Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’s first two years in office have seen his government bet on higher public spending on infrastructure projects to spur economic activity. While the corporate spending is still tepid and the revenues remain stressed, the gamble has started paying off with the troubled infrastructure sector showing signs of revival. Senior officials, urban planners, and town planners say the BJP government in the state has over the past two years successfully nurtured an enabling environment for big ticket infrastructure and urban planning projects. The acid test for the government now lies in the effective implementation of these projects, said a senior bureaucrat in the state. “The government has pointed the campus in the right direction as far as infrastructure and urban planning go. It has fast-tracked approvals and streamlined processes,” said the bureaucrat.
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Take a look at some official numbers. Since winning office on October 31, 2014, the BJP government has expedited approvals for Metro rail projects in Mumbai, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, Pune, and Nagpur. “In two years, we have approved 150 kilometres of Metro rail project. Of these, works for about 100 km have been tendered for, while the same for the rest would be in place within the next four months. The previous government took eight years to build just a 10-km Metro rail network in Mumbai,” said Fadnavis, who heads the urban development department. Approvals to the development plans for urban neighbourhoods are another case in point. “Since December 2014, we have approved development plans or extended plans for 70 cities and towns, which in itself is a record,” the CM claimed.
Maharashtra is the country’s fastest urbanising state. As per latest statistics, about 49 per cent of the state’s population lives in cities or towns. While such blueprints or development plans are vital for planned development of urban agglomerates, senior town planners rued the previous Congress-NCP regime had approved plans for barely 15-odd cities. “By the end of December 2017, all cities in the state will have a development plan,” said Fadnavis. In these two years, the government has also extended boundaries of municipalities and formed 120 new councils to cater to the pace of urbanisation. The Opposition has been accusing that the extension of the limits of municipalities and the conversion of rural areas to form the new municipal councils was done in a manner that it suited BJP’s political aspirations.
Officials contend that the key bold stroke has been the CM’s move to decentralise town planning permissions. To cut down on red-tape and time taken for approvals, powers for permitting change of zones, and grant of additional floor space index in most cases have been delegated to field-level enforcement agencies. The UD department has begun standardising development control (DC) regulations for building permits across all municipalities. Further, as part of initiatives taken under the ‘Ease of Doing Business’ reform, approvals for building permits are being given online in Mumbai, Thane and some other cities, while the process is ongoing to extend the same option to other cities, said a town planner.
Senior bureaucrats said infusion of capital to spruce up basic civic amenities in urban centres has been a key focus area of the government. Under the Centre’s Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), the state government has approved funding assistance for completion of 140 water supply and sanitation projects, collectively worth Rs 8,000 crore. While the Centre contributes about 50 per cent of the approved project cost under this scheme and the state provides another 25 per cent, the state has now also decided to extend soft loans to local bodies towards their component of a project from a dedicated corpus fund.
“We have found that many of these projects had got mired in delays owing to the inability of the local bodies to arrange for their share of the funding,” said Manisha Patankar-Mhaiskar, Principal Secretary, Urban Development-II. The government has also tied up the local bodies’ share to funds due to the local bodies as per the 14th Finance Commission to expedite work. “Our target is to complete 40 per cent of these projects (55 projects) before March, 2018. The deadline for completion for the remaining 65 per cent (85 projects) is March 2019,” Mhaiskar added. Under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, Maharashtra has so far declared 100 towns as open defecation free. State officials said the next milestone is October 2017 where the rest of the 165 towns are targeted to achieve the status.
The government has fast-tracked approvals for some much delayed transportation and mobility projects, including the Mumbai Transharbour Link, the Navi Mumbai International Airport, and the Mumbai Coastal Road project. “Approvals are now in place for most of these projects. The focus now shifts to their timely and effective implementation,” said a state official. But while the chief minister has set a 2019 deadline for completion of some of the Metro projects, the airport project, and some other infrastructure projects, senior bureaucrats remain sceptical about meeting this deadline.
The Nagpur-Mumbai Samruddhi super communication expressway, a brainchild of the CM, is being pushed to “improve road connectivity and develop new business corridors”. Both in 2015-16 and 2016-17, the government has made a 15 per cent higher allocation for roads and highways projects. Policies like land pooling or providing developed land to project affected people are being promoted to expedite infrastructure projects.
The housing gap
In October 2014, the government had promised to build 19 lakh affordable houses by 2022. It even brought out a new housing policy draft, which gave out details on how it planned to achieve the target. But two years later, ministers and bureaucrats concede that the government is yet to “walk the talk”. Key policy initiatives to boost the housing stock remain on paper. The previous government, too, had found difficulty in pushing these reforms since a number of lawmakers hail from the construction industry. A much-awaited housing regulator to end malpractices in the construction sector is yet to see the light of the day. Provisions for deemed conveyance to societies have also been diluted after the Centre overhauled the Maharashtra’s Housing (Development and Regulation) Act. While Fadnavis had promised introduction of a new law for deemed conveyance, this has not yet come. The problem concerning redevelopment of old and dilapidated buildings in Mumbai and slums has not been addressed. Top sources, however, said the government had lined up a slew of housing sector reforms in the run-up to the crucial Mumbai civic polls.
“The previous government took eight years to build a 10-km Metro network, whereas we have approved plans for a 150-km network in two years. We have already tendered out 100-km works; tenders for the rest are to be floated within four months. We have secured approvals for the Mumbai Transharbour Link and the Coastal Road. Between December 2014 and September 2016, 69 development plans and extended plans were approved. We are creating water supply and sewage management systems in 42 cities. With the help of CISCO, Oracle, and HP, we are building an IT enterprise architecture for all major cities to have smart networks. Common (standardised) DC regulations have been formulated for all civic bodies, and a digital platform has been provided for approvals. A CCTV surveillance network for Mumbai, Pune, and Nagpur has been rolled out. Five of the first 10 cities to be rated as clean cities are from the state. The Nagpur-Mumbai super communication expressway is my dream project, which will not only reduce time travel between the two cities but contribute to the economic development of the belt..”
Devendra Fadnavis, chief minister
“The government has nothing to write home about in the infrastructure sector. Projects such as the Mumbai Transharbour Link, the Mumbai Coastal Road, which had secured approvals when we were in government, are yet to see construction. The work on the memorials to Shivaji off Arabian Sea and Dr (Bhimrao) Ambedkar on the Indu mill land is yet to start. Redevelopment of dilapidated houses and construction of affordable homes in Mumbai has been stalled. We planned the Metro rail routes. We could complete one during our term. Let’s see how many they complete. We had rolled out the reform for standardised development control regulations for municipalities, which they (the BJP) have continued.”
Prithviraj Chavan, former chief minister