Saturday, October 28, 2006

Who's afraid of JNNURM?

Back at the Hafta after ages.

Couple of things here. This portal of the Jawarharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) came as a big surprise to me. The emphasis on urban reforms is really something. Besides the mandatory requirement for repealing acts like the ULCA, I was impressed by the emphasis given to citizen participation. Or should I really be surprised ? After all Ramesh Ramanathan of Janaagraha was the National Technical Advisor to the JNNURM.

This piece appeared in the Hafta dated 23rd Oct 2006. Read the full article below. Comments welcome.

Conditional Change
After laying the foundation stone for the Mumbai Metro in July, Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, returned to visit Mumbai last month to approve full Centre funding for the much-needed Brihanmumbai Storm Water Drainage (Brimstowad) project. Two large projects flagged off in three months, surely seems like a lot for a city that has waited decades for any infrastructure overhaul.

While the Brimstowad report has been gathering dust since 1993, it came in the spotlight only after the 26th July 2005 deluge which exposed the weaknesses of the city’s ages-old drainage system. With the PM clearing the funding, work will finally kick-off on this ambitious Rs1,800cr project which will involve widening and deepening of four major underground drains in the island city and seven in western suburbs and eight in the eastern suburbs.

But the work will also involve relief and rehabilitation (R&R) of 20,000 families, which itself will cost Rs600crores. This will be the State Government’s biggest challenge since it dare not repeat the debacle of the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP) R&R which resulted in the World Bank temporarily suspending funding for the MUTP project.

All the kings’ horses and men
While the State Government is basking in the glory of getting funding for the Brimstowad, their biggest challenge only lies ahead. They have yet to make any headway in procuring Centre approval for other vital projects for the city.

At last count, other than Brimstowad, there were 10 other projects that came for review between the Centre and the Maharashtra State Government at the time of the PM’s visit. Post review – and to quote from the press release – “The Prime Minister directed that Mumbai's development needs should receive a very high priority, and its problems redressed without any delay. He directed that expeditious approval be given to the Middle Vaitarna Water Supply Project for Mumbai IV, and Mumbai Urban Infrastructure Projects under JNNURM by October/November 2006.”

However, and as things go for this city, a month down the line, nothing has moved forward. What’s worse is that the State Government and all its bureaucrats can’t even do a good job of submitting the required information to the Centre for getting critical funding for these projects under the Centre’s Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Mission (JNNURM).

It is indeed ironical that almost all the projects mentioned by the Prime Minister are ages old. They’ve been studied by various bodies like the BMC, MMRDA, etc as well as consultants over the years and yet, even today, the combined lot of the politicians and bureaucrats – also in charge of India’s financial capital – cannot prepare reports on these projects with the required details.

Time for change
So, why is the Government dragging its feet over much required infrastructure funding for Mumbai? One answer could be reluctance on the part of the Government to comply with the changes that the JNNURM requires State Governments to make for getting urban infrastructure funding. What are these ? Take a look below (extract from Government’s Toolkit on the JNNURM)
  1. (a) “Implementation of decentralisation measures as envisaged in 74th Constitutional Amendment Act. The State should ensure meaningful association and engagement of ULBs (urban local bodies) in planning the function of parastatal agencies as well as the delivery of services to the citizens.
  2. (b) *Repeal of Urban Land Ceiling Regulation Act (ULCRA).
  3. (c) *Reform of Rent Control Laws balancing the interests of landlords and tenants.
  4. (d) Rationalisation of Stamp Duty to bring it down to no more than 5 per cent within next seven years.
  5. (e) Enactment of the Public Disclosure Law to ensure preparation of medium-term fiscal plan of ULBs and parastatal agencies and release of quarterly performance information to all stakeholders.
  6. (f) Enactment of the Community Participation Law to institutionalise citizen’s participation and introduce the concept of the Area Sabha in urban areas.
  7. (g) Assigning or associating elected ULBs with “city planning function”. Over a period of seven years, transferring all special agencies that deliver civic services in urban areas to ULBs and creating accountability platforms for all urban civic service providers in transition.
* Footnote: In respect of people oriented schemes relating to water supply and sanitation, the under-mentioned State level mandatory reforms may be taken as optional reforms: b) Repeal of Urban Land Ceiling and Regulation Act c) Reform of Rent Control Act.”

Phew. Surely, that’s a lot of change to digest for the ruling politicians. But like it or not, those changes are for real. Those changes will have to be made if the city has to be overhauled – and was there any doubt on that? Those changes will also involve managing the different people (vested interests?) affected by these large infrastructure projects in Mumbai. And therein lies the true test for the politicians.

Well begun is..
Meanwhile, its festive season and time for all the politicos to blow up their mugs and minimise God on party posters to wish all of us a Happy Diwali, Id or whatever. And yes, the BMC elections are also due soon. So, while the Congress is flaunting its achievements on its party posters across the city, it would do well to keep in mind that getting projects approved and funded is only a step, a step due for decades, in the right direction. Execution, however, will be another – and longer – story altogether.

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