Three major flagship missions of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs — the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban), Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and Smart Cities Mission — have completed six years since their launch on June 25, 2015. These constitute a fascinating experiment involving a paradigm shift, subtle in its messaging but seminal in its impact. The government under the leadership of Narendra Modi is re-writing the way citizens define their future.
The urban landscape is defined by cities and the cities, in turn, are defined by the people who inhabit them. One of the most radical departures post May 2014 was the actual invocation of the spirit of cooperative federalism. Each of the missions delegated the powers to appraise and approve projects to the states. Earlier, every project was appraised and approved in Delhi, in the ministry, giving scant regard to the fact that equally competent officials work in the states and the state leadership is to be trusted. This major step of building trust between the states and the Centre yielded results. In the 10 years of the UPA from 2004 to 2014, the total investment in the urban sector was around Rs 1,57,000 crore while in the seven years of the NDA from 2014 to 2021, that figure is approximately Rs 11,83,000 crore. Similarly, in the UPA regime, around 12 lakh houses were built. Since the launch of the PMAY(U), the Modi government has already sanctioned more than 1.12 crore houses, completed and handed over nearly 49 lakh houses — the rest will be completed well before March 2022.
One of the banes of government programmes has been tardy implementation and leakages. These are being plugged. Through geo-tagging, the progress of construction of houses is being monitored and tied to the release of funds. For the first time, it was this PM who asked ISRO, our world-class space agency, to handhold government departments in the use of space technology tools. All missions use GIS-based tools extensively. To speed up construction and to bring in the best of new technologies, a Global Housing Technology Challenge was launched and based on it, six Lighthouse Projects have been identified in six geo-climatic zones of the country. A sustained effort is being made to mainstream these technologies with strong linkages to the engineering institutions across the country. Money from the Centre is being released through the Public Financial Management System. This electronic mode ensures that central funds seamlessly flow to the state treasury, improving efficiency and preventing fraud. This, along with Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT), has ensured that middlemen gaming the system or shortchanging the beneficiary have been ousted.
A house built under PMAY(U) is in the name of the woman of the household or joint ownership, and mandatorily has a toilet. This provides a fillip to female empowerment and safeguards the dignity of the girl child. Her sense of shame and insecurity is a thing of the past with the access to a toilet within the home.
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Aadhaar is another formidable weapon that ensures that every beneficiary gets the house for which he/she was registered. Biometrics will help in that. For decades, the poor were deprived of a government benefit, which was usurped by someone else through impersonation. The unholy nexus between middlemen and corrupt officials has ended.
AMRUT addresses the creaky civic infrastructure that plagues our urban local bodies (ULBs) — electricity, water supply, sewerage, etc. Nearly 6,000 projects worth Rs 81,000 crore have been approved, with some states having projects over the State Approved Action Plan (SAAP) that was approved when the mission was launched. States are willing to bear the excess expenditure. It covers 500 cities with a population of over one lakh.
The mission spans the entire gamut of city governance, with a focus on the reform agenda. The push for sustainable ULBs is yielding results with 10 ULBs having already raised Rs 3,840 crore through municipal bonds. The push to strengthen ULBs is also being spearheaded through The Urban Learning Internship Programme (TULIP) in partnership with the Ministry of Education.
With envisaged investments to the tune of Rs 2,05,000 crore, the Smart Cities Mission is a people-centred process. It will be the young who determine the nature of the city they wish to inhabit. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Integrated Command and Control Centres, which are already operational in more than 50 of the 100 smart cities, played a pivotal role in providing real-time information to enable health workers and city administrators in tracking the virus spread and in relief and rehabilitation work.
Alongside these programmatic interventions, the NDA government has strengthened the regulatory framework in the real estate sector with the path-breaking Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016, and more recently, the Model Tenancy Act.
The urban space is being transformed at a rapid pace with the increasing use of technology. City administrators are on their toes with a competitive spirit imbuing the missions and a periodic ranking of the cities on various parameters. This bodes well for the people. There is relentless monitoring of the missions at the highest levels. That is another novel feature of governance introduced by PM Modi. In the rigorous review meetings that he chairs, the accountability matrix is under scrutiny. Silently, non-performers are being weeded out, loopholes plugged and targets set. With the poor at the focus of all programmes, the past seven years have shown one thing: The Modi government is and will be unwavering in its commitment to the poor and will not be distracted.
This column first appeared in the print edition on June 25, 2021 under the title ‘The new urban’. The writer is Union Minister for Housing and Urban Affairs.
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