In October 2016, cities across the world will come together at the United Nations’ Habitat III in Quito to decide on the priority areas for international development funding to cities over the next two decades and secure political commitment towards the cause of sustainable urban development. According to the UN, by 2030, Indian cities will have an estimated population of 583 million people, accounting for 18-19 per cent of the global increase in urban population base. Hence the contours of urban development that India unveils at the meet will impact global averages in terms of indicators such as access to sanitation, water supply and urban sprawl among others.
2015 marked a tectonic shift in urban policy not because it saw the launch of three major urban and housing missions by the NDA government six months ago with a central investment of Rs 4 lakh crore but due to the fact that much of these policies were tailored to generate a large chunk of financing from the private sector.
Only 20 per cent of the funding for the Smart Cities mission, 10 per cent of the funding for Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) for constructing 2 crore affordable houses by 2022 and 50 to 33 per cent of funding for the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) are to be met through central funding. The rest is to be infused by the states and urban local bodies largely through private investments. The returns on the private investors are to be claimed through increased user charges, revenue sharing models or through monetisation of public land. While it still remains to be seen as to how much private funds will flow in the urban sector, it has also raised several concerns about the safeguards to ensure inclusiveness for the urban poor in policy implementation. Already the ministry’s record in ensuring night shelters for the scores of largely migrant homeless population is abysmal—only 70 such new shelters have been made operational in 2015 despite.
While none of the newly launched three missions have yet taken off on ground, 85 of the 100 Smart Cities have submitted their plans, sanctions have been accorded to 474 of the 500 AMRUT mission cities and under PMAY, 4.23 lakh houses in 243 cities across 11 states have been approved.
The Prime Minister’s pet Swacch Bharat Mission is way below mark for urban areas as only a fraction of the year’s target of 25 lakh individual toilets and 1 lakh community and public toilets have been constructed so far. The same is true when it comes to achieving 100 per cent collection, disposal and processing of waste. Here too, of the total project cost of Rs 62,009 crore, the private investment targeted is to the tune of Rs 42,512 crore.
One of the significant let-downs of the year has been the failure to enact the much-awaited legislation to regulate all transactions between home-buyers and builders in the real estate sector. The revised draft of the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Bill, 2015 was finally passed by the union cabinet in December. However with the Rajya Sabha seeing a near wash-out this winter session, the bill could not be introduced on the floor of the House.
The next year will be crucial for defining the contours of urban development in the country as each of the missions launched this year will start taking shape on ground, especially the much-hyped Smart Cities which looks at application of technology to infrastructure and service provision. By the end of January, 20 Smart Cities will be chosen for priority funding from amongst those who have submitted their proposals. Under the Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY), infrastructural will be provided to 12 chosen heritage cities including Amritsar, Agra, Mathura, Varanasi, Dwarka (Gujarat) and Puri. The year will also be the litmus test for seeing whether the model Rental Housing policy will have any impact on the entirely unregulated rental sector.
“It is only in 2016 that we be able to test the waters with regards to whether we are able to mobilise resources from the private sector. As of now it looks difficult in case of AMRUT, but we are banking on it for the Smart Cities and Housing missions,” said a ministry official.