Launching an ambitious Rs 1 lakh crore National Urban Renewal Mission to improve urban infrastructure in major cities, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday suggested land rights to urban poor at affordable rates to increase private investment.
"A major failure of city governance has been our inability to address the needs of the poor - basic services like drinking water supply, sanitation, housing and social services are not available to an increasing share of urban population", he said launching the scheme, christened 'Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission'.
Suggesting options like giving the urban poor land rights at affordable rates, he said this in itself would improve the quality of living in cities.
Property rights can also be used as a collateral for financing new investment. "To improve urban infrastructure and provide urban services for the poor we urgently need urban governance reform," he told the gathering, which included Union Ministers, Chief Ministers and senior officials.
The scheme aimed at creating an integrated development of urban infrastructure with special emphasis on providing basic services to the poor like housing, sanitation and slum improvement would be implemented over a seven-year period.
It would cover about 60 cities with a million plus population, all state capitals and other cities considered important from religious, historical and tourist point of view.
Observing that the vision of urban development has so far been uni-dimensional with a focus more on space and less on people, the Prime Minister said there was a need for an integrated framework in which spatial development of cities went hand in hand with improvement in the quality of living of ordinary people living there.
Noting governance reform should be seen as a catalyst for change, he said while considerable ground has been covered under the 73rd Constitution Amendment relating to panchayats, the 74th Amendment for decentralisation of power to the urban local bodies has not yet been effectively translated into urban governance.
"Cities, unfortunately with some exception, have not been enabled to look inwards and build on their inherent capacities, both financial and technical, and instead are still being seen in many states as 'wards' of state governments. This should change", he said.
Singh said that the municipal finance was in an extremely unsatisfactory state on account of an inability to properly tap and utilise proceeds from property tax, due to the inadequacies of the property valuation system, and inefficiencies in tax collection system.
The mission seeks to do away with those statutes that inhibit the functioning of land and housing markets and bring in those improvements that would enable the city-level institutions to become financially strong and viable.
Observing that many cities like Bangalore, Mumbai and Thiruvananthapuram have come up with citizen initiatives for urban renewal, the Prime Minister said this process would be strengthened through the creation of Voluntary Technical Corps for each city as envisaged in the mission.