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Infrastructural facelift mooted for smaller cities

November 11, 2005 00:45 IST

The ambitious Rs 50,000 crore (Rs 500 billion) National Urban Renewal Mission, formulated by the UPA government to redeem the declining infrastructure under the burden of growing urbanisation, intends to focus more on smaller cities, a top government official said on Thursday.

"The project aims at enhancing the urban infrastructure to enable our cities to cope up with the problem of massive urbanisation. The cities and towns are the real engines of growth of a nation contributing over 50 per cent of the country's GDP. The main focus will be on smaller cities, which can ensure the balance in growth," Planning Commission Member (Infrastructure), Anwarul Hoda told a three-day infrastructure conference-cum-exhibition organised in Mumbai.

"The Mission to be named after Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru is expected to be started on November 14 and has a budget outlay of Rs 50,000 crore to be spent over next six years. While 80 per cent of the outlay will be for the smaller cities, less will be for the mega cities," Hoda said.

"The plan has two components. The first component of the proposal includes 60 cities having seven mega cities, 28 one million plus population cities and 25 other cities of tourist importance like Amer and varanasi. The provision is also there for the other cities also," he said.

NURM is aimed at overhauling infrastructure facilities of the cities, especially the old ones.

"The Mission is also aimed at renewing especially those cities which are 50 or more years old, its water system like the pipelines, drainage network apart from better road connectivity," Hoda added.

The entire project, which will be executed over a period of 25 years, will have government grants.

"The important element of this programme is that urban local bodies as well as the state governments will have to undertake steps to bring about reforms, which can extend to correction of reasonable user charges and reform for property tax system."

Calling for repealing the Urban Land Ceiling Act, he said more land needs to be released for undertaking development activities. He also insisted on reforms in Rent Control Law.

"Unless it is done, buildings will remain in a dilapidated state as the landlords will not give them up. The result will be not enough houses available for rent."

He also advocated for rationalising Stamp Duty.

"It is well known that high stamp duties lead to undervaluation of property price. In the end, the government collects lesser than it would have with lower stamp duties. The NURM also focuses on better traffic and road transportation facilities.

"Urban transport is the lifeline of cities. Every urban conglomeration -- the city and its suburbs -- must have an integrated traffic and transportation plan. We are not saying whether it should be metro rail or mono rail. We are not ruling out anything.

"But the plan, which could have high capacity buses, must also not neglect the needs of pedestrians," he said, adding, "They need more space to move as they were subject to risks in the growing vehicular traffic scenario. We are also as a part of this programme looking at slum and housing development and other basic requirements of the urban poor. The states must fulfill these above conditions to be eligible for the grants. Maharashtra must modify its Rent Control Law as a part of fulfilling one of the criterias to be eligible for the grants."

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