Way forward for India’s urban reforms-Special Report-Sunday ET-Features-The Economic Times
Reforms in the urban sector have become necessary to ensure sustainable development, efficient infrastructure services and strong local governance. It is recognising this point that when the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission was launched as a major flagship programme in December, 2005, it was emphasised that the main thrust of the revised strategy of urban renewal will be to ensure improvement in urban governance. The idea is that the urban local bodies and para-statal agencies like Development Authorities etc. should become financially sound, their credit rating should go up so that ability to access markets for capital for new programmes and expansion of services is facilitated.
The JNNURM envisage states and cities undertaking a total of 23 reforms during the 7-year mission period from 2005 to 2012. Milestones have been set for such reform implementation. The reform process has taken off and good progress has been made by states and cities though all the milestones as per original schedule have not been met.
As a result of the reforms implementation, the community participation law has been passed by nine states, public disclosure law has been enacted by 16 states, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh have abolished the urban land ceiling legislation, nine states have rationalised stamp duty to the desired level of 5%, 29 local bodies have shifted to accrual-based double entry system of accounting, 45 local bodies out of 65 mission cities have started earmarking funds for the urban poor, three states of North East have for the first time passed legislation for constitution of urban local bodies and Jharkhand held urban local body election after a gap of 22 years. Twenty four states have introduced computerised process of registration of land and property and 47 city bodies have undertaken revision of by-laws for rain water harvesting.
The above would show inclination of states and cities to travel along the reforms path. What is needed now is a more effective implementation of the reform agenda and a frank introspection of what it has meant for the cities’ residents. So while on the one hand the present reform agenda has to be implemented in letter and spirit, cities themselves have to start the thinking in terms of what next?
Since almost all the 7-year allocation of funds for the mission by the central government stands committed as of now, we may take up new projects and programmes when more resources become available. It is probably time now to think about the next generation of reforms. A fine tuned reform agenda could focus on 24x7 water supply for cities, distribution efficiency of water to be substantially improved as per set targets, desired level of access to drinking water for all households, definite achievement of targets of bringing down wastage of water from the national average of about 50% to desired level of 15%, defined accountability towards consumers by the water utility, substantial recycling of waste water so that there is effective saving of water etc.
Reform agenda should also focus on definite milestones to be achieved as far as service level benchmarking set for water supply, sewerage and storm water drainage, solid waste management, e-governance and urban transport sectors are concerned. Step by step definite action to achieve the objective of the national urban sanitation policy and concerted efforts by cities to achieve the sustainable habitat mission objectives through improvements in energy efficiency, efficiency in buildings, urban planning, improved management of solid and liquid waste including recycling and power generation, modal shift towards public transport and conservation.
Broadly what is required is to build up further the momentum created in states and cities to bring about substantial changes in urban governance so that residents of the city are provided with larger benefits and lesser inconveniences without having to ask for it.