Economy

How Committed is the Government To Urban Development?

The government claims to have improved urban development, with a multiplicity of schemes to address a number of issues. But the numbers tell a different story.

Efforts to address urban sanitation and health will suffer in light of budget cuts. Credit: Reuters/Files

Efforts to address urban sanitation and health will suffer in light of budget cuts. Credit: Reuters/Files

Given the recent outbreak of diseases in several cities, resources available for urban health and sanitation – which ought to have been a priority – have instead been reduced to a substantial extent.

In the Budget estimates for the previous financial year (2016-17), the allocation for the National Urban Health Mission was Rs 950 crore. This year, it has been reduced to Rs 752 crore. The reduction is actually steeper, considering that a certain increase was needed to just make up for the impact of inflation.

An increase was also required in the urban sanitation budget, but the budget for the urban component of the Swachh Bharat Mission remains the same at Rs 2,300 crore – a decline in real terms. This is shocking, considering that in cities like Delhi a real crisis and a threat of epidemic emerged because sanitation workers were not paid. Furthermore, there is much that needs to be done to improve the terrible sanitation conditions in cities.

Despite government insistence of improvements, actual data on Budget allocations shows the contrary – there has been a decline in the allocation of main health and sanitation projects for urban areas, a decline that appears even higher in real terms after removing the inflationary impact.

In terms of the actual utilisation of funds, clearly, the biggest priority should be the schemes for the weaker sections. In the 2015-16 financial year, while the allocation for the housing ministry was Rs 5,635 crore, the actual expenditure was only Rs 1,761 crore. In other words, less than one-third of what was allocated was actually spent. These numbers reflect a shocking neglect of the needs of the urban poor.

In recent times, the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana has become the most publicised scheme of this ministry. Prioritising housing is good because of the pressing need for housing in urban areas, among weaker sections in particular. However, the actual progress of this scheme has not been encouraging. This scheme was launched on June 25, 2015, with the aim of providing housing for all by 2022.  According to a monitoring report the ministry prepared in early January this year, compared to a target of 13,28,295 houses only 9,435 had been completed while 21,3187 were still under construction. Progress, in terms of completion of houses, after 18 months of the scheme was restricted to just six states. Out of the total number of completed houses (9,435) 3,439 were in Gujarat alone. The share of central assistance approved was Rs 19,633 crore, out of which only Rs 4,464 crore had been released.

Urban infrastructure and related aspects of urban development come under the Ministry of Urban Development. Here, the biggest allocation has been made for various metro and mass rapid transport system projects, which account for Rs 18,000 crore out of the total budget of the ministry, amounting to Rs 34,212 crore. In other words, more than half of the funds of this ministry are being taken up by these projects alone.

While there is certainly a demand for these projects in cities, questions need to be raised about the competing claims presented by other priorities. Citizens should be provided adequate information about the likely expenses of the various projects that address different priorities so that they can have a more balanced view of what they want to select.

The mission for the development of 100 smart cities has been much talked about and publicised. But what about the allocation of an adequate budget? The revised budget in the previous financial year for this ambitious scheme was Rs 4,676 crore, while this year the budget allocation has been reduced to Rs 4,000 crore. This does not appear to be adequate for such an ambitious scheme. It is likely that this scheme may turn into an excessively corporate-driven one with high concessions for corporates. In all probability, this is not going to favour balanced urban planning and ignore the larger interests of common people.

All data references have been drawn from the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability.

Bharat Dogra is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements and initiatives.