fund those projects which have achieved at least three-fourths physical progress.

This action taken by the Centre took a toll on various States’ functioning. In West Bengal, a hold on JNNURM sanctioned development projects such as building of flyover etc. was put up in order to review them. The water purification plant at Parvati in Pune, which urgently required renovation, was approved by the old government but funds were not allocated and as the new government assumed power it blatantly refused any allocation of funds. 15 projects under JNNURM in Delhi, were scrapped mid way including various important projects like the Signature Bridge, redevelopment of Connaught Place, purchase of Delhi Metro feeder buses, covering of drains to construct parking lots and improvement of several arterial roads.

Further, under the JNNURM, the State governments started research and capacity building work in order to understand shortcomings of cities so that development of the cities can be more planned and for the same bodies of experts to guide municipal bodies in urban planning were established and were called Reform and Performance Management Cells (RPMCs). Working of these cells was also stopped by NDA in various states. This has resulted in loss of employment for several hundred researchers, municipal engineers, sanitary workers and computer operators who were engaged in various research projects. J.M. Pathania, Director, Urban Development, in Himachal Pradesh, said he was surprised by the government’s decision. “We are at the stage where the new hires are already working. Some states have started research and midway you say stop, it is unfair,” he said. It seems that these professionals are merely being punished for following the old government’s directives.

As if this was not enough to peeve Congress, Prime Minister of India further took a bold step and when it was time to bring in the second phase of JNNURM the government decided to rename JNNURM as AMRUT- Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation. This second phase shall rely primarily on earlier components of the plan such as augmentation of water supply, collection and treatment of sewage and garbage, building roads and flyovers which could not be completed. It was further announced that the renewed scheme shall also be a 10-year program with an investment of around Rs 2 lakh crore, aiming to reform 500 cities and towns by providing better education, clean water, cleanliness and sanitation, drainage system, waste management, recycling of water and wi-fi for public areas.

All of these moves by the new government which aim at putting up a halt on previous projects under JNNURM and trying to usurp the credits of the scheme, are purely based on political reasons and they lead to nothing but to a further addition to the bulk of pending infrastructure projects adding to the burden on the Exchequer. If the government does not have funds to complete the already started projects under JNNURM, how is it planning to allocate funds to its new phase of AMRUT? Why can’t a part of these funds be allocated to the half completed projects?

It is clear that these actions, in no way further the interest of the State. If one looks at the current working of the government, with reference to the projects that have been taken under the old and the new schemes, one cannot consider high goals of having planned urban development feasible. The government has not been performing very well and this is mainly because of the differences in the Bharatiya Janata Party and lack of commitment on the part of the Government which has slowed down this progress of work on various projects in the city. The dream of smart cities seems far away and such is the scenario that even the basic infrastructural projects are not being completed. Where on one hand the State pretends to commit itself to the welfare of the citizens, on the other hand by taking such futile actions that prevent infrastructure development and betterment of living standards of the public, it fails to win the confidence of the citizens. It is high time that the Modi- government clarifies its position as to why the projects are being halted and what is the future plan of action. There is no clarity as to what the new government will do regarding its new scheme. Which towns and cities will be covered? On what basis will they be selected? Would the scheme be project-based or would the whole city be taken into consideration? These questions need to be answered urgently.

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