Recognising urbanisation as an integral part of economic development in the country, government think-tank Niti Aayog, in the draft of its three-year action plan, has suggested a number of actionable points for the Centre and the states to facilitate this facet of economic transformation. These points include key deliverables for programmes such as Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), Smart Cities Mission, and promotion of efficient and sustainable public transport.
“To facilitate economic transformation, India needs to make a room for increased urbanisation while improving the quality of urban life. The former requires orderly expansion of existing cities, conversion of larger but as yet rural agglomerations into towns and cities and building of greenfield cities. The latter requires creation of adequate living and office space; prevention of slum creation; holding down air pollution, municipal solid and creation of swamps; provision of greenery and common spaces for outdoor activity; provision of electricity, water and sewage; and provision of a vibrant transportation system that links suburbs to the centre of the city and has a dense within-city transport network,” the Niti Aayog noted in its action plan.
For the AMRUT scheme, which aims to provide urban infrastructure for universal coverage of piped drinking water, sewerage, and green spaces, the Centre has allocated Rs 50,000 crore over a five-year period from 2015-16 to 2019-20. Of this amount, the Niti Aayog plan said, 80 per cent constitutes project funding, 10 per cent incentive fund for implementation of reforms (the scheme also looks at incentivising governance reforms at city level), and 10 per cent state and Central administrative expenses. The government has identified 500 cities to be transformed under the AMRUT programme.
The reforms, which the Niti Aayog has proposed under AMRUT, include development of e-governance at the urban local body (ULB) level, constitution and professionalisation of municipal cadres, urban and city-level planning, review of building by-laws, municipal tax and fee improvements, collection of user charges, credit ratings of ULBs, and audits for utility services such as electricity and water.
For the AMRUT scheme to show results, the Niti Aayog has suggested that the State Annual Action Plans (SAAPs) of all states and Union Territories for the entire mission period should be approved by the apex committee at the Central level by mid-2017. Furthermore, in the next three years, the think-tank has recommended that all states and ULBs must complete implementation of all the projects for universal coverage of drinking water and sewerage for all households.
Recently, the government said that under AMRUT, as an illustration of area and outcome-based urban development approach was introduced, in which provision of water taps to 1.39 crore urban households besides expansion of sewerage networks by 31 per cent to 62 per cent, 111 cycling and walkway projects and development of 1,921 new parks and green spaces in mission cities is being taken up.
Apart from AMRUT, the Niti Aayog has also laid down key results to be delivered under the Smart Cities Mission. The government plans to convert 100 existing cities into smart cities, and has already identified 60 smart cities so far. It is expected to announce the next batch later this month. The draft three-year action plan has suggested special purpose vehicles for smart cities should be formed for 40 cities in the ongoing financial year, with 40 more being formed in 2018-19 and the remaining 20 in 2019-20. It has further suggested that rejuvenation of public plazas and waterfronts in the area-based development (ABD) regions, along with development of smart parking facilities, should be completed in 20 cities in the current year, and 40 cities each in the next two years.
Terming public transport to be critical for city economies and labour markets, the Niti Aayog has said that it is imperative for the government to promote efficient and sustainable public transport considering that rapid increase in number of vehicles across India’s cities has led to severe hazards such as air pollution, which has negative cascading effects on the economy. Citing data from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, the draft plan said that from 1981 to 2011, the number of vehicles grew at a rate of 11.7 per cent per annum, compared with a population growth of two per cent per annum.
In the key actions it has recommended, the Niti Aayog has noted that 200 km of metro rail projects should be commissioned to increase metro rail operation to around 525 km in the next three years. Currently, about 517 km of metro lines are being constructed under eight ongoing metro rail projects. Similarly, about 200 km of Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) is recommended to be operationalised within the next three years.
Furthermore, the Niti Aayog has also suggested formation of a Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority, which would be established in cities with population over 10 lakh. It would be responsible for preparing an integrated public transport plan, and will ensure alongside that global trends of separating planning from operations is being followed at Indian cities. It said that under this model, a public entity ensures “equitable access and contracts operations to private operators”.