Nightmare in Urbania and the State of Sloth in Urban Renewal - The New Indian Express

Nightmare in Urbania and the State of Sloth in Urban Renewal

Published: 16th February 2014 06:00 AM

Last Updated: 16th February 2014 08:07 AM

Sloth: habitual disinclination to exertion; indolence; laziness.

A few weeks ago, Avtar Singh Bhadana, Congress MP in the Lok Sabha from Haryana, asked the urban development ministry: Will the minister for

urban development be pleased to state the number of cities/towns in various states in the country which do not have an effective public transport system? What did the ministry say? It said: “The Ministry of Urban Development does not maintain data regarding number of cities/towns in various states in the country which do not have effective public transport system.” There was no trace of embarrassment, or even an apologetic “we will get back to you”. The response is symbolic of systemic indolence.

Think about it. Over 377 million people or over a third of India’s population lives in cities/towns. It’s a valid and critical question. And he knocked on the right door—the ministry tasked with urban development. Indeed, as per the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules 1961, the urban development  ministry is responsible for “planning and coordination of urban transport systems”. The question that begs to be asked then is:  How is the ministry planning and coordinating urban transport if it “does not maintain data” on existence of public transport systems in cities/towns? Really, is the nightmare in urbania any surprise?

The rot is best illustrated by the failure of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM)—a much quoted idea of the UPA with a war chest of over Rs 1 lakh crore (Centre and states). On February 5 this year, P Kumar, AIADMK MP from Tiruchirappalli, asked the urban development minister: Is it true that several projects under the JNNURM are likely to miss the 2014 deadline? The shocking fact revealed by the ministry: Of the 539 projects sanctioned during the mission period, only 219 projects were completed—and that is under just one sub-mission of Urban Infrastructure and Governance.

What makes the statistic stink is the scale of the delay. The JNNURM was set up in 2005-06 and all projects were to be completed in seven years—by 2012. They were not. So, in 2012, the government extended the time limit to March 2014. And in January 2014, only 40 per cent of the projects are complete. Worse, the delayed projects are mostly critical interventions aimed to make urban India bearable. Consider the sectoral break-up of projects: Water Supply 90 of 154 incomplete, Sewerage 79 of 110 incomplete, Drainage 48 of 72 incomplete, and Solid Waste Management 30 of 42 incomplete.

In fact, in 2012, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India presented to Parliament its audit of the entire gamut of JNNURM schemes across 28 states. Across board, the time granted for completion of the projects was on an average around two years. However, of the 2,815 projects approved since 2006 and up to March 2011, only 8.9 per cent were complete. It found that of 1,517 housing projects approved between 2005 and 2011, only 22 were completed.

Unsurprisingly, in the Indian scheme of things, delays lead to higher costs. Consider these two factoids to get the larger picture: the Eastern Freeway in Mumbai. Date of approval: October 25, 2006. Approved Cost: Rs 299 crore. Final Cost: 241 per cent of approved estimate. Sahar Airport Elevated Road. Date of Approval: October 25, 2006. Approved Cost: Rs 155 crore. Final Cost: 180 per cent of approved estimate. Citizens of Mumbai though are thanking the lord for small mercies; at least the projects finally got completed.

And mind you, the JNNURM—covering 65 cities/towns and designed to deliver multiple outcomes—is one of the totem poles of the Congress campaign. That though hasn’t delivered implementation. The Ministry of Urban Development takes no responsibility for delays. Its explanation in Parliament: projects are implemented by states through local bodies and parastatals; delays are due to non-receipt of permissions, land acquisition, contractual issues and lack of capacity at local levels; and so on and so forth.

Doubtless, the sloth afflicts the states too. The neglect is reflected in the performance of states. Barring Gujarat, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, every state has a long list of pending projects. In January 2014, Uttar Pradesh had completed only four of 33 projects, West Bengal had completed only 17 of 66 projects, Delhi had completed only nine of 23 projects while Maharashtra had completed 38 of 80 projects. The CAG audit found funds being diverted, project implementation units not being set up and states dragging their feet on delegating powers to local bodies, funding capacity enhancement and even establishing systems for training those tasked with implementation of the projects.

Much of the litany of grief is a familiar one and is systemic. India has institutionalised failure. The government at the Centre crafts policy and controls the purse while implementation rests with the states. The states have little say in policy and the Centre can do little about implementation. Change in India is stranded between differing notions of authority and accountability. The result: nobody is accountable. This cannot sustain. It is time states wrenched and wrested both authority and accountability. It is time India institutionalised success.

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