– Dr. Keya Chakraborty, Mrs. Sukanya Bhaumik
After a lag of 3 years the second generation of urban reforms seems to be finally coming along in India. After the much talked about ‘100 Smart Cities’ initiative launched in September 2014, the government launched Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) last month. This program will be a 10 year initiative in 500 cities with a total budget of Rs 2 lakh crore. In lines with Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) the funds will be directed towards growth of physical infrastructure in cities i.e. augmentation of water supply, collection and treatment of sewage and garbage, building roads and flyovers etc. Keeping in line with the ‘Smart Cities’ initiative this program will include digitization and creation of wi-fi zones within cities.
Though the ministry still hasn’t released the guidelines for AMRUT, it is important that they keep in mind the learning from the past programs. The risk of this new program turning into a mere infrastructure funding mechanism like JNNURM looms large. The intended urban renewal under JNNURM through governance reforms (property tax coverage, double entry accounting, rationalizing stamp duty etc.) was only partially successful, with most cities achieving only around 50% of the recommended reforms . The capacity building initiatives were marred by the poor demand and low absorptive capability of the local bodies. The overall experience of JNNURM highlights that governance and capacity building interventions should precede infrastructure development to ensure its long term sustainability.
Taking off from some of these the Ministry of Urban Development has decided that Monitoring and Evaluation will be given major emphasis under AMRUT. Projects will be given approval only after the preparatory work has been completed, as under JNNURM most projects got delayed due to bad take off and poor implementation leading to cost overruns. To ensure urban reforms comprise a major part of this new program it is important to keep a proportion of funding performance based. It must be commended that under AMRUT an announcement has been made for earmarking Rs7000- 8000 crores separately for incomplete projects that could not be completed under JNNURM.
Another remarkable step is the inclusion of smaller cities under the ambit of AMRUT, as policy makers have now acknowledged that future of urban growth is going to occur in smaller cities. The program will come as breath of fresh air for those cities that are stagnated by their poor service delivery and crumbling infrastructure. Today, when the bigger cities of India are charging up to compete to be selected for the 100 smart cities initiative that smaller cities can see a ray of hope in AMRUT and can aspire to become ‘smart cities’ of the future.
It is expected that 40% of India’s population will be living in urban areas by 2030 and an investment of $2.2 trillion (100 trillion rupees) over the next 20 years will be required to meet its infrastructure needs (Mc Kinsey Report 2010). There is no denial that India is in the most crucial stage of its urban development process and the Rs 2 lakh crore or Rs 2 trillion investments pledged under AMRUT is just a small drop in the ocean. However, every such drop needs to be optimized to give the habitants of these cities the life they aspire. Though it is too early to make any further comments on AMRUT now, it seems the government has a clear vision in mind and we can hope for a bright future in urban rejuvenation.