Launched amidst great fanfare in the year 2005, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM), is a seven-year mission to upgrade urban infrastructure in India’s strained cities with an unprecedented funding package of nearly Rs 80,000 crore that has raised aspirations. It has broadly two sub-missions: one for infrastructure upgradation and the other for providing basic services for the urban poor.
State capitals and 67 large cities were chosen under the mission. This number rose to 467 as some of the smaller towns were included as well.
For the common man, the JnNURM bus is perhaps the only visible symbol of the mission that has sunk a huge amount of taxpayers’ money. However, at the end of the mission period, with less than half of the projects complete, and huge portion of the finances unspent, the question that stares us is whether we have actually missed the urban renewal bus.
JNNURM: AN APPRAISAL
Quick Fix Solution: Rapid appraisal and quick-fix planning in terms of City Development Plans (CDP) were prepared by consultants in the span of a few months. Appraisals were done in not more than two weeks and detailed project reports (DPRs) were churned out. Several conditional reforms were mandated. States were more than eager to access funds and in haste, entered into MoUs for undertaking reforms.
Dependancy on Consultants: The fact is that in India, functionaries in the urban development sector, urban local bodies and other line agencies are grossly deficient in capacities for project conceptualisation, planning and implementation. This is the reason for the extensive dependence on consultants. As a result, there is no ownership of the CDPs prepared by them, since local body officials have hardly participated in the process.
Few in the government would have read the reports. There was a complete absence of comprehensive planning and the statutory town planning process was ignored. Consultants hired temporary staff who left soon after. This consultancy route to local governance has not yielded the desired results.
Consultative Process: While there was an in-built provision for public consultations, they were done in a hasty and haphazard manner. The focus at all times was on quick drawal of funds for getting projects off the ground, rather than looking seriously at the processes involved. Most consultations were done merely as a procedural requirement rather than with any serious purpose or commitment.
Relegation of the City Master Plan: Comprehensive city planning is the hallmark of a master plan. The JnNURM ignored the strengthening of the master plan, a vital task, and embarked on solutions that apparently came out of public consultations, not necessarily from master plans. One often doubts the ability of the common citizen to comprehend or recommend technical solutions to complex city problems. In the name of public consultations, vested interest groups have also found their way in.
Inertia for Reform: Provision of finances for projects were used as a lever to tactically make states undertake reforms. The reforms mandated were: implementation of decentralised measures as envisaged in the 74th Amendment Act, repeal of urban land ceiling laws, reform of rent control laws, rationalisation of stamp duties bringing it down to 5 per cent, enactment of public disclosure law and community participation law, and assigning the town planning function to urban local bodies.
In reality, many reforms either did not happen or took place only on paper. States carried out reforms only because they got funds, not that they had any serious commitment towards implementing them. Even these reforms are not complete. A review commissioned by the Central government is quite revealing on several of these counts.
Vacant Houses: Under the Basic Services for Urban Poor component of the mission, thousands of housing units for the poor have been built. However, most are lying unoccupied. The reasons are quite easy to comprehend. These houses being on the outskirts of the cities, have no access to schools and no proper connectivity to the parent city. As a result, people would opt to stay in shanties in the heart of the city rather than shift to the periphery and live in good houses. All that was required was a free bus shuttle to put these units into use. This has not been done and the houses lie vacant.
In sum, the reasons for the limited success of JnNURM, one of the flagship programmes of the UPA government are: lack of long-term city-level plan, inadequate capacity of municipalities, haphazard approach to taking up projects, failure to undertake crucial reforms and little or no involvement of the professional expertise available in the planning and design academia.
While funds were allocated, their utilisation was way below target, and at the end of the mission period, several projects are yet to be completed. The progress being poor, the Central government has extended the mission period by two years, only to complete pending projects.
TOWARDS JNNURM 2.0?
There is a thinking that a JnNURM phase 2 should be launched, but after 2014 after the extension period of the current one. What form should this new avatar take?
First, all organisations at the local level need to be closely examined in terms of staff requirements and their capacities need to be enhanced before starting any mission of such a huge scale. Most urban local bodies are grossly lacking in architects and town planners. In most, there are none. Vacant positions need to be filled, new positions need to be created. There is a need to attract and retain well-qualified technical staff throughout the new mission period.
Second, rather than preparing quick fix CDPs, the time-tested master plan preparation has to be strengthened. Master plans are comprehensive documents with a statutory force and envisage requirements in the long term. It should be ensured that master plans are prepared and projects should emanate from them and nowhere else. The JnNURM should become the funding mechanism for implementing a master plan.
Third, the reforms taken up in great haste need to be taken to their logical conclusion. There is little awareness on the need and purpose of reforms. Most citizens are not aware of the public disclosure law and community participation law, both laudable in their intent. Capacity building actually includes bringing awareness amongst citizens as well, as against mere training programmes to government officials.
Fourth, land development needs to be included in the mission. Urban infrastructure and land development and intrinsically interlinked and irrevocably intertwined. Public agencies have to once again take up land development on a large scale, like they did in the 80s. Today, most public agencies have virtually surrendered that to private players. As a result, we have hundreds of acres of land all over our cities in illegal land subdivisions, which creates problems for infrastructure provision in future.
Finally, project management skills need to enhanced. Management of personnel, time and money are the prerequisite of any large scale project so that the goals are achieved on time and on budget. This should include not only project formulation and implementation but also post development maintenance and management of assets. This was grossly lacking in the implementation of the mission and needs to be fixed in JnNURM 2.0.
With nearly 8,000 cities and towns, the mission has a coverage of barely 5 per cent; we are still hovering at the tip of the iceberg. Ultimately, it is the tax payers’ money, which is being spent and accountability of the government is a must.
-P S N Rao
The author is an urban expert and Professor at SPA, New Delhi.