The year that was 2018

As we prepare to close the calendar year 2018 and ring in the New Year, it’s usually time to look back at the past 12 months for a recap of the major events in the chosen domain. Urban Update too takes a look at some such policies, announcements and developments that could have a significant bearing on urban India. The exercise as usual ended up with a mix of feelings….some satisfying, some not so…

Rapid and relentless urbanization has marked the landscape of almost all countries and regions in the world. Urban centres have succeeded in capturing the bulk of the world’s economic output and have delivered prosperity to large numbers of dwellers resulting in a rapid influx of more humans into the cities of the world. In order to meet the aspirations of these growing numbers, Indian policy makers have unleashed a slew of measures to make cities more efficient, responsive and livable…while a rural component aims to improve the lot of the rural population. Urban Update takes a look at some programmes…

Swachh Bharat

Launched in 2014, this is possibly one of the biggest interventions of independent India which has touched every single person, urban and rural. An important component of the programme is to make the country Open Defecation Free (ODF). This has resulted in huge numbers of toilets being built across the country. States have been vying with one another to declare themselves ODF. Some of the states which have achieved 100 per cent Household toilet (IHHT) provision under the Gramin component are Andaman & Nicobar, Arunachal, Andhra, Chhattisgarh & Chandigarh. Odisha (73 per cent), Goa (76 per cent), Bihar (84 per cent), & Tripura (92 per cent) need to catch up. Overall achievement has been 96.61. The objective is to achieve national 100 per cent by 2nd October 2019.
In terms of funds utilisation, a Parliamentary Committee noted that Budget Estimate for SBM (Urban) for 2017-18 was 2300 Crores and for 2018-19 it is 2500 crores. As of December 31, 2018 `2019 Cr or 88 per cent funds were utilised. The ministry informed that against target of 66.42 lakh Individual Household Toilets, 47.04 Lakhs have been completed till 31.03 2018. Against target of 5.07 Lakh Community toilets, 3.18 Lakh
were built.
While the targets of building toilets will likely be achieved before the deadline, it is to be seen what level of usage takes place. There are reports that even with a toilet some people especially in rural settings are reluctant to use it, possibly because of old social habits or due to lack of adequate water. And this is the bigger challenge – getting people to use toilets.

Smart Cities Mission

The flagship programme of the government was launched in mid-2015 to be executed over 5 years from 2015-16 to 2019-20 in 100 mission cities with an investment of 50,000 crore by the Centre matched with equal amount by states and concerned cities. Since it involves implementation of several projects in each of the 100 cities, estimating the progress would involve measuring the progress at project level. However some data in terms of funds utilization could throw some light. As per the ministry response to the parliamentary committee, the proposed total investment under the mission is 2.03 lakh crore. Of the 99 mission cities, 86 had formed SPVs, a key step to take the projects forward. While the last 39 cities were selected this year, the earlier 60 have completed projects worth 5625 crores; modest achievement indeed. Against the mission plan of 48,000 crores over 5 years, the total Budget Estimate so far is only 15,000 crores and Revised Estimate for three years is only 10,094 crores. The Committee recommended better convergence among various schemes and improved coordination among various agencies involved. At this stage, one can estimate that the projects could well stretch beyond 2019-20, the original mission period.
However, ultimately the measure of success will be how cities become more efficient, inclusive and safe while reducing their environmental impact and increasing livelihood options.

Housing for All

Housing for All is another ongoing major programme of the government. The programme looks to ensure that by 2022, 75 years after independence, every Indian has a home to live in. The task is gigantic both in terms of funding and execution. As per MoHUA figures, a total of 44,35,663 cases have been sanctioned under the Urban component. Of these 4,00,074 have been completed and 19,30,844 are in progress; totaling 53 per cent. In terms of funding, of the 68,415.84 crores central assistance approved, 24,351.52 cr have been released. The Scheme is tailored to enable eligible citizens to buy a house through capital subsidy and interest subventions. However, the whole scheme is designed for ‘owning’ a house. This is also due to the obsession of many to live in owned premises. Could some part of the scheme be designed for ‘renting’ a house affordably? Will this be the preferred option for young earners who would like to use the money to start a business rather than put it into an asset like an apartment? Will it give opportunity to look for better livelihood options and shift to stay closer to one’s workplace? Will relocating across cities become more common and frequent?

NITI Aayog’s Composite Water Management Index

In June 2018, NITI Aayog released a report which could set alarm bells ringing among policy makers, urban planners and the common man. The report highlighted the extreme water stress the country is already facing and the perilous future.
Among its findings is the fact that 600 million people in India face high to extreme water stress. It stated that about three-fourth of the households do not have drinking water at their premises. In terms of water quality, it says that India is placed 120th among 122 countries in the water quality index and that 70 per cent of its water is contaminated. Looking into the future, the report says that by 2030, the country’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply, implying severe water scarcity for hundreds of millions of people.
The report ranks states according to their Composite Water Index scores. While Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh rank higher, the report notes that ‘most states have achieved a score below 50 per cent and could significantly improve their water resource management practices.’ The median score for non-Himalayan states is a poor 49.
As stated earlier, the report should raise alarms at the level of the central government and all states (water is a State subject) and indeed all stakeholders. Urgent measures will be required to better manage water resources in the agriculture, domestic and industrial sectors. The country is seeing successive droughts in several regions and rapid deterioration of its water bodies including life-supporting river systems like the Ganga. Preserving our water bodies, rationalising water use and recycling of water should all receive urgent
attention with major campaigns for awareness building.

AYUSHMAN Bharat – Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana PMJAY

In what is possibly the biggest government sponsored scheme anywhere in the world, the Prime Minister in September this year unveiled the Ayushman Bharat Scheme or the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY). The Scheme aims to provide free healthcare in government and empanelled private hospitals for 10 crore families (8.03 crore in rural and 2.33 crore in urban areas) from the weaker sections. “A total of 13,000 hospitals have become a part of the Ayushman Bharat scheme. Our government has taken a holistic approach to lay stress on affordable and preventive healthcare,” the Prime Minister said. The PMJAY is one significant step towards achievement of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and Sustainable Development
Goal – 3 (SDG3).
Given the background of rising private healthcare costs, weak public healthcare infrastructure, and low level of health insurance penetration, most households face high degree of out-of-pocket expenses towards healthcare, pre-empting other essential requirements such as food, nutrition and education. Catastrophic health episodes can often put great financial stress even among middle-income households and drive many to unsustainable debt. An efficient and effective national public healthcare system can therefore go a long way in improving the living standards of citizens.
The scheme envisages a cover of `5 lacs per household per year on a floater basis with cashless facility requiring only an ID proof. Covering about 1300 ailments with no exclusions for pre-existing diseases, the scheme is targeted at households based on Socio-Economic & Caste Census (SECC) data. Funding will be 60 per cent by the Centre and remaining by states.
While the Scheme is indeed ambitious and on a never before attempted scale, it remains to be seen how the system works on the ground. In many cities there are a very limited number of private healthcare providers who have joined; with others stating that the pricing of services under the scheme is not remunerative and will lead to quality dilution. One hopes that initial glitches will get smoothened out over time.

PM Ujjwala Yojana

Nine out of ten households now have an LPG connection. This is against the figure of 56 per cent households in April 2015; in large part due to the PM Ujjwala Yojana. Launched in 2016, this scheme aims to address the health issues of women and children while at the same time protecting the environment. The Scheme aims to provide LPG cooking gas connections to families below the poverty line with an initial subsidy of `1600 per connection and thereby reduce exposure of women and children to hazardous smoke from traditional cooking fuels.
As of end November 2018, over 5.80 crore connections had been given under this scheme, way ahead of the initial target. One needs to watch the pattern of refilling by poor households given that even after subsidy, the cylinder is deemed expensive, especially since firewood is almost free. This is being addressed by including 5 Kg refill cylinders under the Scheme.

MOBILITY Metro rail

During the year, metro rail projects gathered more momentum in different cities. The Metro Policy, which was announced by the centre in the latter part of 2017, has given a big push for this rail based urban mobility option. Cities, faced with unprecedented poor air quality, growing congestion and road safety turning critical, have found a safe, green and comfortable option in metro rail. The policy has made PPP mandatory for availing central funding assistance for these capital intensive projects. States’ commitment to provide last-mile connectivity in a five-kilometer catchment area on either side of a metro station through non-motorized options, TOD, preparation of Comprehensive Mobility Plans and setting up Urban Metropolitan Transport Authorities are other stipulations in the policy.
Supported by the policy, expansion of existing networks and commissioning of new lines is gathering pace. In addition to the already functional metros in 10 cities, several more (NOIDA, Nagpur, Pune, Ahmedabad, Navi Mumbai) are implementing their projects and many others (Patna, Kanpur, Surat, Vizag, Indore, Bhopal, Coimbatore, Varanasi, Kozhikode, etc.) are in planning stage. Efficient first and last-mile connectivity will be necessary in order to leverage fully the potential of rail-based mobility. One hopes planners will address
this too.
Efficient, safe, comfortable and above all, affordable public transport will become a central pillar of liveability. As cities embrace new modes such as rail based ones and other green options, they will have to ensure affordability in order to take private vehicles off the roads. We have seen many instances where ridership in public transport has declined after a fare raise, defeating all purposes. Air-conditioned bus services are an option to reduce car use. These services cannot be curtailed or withdrawn quoting just revenue considerations. Public transport needs to be supported by other revenue measures while imposing more costs on private vehicle use.
As we go into the New Year and beyond, efficiency (doing more with less), use of digital technologies, inclusivity, citizen engagement, low carbon footprint, and thus greater livability will be the hallmarks of successful cities. Alongside, issues such as art and culture, heritage, food, sporting events, healthcare (including traditional medicine) facilities and educational infrastructure will separate the winning cities from the rest, and in turn attract economic activity to generate livelihood options setting in motion a virtuous cycle of growth and prosperity. And unlike in the past, citizens must whole heartedly participate in crafting such successful cities. For, as the Greek philosopher Plato said, “This City is what it is because our citizens are what
they are”.

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