At the Express Adda held in Mumbai last week, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, and economist and author Dr Isher Judge Ahluwalia, spoke about urban development, creating new cities and the need for enhancing local government bodies.
At the latest edition of Express Adda, presented by Yes Bank in association with India Infoline Finance Limited (IIFL), held at Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai last week, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and economist and author Dr Isher Judge Ahluwalia discussed cluster development, finding a balance between environment and development and the role of leaders. During a conversation with a select audience, moderated by Shekhar Gupta, Editor-in-Chief, The Express Group, Chavan and Ahluwalia spoke about the growing needs of major metropolises and creating social and physical infrastructure as well as economic opportunities for people.
On urbanisation and its challenges
Dr Isher Judge Ahluwalia: The Bihar chief minister told me two years ago that when we convert a gram panchayat into a nagar panchayat, they come back and say they want to be a gram panchayat again because all the money is in rural development schemes. There are about 2,000 towns which the census has declared are ready to be nagar panchayats but there is political resistance to give them that statutory authority.
Prithviraj Chavan: Maharashtra has become almost 50 per cent urban today. We recently decided to convert 138 gram
panchayats into nagar palikas. People in Maharashtra want to get an urban governance structure instead of a gram panchayat structure.
Among the various challenges of urban development, there are about 14 lakh families staying in slums in Mumbai. There are problems of clean drinking water, sewage disposal, solid waste and mass transit. We have been successful in getting a few mass transit projects off the ground. We have the country’s first monorail, an Eastern freeway, a new airport terminal and a connector, and the city’s first Metro Rail will also be opened soon. More infrastructure projects in Mumbai are being built and more should come up. But we can’t keep having mass transit projects and expect people to commute for two hours. We need to build new townships nearby that are integrated with workplace, social infrastructure, and habitation so that people don’t have to commute, but can cycle or walk to work. That’s the only way to go.
On slum redevelopment
Prithviraj Chavan: The famous Slum Rehabilitation Authority scheme didn’t work well. The idea was people will get a free house, they will be relocated where they are on the same plot and it will be developed through a private developer chosen by the slum dwellers. The profits that the private developers drew out of that scheme have been enormous.
It was a commitment of the Congress Party to change the cut-off date to determine eligibility of slum dwellers for free housing from 1/1/95 to 1/1/2001. It could not be implemented because the courts had a particular point of view. We repeated that promise in our 1999 manifesto, but couldn’t do it. This time, we have found a way out and we have changed the cut-off date.
On illegal construction
Prithviraj Chavan: I have a city right next to Pune — the Pimpri-Chinchwad Corporation. The High Court has ruled that 66,000 buildings are illegal and they are to be demolished and held the Municipal Commissioner personally responsible to implement the law. He demolished 250 structures. But, can you demolish 66,000 buildings when there are one lakh buildings in Pimpri Chinchwad? Or do you regularise them and condone the illegality? It is a dilemma. That’s happening in Thane and some other parts. What I have done is that where there are illegal or dangerous buildings, we have introduced cluster development.
On environment versus development
Prithviraj Chavan: The balance between environment and development is very delicate. Most of the development abroad is on the seashore. We have built Marine Drive, a coastal road built out of reclaiming land, but today we are not allowed to do that. Today, we have a right balance because people are afraid to take certain decisions under pressure from environmentalists. With advice from environmentalists, experts, and oceanography institutes, we have planned a coastal road. It involves reclaiming some land and building a structure like Marine Drive. Every other country has done it. Was creating Marine Drive a bad thing? Was connecting the seven islands of Mumbai to make a large city bad? Somewhere we need to have answers for that.
On creating new cities
Prithviraj Chavan: Building new magnet cities around a large city is the answer. Building huge infrastructure to get into the heart of the city is, according to me, not the answer. For example, we are trying that in MIHAN (Multi-modal International Cargo Hub and Airport at Nagpur). There is a Special Economic Zone created there with beautiful infrastructure and roads. Investment has now started coming in.
I recently signed a state support agreement and shareholder agreement with the Union Government to create a new industrial township in Aurangabad in a 51-49 partnership. We are going to build a 5,000 hectare township near Aurangabad as a part of the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor. As part of the national manufacturing policy we are also creating a national investment zone near Nagpur in Umred. We are building new cities in an integrated manner in which we have at least 50 per cent area for industries, IT, software, financial centres and the rest of the 50 per cent for habitation.
On Public Private Partnership projects
Prithviraj Chavan: While we have unleashed a number of PPP projects, a dispute resolution mechanism is missing. Every PPP project in Maharashtra has run into difficulty. For example, the road toll project in Kolhapur. The Mumbai Metro project contract was also not written properly and now with cost overruns, there is trouble.
Dr Isher Judge Ahluwalia: PPP is bound to be exploitative because it is a marriage between unequal partners. Private companies have competitive lawyers, finance managers as against non-competitive personnel in the government. For this reason, local governments have to be enhanced.
On the need for urban agglomeration
Dr Isher Judge Ahluwalia: I am all for green-field cities, but we have 8,000 cities in the country and the challenge of renewing existing cities is also very much there. You have to distribute the load on infrastructure of a few cities to which people are migrating in expectation of jobs and opportunities by linking them. They can be either converted to nagar panchayats around cities or connected through metropolitan planning. The only place where I have found medium-term planning for metropolitan connectivity was the Hyderabad region.
Prithviraj Chavan: I think what we are doing in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority is exactly that. We have got about seven large corporations in Thane district and some very small municipalities. We are trying to bifurcate Thane district as it is one of the fastest growing districts in the country. But we have not been able to, there are political issues.
On the Gujarat model
Prithviraj Chavan: If we compare FDI and social parameters such as malnutrition rates, we will see that there is intense competition between the two states. Gujarat is built by Gujaratis and one person should not try to take the entire credit of building the state.
Prithviraj Chavan: AAP phenomena surprised all of us. It showed that it was a protest vote by the people. People looked at it as a third option on the voting machine apart from the two large parties. If the government does not listen to voices from the civil society, the anger is bound to get built up. Having said that, it is not expected from a CM to hold a hunger strike and demand populist measures.
On what goes into urban success stories
Dr Isher Judge Ahluwalia: The local governments in Gujarat and Maharashtra are relatively stronger. They have some resilience in their financial security. There are many states where the local bodies are totally dependent on the state government. Maharashtra is by far the best in terms of capacity to manage. Gujarat has developed the capacity to plan very well. Above all, leadership and technology are the most important. IT has played a major role, whether it is through the e-governance packages of Kalyan-Dombivali or Hyderabad. When you look at every case study, you will see that there is a champion behind it. I think we tend to underestimate the role of leadership.
(Transcribed by Manasi Phadke and Stuti Shukla)