"JNNURM is a great success"

Arun Maira, member, planning commission, talks about the UPA's flagship scheme


Prasanna Mohanty | June 18, 2012

The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), one of UPA’s flagship schemes, is a big failure, according to a steering committee of the planning commission on urbanisation. More than Rs 66,000 crore of central assistance was given (starting from 2005) for holistic development of 71 cities over a period of seven years – for renewal and upgradation of infrastructure like water, sanitation, transportation, street lighting as well as redevelopment of old cities, integrated development of slums, child care centres etc. The mission has already run its course but there is little to show by way of achievements.

The report of the committee, headed by plan panel member Arun Maira, says only 60 percent of the fund has been spent and only 18 percent of projects taken up under its sub-mission, Urban Infrastructure and Governance (UIG), and 40 percent of projects under the other sub-mission, Basic Services to Urban Poor (BSUP), have been completed. The report points out several factors for the poor show – ‘poor planning’ and near absence of people’s participation leading to ‘lack of ownership’; ‘acute capacity deficit’ at the municipal level; focus on expenditure-related targets rather than improvements in service-level outcomes; ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to reforms and failure to carry out ‘crucial’ reforms relating to rationalisation of user charges, property tax, land market etc.

Maira, however, refuses to describe it as a failure and stresses that it was a first-of-its-kind innovation, a large pilot project which has provided many valuable lessons for the future and has recommended for its renewal with some modifications to achieve the stated objectives. Meanwhile, the finance ministry has committed to continue the funding for the next two years, though allocations for the 12th plan have not been made yet. In an interview with Prasanna Mohanty, Maira shares his views on the flagship programme.

Your report on JNNURM shows it is a failure.
No, not at all. JNNURM was one of the first major innovations on a national scale by the government of India, the other being MNREGS. Both are innovations. The expectation to get it right is a shot in the dark. The difference between the two is that in MNREGS it is a simple transaction – giving money for work done, but in JNNURM we are talking about renewal of cities – both physical infrastructure as well as management infrastructure. On top of it, the cities are to reform. In MNREGS there is no requirement of reforms.

I term JNNURM a success. Considering the fact that we were doing it for the first time and have learnt what to do the next time, it is a great success.

What lessons have been learnt?
We learnt a few crucial things. First, the capabilities of our governance system are very weak compared to the challenges – both in urban and rural development. Unfortunately we have made rural development the mantra of our governance systems. In urban areas our capabilities are not sufficient. JNNURM proves that. As we evaluate the first massive pilot project in urban development the governance challenges are much bigger than what was anticipated.

Other lessons are a sub-set of it:
a)     Jurisdiction of civic, regional and state bodies overlap. Clarity about responsibilities, mutual connections and harmonious collaborations are needed.
b)     Skills required to design and maintain water, road and power systems for 200 or 250 million of more people are enormous.
c)     City planning: worldwide it was thought to be a technical issue to be handled by engineers. Realisation is dawning that city is not a mere physical infrastructure. It is primarily an aggregation of social and economic activities. So linkages and patterns are key to planning. Physical infrastructure must conform to that, not the other way round. So for city planning we need engineering and architectures to support and not at the lead of it. The whole world is discovering it and so are we.

There is (relatively) little problem in setting up new cities. In the existing cities, people are central to it and they have to adjust to the execution of the plan. We are not doing this very well. People come out in the streets protesting and they are not just confined to the slum dwellers. Lata Mangeshkar objected to the Peddar Road flyover. There was a protest against a flyover in south Delhi. People do get affected. City belongs to everybody, not just a few. Those leading the toughest life have the least support structure. The poor need to earn their livelihood. If they get displaced by infrastructure it gets harder for them. They should be included in the planning process. Infrastructure is not a luxury but a means for inclusion. The cities are the best means human civilisations have found to include poor people into the process of economic growth.

After all, what is the purpose of a city and what is the meaning of a world-class city? It is a city that enables people to lift themselves out of poverty and fast. Which Indian city do you think is world-class? In his book, “Welcome to the Urban Revolution – How cities are changing the world”, Jeb Brugmann [an expert on urbanisation who teaches at Cambridge], picks up Mumbai’s Dharavi. He describes Dharavi as a city-system that is proving itself every day in the market place to be world-class! Dharavi asks for no assistance of the state, no subsidy, but provides people the opportunity to better their lives.

(Brugmann argues against the dismantling of Dharavi to redevelop it and writes: “It (Dharavi) stood as probably the most successful, scaled poverty-reduction programme in the history of international development. Within the Indian context, Dharavi’s migrant generations had developed an accessible, replicable city-system for the advancement of the country’s poor majority. It was a stunning example of Indian entrepreneurial ability and ambition. With millions of poor households migrating to India’s cities each year, it seemed almost obvious that this migrant city system just needed to be accompanied with the same public investment in urban infrastructure offered to every other Mumbai city model and masterplanned suburb, and replicated throughout country.” – Editor)

If we are to expand JNNURM to new cities, we need huge money. But the chances of getting more money at the cost of health, education and other social support programmes are very low. So, the cities need to and should be able to raise their funds.

Which states have fared better in JNNURM?
Gujarat is doing the best. It goes back to years before Modi came into picture. Surat is the best example. During the 1994 plague, local administration got people involved in cleaning the city. It was a good instance of collaboration between people and the state. Ahmedabad and Vadodara have done very well in recent times. These cities have adopted ideas and schemes to improve housing and transport. People are involved. They are also getting technical help from outside.

In Maharashtra, Pune is a great example. Changes have been brought about in and around the city. In Chhattisgarh, Raipur and Bhilai are doing well.

Which projects under the mission were taken up most?
The first to be taken up are water and sanitation projects. The reasons are clear: firstly, water and sanitation bother people the most, and secondly, the cost of these projects is less. Besides, these projects have health benefits. More cities have taken up such projects. In the JNNURM, fund allocation is linked to reforms. Water and sanitation need less money and are also less complicated in terms of reforms needed.

What are your recommendations for the second phase of JNNURM?
We have recommended a few things. (1) Start building capacity; (2) improve planning and ensure people’s participation in it; (3) concentrate on water, sanitation and public transport; (4) resolve the jurisdiction issues – water, sanitation and transport projects cross municipal limits and (5) in the first phase we concentrated on the metros. We thought metros are the biggest engines of growth and so 80-90 percent of funds went to the metros. What has happened and will happen, as census 2011 points it out, more than 80 percent growth is taking place in smaller towns and peripherals of metros, which are not part of the metro. So to improve urbanisation and improve livelihood we have to concentrate on these areas. This is the strategic shift we are making – from metros to peri-urban and small towns.

You said about cities needing to raise their own resources. Can they do it and if yes, how?
Yes, they will be able to do it if they get the governance right. People want to know if the plan is good for them, whether it would be completed in time and what the future holds for them. If you plan well, develop the city and demonstrate it then it will evoke trust in people and they will pay for the services.
We, from the centre, will like to help in developing this ability to plan, build capacity and improve governance. If we are able to do all this, cities will be able to stand on their own. In developed countries, cities don’t depend on the central governments. They are the engines of growth.

How the states have fared in carrying out reforms mandated in JNNURM?
They have not done enough. The capacity hasn’t been built, governance hasn’t improved. The reforms proposed in JNNURM were the right ones. Now we have to adjust it a bit in some areas like providing public services and improving efficiencies so that people are willing to pay for services; increasing the coverage and collection of property taxes and user charges on water and solid waste management; capability building at municipal and state levels; reforms addressing distortions in urban land markets and so on. We would definitely like to incentivise the structure so that the cities performing to a certain level will get monetary bonus.



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