Meerut’s urban dreams die in its half-done drains

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SummaryThe irony was not lost on anyone when Meerut, part of the ancient Harappan settlement renowned for its sophisticated drainage systems, was promised a decent sewerage system under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewable Mission as late as 2005.

The irony was not lost on anyone when Meerut, part of the ancient Harappan settlement renowned for its sophisticated drainage systems, was promised a decent sewerage system under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewable Mission (JNNURM) as late as 2005. The city seemed poised for a facelift after centuries of decrepit waste disposal infrastructure but, alas, that was not to be.

Seven years hence, even this modest project seems to have ground to a halt. With heaps of garbage lining its choked and dug-up roads, the project — expected to be commissioned by March 2012 —looks far from complete, adding to the city’s miseries.

The problem is partly with the JNNURM design, which overestimates the ability of local urban bodies to implement and monitor large infrastructure projects. The lack of capacity with local bodies and developers selected through competitive bidding has been conspicuous in Meerut, like in many other cities that have taken up projects under JNNURM.

Meerut mirrors the state of most of India’s 71 cities dreaming of transformation through JNNURM, the central government’s biggest urban development initiative, launched in 2005. Plagued by poor design and administration, many JNNURM projects have gone haywire, highlighting the need to restructure the ambitious scheme. In a recent report, Planning Commission member Arun Maira said the mission must be modified and relaunched as a 10-year Mission II, focussing on promoting financial sustainability and accountability of urban local bodies and incorporating schemes to attract private funds through public-private partnerships. Poor coordination between the two central ministries anchoring the scheme — ministry of urban development and ministry of housing and urban poverty alleviation — has also played spoilsport.

JNNURM-I, whose original seven-year tenure ended in March 2012, had federal budgetary funding (allocation as grants-in-aid) of R66,000 crore, out of which Rs 37,000 crore has been released. Delays have led to cost overruns and with several projects incomplete, local bodies implementing the schemes are unable to raise revenues through user fees. The government has extended the scheme by two years to correct implementation flaws and complete projects which have failed to meet original schedules. In parallel, a JNNURM-II in in the works.

According to a recent CAG report, only 18% of JNNURM infrastructure projects in 71 cities were completed on time. The main thrust of the scheme is on infrastructure projects relating to water supply, sanitation, sewerage, solid waste management, road network, urban transport, redevelopment of old city areas and providing

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