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Cities in reform rush, pitch for makeover

By Aditi Phadnis in New Delhi
April 25, 2006 11:32 IST
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Fed up of living in an overgrown slum? Does your city have no footpaths, no gardens, no streetlights and a municipal corporation that just does not care? All that will change soon.

In less than seven years, the faces of at least 23 cities are going to be transformed. Indian cities are going to be more orderly, cleaner and better governed.

The announcement of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission by the Manmohan Singh government in December 2005 has had an electrifying effect on state governments.

In four months, 23 cities have come forward to tell the ministry of urban development that not only are they ready to press forward with the reforms that are mandatory for the award of funds, but also that they would follow the time limits to put the reforms in place.

Officers in the ministry say with quiet confidence if all states follow suit, 63 cities selected under the mission in its first phase will undergo a complete makeover.

The objective of the mission is to create efficient, equitable and responsive cities by encouraging the cities themselves to improve existing service levels in a financially sustainable manner. Recognising urban disparities, a separate budget for the urban poor was put aside. The Centre has a budget of Rs 50,000 crore (Rs 500 billion) for the states that pick up the gauntlet of painful, deep and wide urban reform. If reform stops, so does the money.

The 23 cities that have agreed to crush urban vested interests and have submitted city development plans and signed memoranda of agreement are: Hyderabad, Vijayawada, Visakhapatnam, Chandigarh, Raipur, Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Vadodara, Surat, Bhopal, Indore, Jabalpur, Ujjain, Greater Mumbai, Nagpur, Pune, Kohima, Ajmer Pushkar, Jaipur, Coimbatore, Madurai, Asansol and Kolkata (elections were declared in the last four, so the MOA will be signed after May).

What does this mean? Different state government have set different timetables to implement the promise they have made to the Centre.

Andhra Pradesh, for instance, has said in the three cities that have been selected under the mission, city planning and transfer of municipal services will be done within three years of signing the MoA (ie 2009). Stamp duty will be reduced to five per cent by 2010.

In Hyderabad, operations and management costs will be recovered fully by 2013, while in Vijayawada, reform of property tax will be completed and 90 per cent of the collections will be made by 2007.

Most states have put off the recovery of operations and management costs to the end, 2013, on the assumption that those who use the services will be so satisfied with the changes in the cities where they live that they will be happy to pay a small sum as user charges.

The Centre too, on its part, is moving fast. Officials in the urban development ministry say in several cases, money has already been released. For Hyderabad, for a flyover at Greenlands Junction which is currently one of the most congested traffic spots in the city, the first instalment of Rs 151 crore (Rs 1.51 billion) has already been released against a total project cost of Rs 1,727 crore (Rs 17.27 billion).

For expansion and upgrade of the water supply network in Nagpur city, Rs 474 crore (Rs 4.74 billion) has been released, against a total project cost of Rs 3,793 crore (Rs 37.93 billion). For water-starved Rajkot, a project has been approved that will cost Rs 8,562 crore (Rs 85.62 billion). Of this, Rs 1,070 crore (Rs 10.7 billion) was released in March.

"We want a movement to build up so that citizens hold their governments accountable for urban renewal", said a ministry official.

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Aditi Phadnis in New Delhi
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