Cities & Architecture

Smart City Project Slow on Take Off; Housing Construction Slumps Under Modi Regime

The pace of construction of houses under the Modi government is actually five times slower than during the Manmohan Singh regime.

A worker folds the cable of a welding machine in front of two office buildings at the Gujarat International Finance Tec-City (GIFT) at Gandhinagar, in Gujarat, April 10, 2015. REUTERS/Amit Dave

Even as the Centre is about to announce the next batch of smart cities and launch a Liveability Index on June 23, questions remain about the success of the Smart City Mission, with critics of the government pointing out that even basic training has not been imparted to officials in the last three years. They have noted with concern that the pace of construction of houses under the Narendra Modi government is actually five times slower than what it was under the Manmohan Singh regime.

On the completion of three years of the Modi government, Union urban development minister Venkaiah Naidu claimed that the smart cities project has been a major success and that capital investment towards such infrastructure has increased manifold. However, data released by former minister of state Ajay Maken of the Congress, appears to negate these claims.

Speaking about the urban sector initiatives, Naidu claimed, “A major course correction has been launched during the last three years to improve urban infrastructure and quality of life in cities in an environment of inclusive, sustainable and accelerated urban development.”

He noted that a total of 6,737 projects had been approved which marked a 215% increased over the 3,138 projects cleared under Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), “Reflecting substantially enhanced capacities of city governments for project formulation and implementation through deployment of professional staff and through intensive handholding.”

Naidu also spoke about how for the first time in the country, 500 cities under the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), and 60 smart cities identified so far, were pursuing five year comprehensive action plans for infrastructure development as against ad hoc approval of projects in the past.

No provision for urban poor in the scheme

However, according to Maken, not only did Naidu fail to reveal that both the Smart City Mission and AMRUT were born out of the JNNURM, but also that they abandoned many of the pro-poor features the original schemes possessed. The Congress leader insisted that of the four components of JNNURM – Urban Infrastructure and Governance (UIG), Urban Infrastructure Development Scheme for Small and Medium Towns (UIDSSMT), Basic Services for Urban Poor (BSUP) and Integrated Housing for Slum Development Programme (IHSDP), at least BSUP and IHSDP were meant completely for the urban poor, but both JNNURM and AMRUT had no provisions for them.

The project covers just 2.7% of area and would benefit the rich and elite

Maken also insisted that the progress of the Smart City Mission has been extremely slow with projects worth Rs 1.31 lakh crore being sanctioned for 59 smart cities and these covering a mere 2.7% of their area. “Even in the case of Delhi,” he said, “the area falling under the three municipal corporations was not chosen, and rather New Delhi municipal council area which houses the VVIPs, including the prime minister and India’s other most powerful people, was chosen. So the money would also go for the welfare of the rich.”

The Congress leader also claimed that the talk of creating a special purpose vehicle under JNNURM was nothing but an attempt to introduce corporatisation and privatisation under the entire issue.

Training starts two year late

He ridiculed the announcement of the Modi government of training 45,000 officials from five urban local bodies by June 2018 for the scheme. “The targets were set in 2015 and it is June 2017 now. Therefore it is after two years had lapsed that the Request for Empanelment was issued by the Centre in April 2017 for capacity building in training. So what was the government doing till now?” said Maken.

The Congress leader also highlighted that the status of the city wise implementation of the Smart City Mission project is not available online and the website only states “coming soon.”

Little spending under the head

While the union minister had claimed that per capita investment of Rs. 15,475 had been approved during 2014-17 for a five-year period which was 315% of Rs. 4,918 approved for the earlier ten years and that “a total investment of Rs. 4,13,475 crore has so far been approved for improving basic urban infrastructure which is 350% of Rs. 1,18,034 approved under JNNURM,” Maken questioned Naidu’s assertion that government spending on new urban missions had gone up sharply and insisted that the actual spending was minuscule.

When it came to spending on the projects, Maken said the Centre has been found wanting with only 9.58% of approved outlay being spent in 2015-16 and 9.4% in 2016-17.

Modi government has constructed far fewer houses than in the Manmohan regime

Despite the Narendra Modi government promising to construct two crore dwelling units, Maken said records have revealed that it managed to construct just 1.02 lakh houses in the last three years. In comparison, he said, the record of the previous Manmohan Singh government was far better, as it constructed 12.39 lakh houses in eight years – which was more than five times faster than the Modi regime.

Incidentally, Naidu had claimed that construction of 20,25,573 affordable houses for urban poor has been approved in a short time as against only 12,40,904 sanctioned under JNNURM. He had also stated that new guidelines would soon be issued to enable private investments in affordable housing even on private lands under Affordable Housing in Partnership component of Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban) under which only public sector partnership had been allowed so far.

But whether this private sector boost too would be able to meet Modi’s tall claims, remains to be seen.

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