Objective of Smart Cities Mission is to create lighthouses: Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu

In an interview with LEENA MISRA and GOPAL KATESHIYA , he talked about the ambitious Smart City project

Written by Leena Misra , Gopal B Kateshiya | Vadodara | Updated: June 9, 2016 4:50 am
Venkaiah Naidu, Venkaiah Naidu Vadodara, Vadodara, Venkaiah Naidu Smart cities, Smart cities, India Smart Cities, India news Venkaiah Naidu hands over one of the low-cost houses to a beneficiary. (Express Photo by Chirag Chotaliya)

Union Minister for Urban Development, Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation and Parliamentary Affairs Venkaiah Naidu was in Rajkot to dedicate affordable homes to the public and also for Vikas Parv, celebration of two years of Narendra Modi government.

There seems to be lack of clarity as far as JNNURM (Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission) is concerned.
There is no JNNURM. It has ended in 2014.

How the Smart City selection was done? Some hopeful cities, even in Gujarat, feel left out.
There are certain parameters. As many as 100 cities have been selected (under Smart Cities Mission), depending on the urban population of each state. Depending on the urban population, percentage wise they got quota. The Centre has no role. The states have sent the names. Of the 100 names, in the first year 20 cities were shortlisted. There was a competition — their revenue, reforms, drinking water, sanitation, greenery, transparency, accountability were among the fixed parameters. Of the 100, 20 cities have been decided by international and national accredited agencies together. The government had no role in it.

See, the first list 20 does not have Varanasi, the prime minister’s constituency, there is no Lucknow, the home minister’s constituency. You don’t have Vidisha, the foreign minister’s constituency, my constituency and you also don’t have Nagpur, Nitin Gadkari’s constituency. So, there is no politics. And second, we have told the states about the procedure. The cities have understood and they have started competing. Now, I am happy there is a competition. Earlier, everybody was looking up: Dilli se kya milega, Ahmedabad se kya milega (What will we get from Delhi and Ahmedabad), but now they are saying ‘humko kya karna hai, how do we compete, how do we make our city green and how do we make our city creditworthy?’ If you want loan, you will get it only when you are creditworthy.

So, there is a new competitive spirit and we are calling it urban renaissance. Some cities were left out and some states were also feeling left out in the first 20. Then, I gave them another opportunity. Twenty-three cities and states and Union Territories which were left out were brought in competition and 13 were selected. By June 30, the remaining cities will also join the competition.

Is your govt planning to replace JNNURM in some way?
There is no JNNURM. See urban infrastructure is being taken care of. One is Smart City. Second is AMRUT (Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation). JNNURM was confined to 67 or 70 cities alone, whereas AMRUT covers 500 cities of one lakh population and above. All states have been taken into confidence, money has been released and work is in progress in all 500 cities.

The first priority is water, second is sanitation, third is solid waste management, number four is transport. Then metro rail… we are supporting Ahmedabad metro, we are supporting Lucknow metro, Chennai and Bengaluru, so mass transport is also being taken care of.

In Vadodara, affordable housing projects and its related evictions have seen unrest, some leading to clashes.
That is all local. You cannot rule Vadodara from Delhi. Land is a state subject.

Is that a policy issue?
The state has to decide whom to evict and whom not to evict, how does the Centre decide these things? The Centre formulates a policy — housing for the poor. The three types of affordable housing — LIG, EWS and slum. If you want to remove slums and construct houses there, you can do it. The Centre will not interfere. Rs 1 lakh per unit will be given directly. For group housing, we’ll give Rs 1.5 lakh, and suppose some individual beneficiary wants to construct a house and he has some land, then we’ll give Rs 2.5 lakh upfront in form of interest subvention.

What happened to Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojna?
It was a total failure. Experience tells it could not take off. So, under Rajiv Gandhi Roon Awas Yojna, whatever houses were constructed or were to be completed, we are funding that. (But scheme has been discontinued) because that will go waste.

Is your ministry thinking of replacing that scheme?
Already there is Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna.

Is your government taking a conscious call on not increasing ghettoisation? Muslims are not being allowed to move into a Hindu neighbourhood in Vadodara.
See Articles 14, 15 and19 (of the Constitution), they have to take care of all these things. Can you make a policy that there should be so many Muslims, so many Christians or this community or that? The only policy we made is that title deed of the house should be in the name of woman. And, beneficiaries have to be selected by the state government. There is no discrimination, whatsoever, on the basis of region or religion or caste. But, at the end of the day, implementation has to be taken care of by the local people. I have just inaugurated Rajkot housing, the Rajkot Municipal Corporation has taken care of it.

Suppose something like Mathura happens in Gujarat, will the Centre not intervene?
The moment the Centre interferes, you will say the Centre is encroaching upon the state’s rights. The only way the Centre can intervene is Article 356. You want Article 356 to be used in Mathura? You cannot have both. Law and order is a state subject. Second, Mathura has nothing to do with government schemes. Certain people patronised by the ruling party encroached upon the land… Unfortunately, they have misused the name of Subhas Chandra Bose. And, because of patronage, no action was taken against them. Look at the DM report. He asked for more force, but the state did not provide it.

You also said that by Smart Cities, you want to create lighthouses. How viable is that option given that we are country of 1.25 billion people?
Nobody is forcing. You want to become Smart City, you get into this. You don’t want, you remain in existing state. What is the problem? If the city wants to become smart, they have this option. It’s the Prime Minister’s word — lighthouse.

So, central funding will be limited to only those cities which opt to be Smart City?
Yes. That will be an encouragement. Other things are there — AMRUT is there, heritage augmentation and Swachh Bharat are there. Housing For All is there. Housing for all is for 4,041 towns.

Most smart cities are launching mobile applications. How far is it workable, given the penetration of mobile connectivity?
To the extent possible. We cannot say that till everything is over, nothing should be done. That cannot happen. Both should go on simultaneously. Every person has a cellphone according to me. Our country’s population is 120 crore and there are 105 crore cellphones.

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