Is urban renewal just hype?

April 2009 Edition
http://www.civilsocietyonline.com/mar09/mar0913.asp
Is urban renewal just hype?

Citizens’ probe finds shoddy data, little consultation

Civil Society News
New Delhi

A national mission to make investments in 63 Indian cities over seven years has run half its course, but there are concerns about how projects are being chosen and whether all the money and effort will finally deliver an improved and inclusive urban environment.

The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) was launched in 2005 shortly after the Congress-led United Progress Alliance (UPA) came to power. It was supposed to make investments in infrastructure and basic services for the urban poor.

The idea was to help cities solve their problems quickly by providing funds, reducing red tape and introducing new efficiencies through public-private partnerships. Local bodies were to have a key role and projects were to be judged on inclusiveness. Consultation, broad-based and in the public domain, was to be given importance so that investments flowed to where they were needed most.

However, preliminary findings of two studies undertaken by the Delhi-based Hazards Centre in various cities indicate quite the opposite: We are told there is inadequate consultation and lack of awareness about projects at the local level. There is also a mishmash of data and an absence of vision for cities.

The Hazards Centre has several years of experience in working with the poor in cities. It looks at issues of governance, community rights and the provision of basic urban services.

The early findings of Hazards Centre on how the JNNURM is being implemented were presented in the last week of February by Harini Narayanan and D Leena at the Indian Social Institute. Both Leena and Narayanan also spoke to Civil Society, as did Dunu Roy, the director of Hazards Centre.

JNNURM envisions a city development plan (CDP) followed by a detailed project report (DPR). The Hazards Centre says it was asked by the National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA) to examine 15 CDPs. This was the first study. In the second study, which is ongoing, local groups are part of a citizens’ initiative anchored by the Hazards Centre to evaluate JNNURM claims on the ground.

These groups are now reporting that many of the claims made under JNNURM are simply not true. “For instance in Ajmer,” says Leena, “we gave a group information about a project which we had downloaded from the urban development ministry’s website. But when they went to the spot they found the project did not exist.”

“Many of the claims are sweeping. When we went to the ministry we were given brochures and CDs and told to get further information from the website. For instance, we are told that a large number of houses have been built for the poor. But where are they, have people moved in?” says Leena, lamenting the lack of tangible claims.

“Now what we have done is got the list off the website of all the detailed projects and we are asking organisations to go with this list and visit each of these projects and take a photograph and come back,” says Narayanan.

In Patna, for instance, there is a project that has been listed as having been completed. But when citizens visited the site all they found was a board. There are many more such examples the Hazards Centre review is throwing up.

The Hazards Centre sees basic flaws in the JNNURM approach. For instance, a distinction is made between urban infrastructure and governance (UIG) and basic services for the urban poor (BSUP). Leena and Narayanan point out that it is essential to see infrastructure as serving the needs of both the rich and the poor. A modern city primarily needs to be inclusive. Then again, in practical terms a division makes it difficult to fund an infrastructure project when it involves the poor.

The new and the old. The urban backlog is huge.The Hazards Centre gets the impression that the JNNURM is being used to push the poor out of cities instead of endorsing their productive role in the urban economy and meeting their needs of affordable housing, clean water, drainage and health care. To this extent, JNNURM in spirit merely replaces old-style city beautification schemes which involve eviction and demolition.

While 75 per cent of the money to be spent is for infrastructure, just 12 per cent is for basic services for the poor, says Roy.

Most of the proposed schemes for the poor seem to be for housing, but there appears to be no coordinated effort to promote an entrepreneurial spirit that will deliver housing that the poor can afford. The goal should have been to give the poor better shelter within the city so that they remain close to sources of employment.

The CDPs, in fact, seem confused on the question of future employment. First of all they do not cite baseline data on employment though such data are widely available. Secondly, they talk of tertiary sector jobs without explaining what exactly this means.

The CDPs accept that a majority of people in cities are poor and belong to the unorganised sector. But they do not seem to have a strategy for keeping such people in employment. For example, even as jobs in manufacturing are seen as drying up in cities, it is not clear where alternative employment will come from.

The JNNURM favours market-driven measures. It has made certain legal measures such as abolition of rent control and land ceiling mandatory for city governments seeking financial support.

The JNNURM favours user charges and sees a growing role for the private sector in providing services. But private players do not seem to be interested in waste management, sewerage or even low-cost housing – which are the priorities for the majority of people in cities.

The absence of consultation with beneficiaries is a big concern. Public hearings have been held but apparently only in name. Hazards Centre says that its own experience in trying to be heard has been disappointing. “We would be called to a hearing with no notice and then without replying to our objections we would be listed as having been heard,” says Leena. Roy says he has written 15 letters to the Union ministry for urban development but is yet to receive a reply.

It has been much more difficult for average citizens. They have either had no intimation of hearings or been required to decipher voluminous reports without expert assistance. When the Hazards Centre asked citizens’ groups about projects that are supposed to be coming up, they invariably had no knowledge of them or had difficulty locating them.

The CDPs were meant to document the vision for cities. It was intended that they be crafted out of wide discussion and a search for new answers to longstanding problems. But the CDPs don’t seem to have any evidence of this.

In the case of Hyderabad for instance, the CDP gives a vague list of stakeholders consulted and says that among them were “representatives of poor communities”. It is no different in Mumbai. In Bangalore’s CDP it is stated that 50 stakeholder consultations were held between March and June 2006 and the stakeholders included “government agencies, ULBs, NGOs, elected representatives, trade associations and the public.”

One city that seems to stand out for its consultative process is Pune. It provides details of three stakeholder meetings with specific points raised and attributed to stakeholders. The discussions also seem to have gone into difficult issues such as relocation of slum dwellers and their need for finance and so on.

If the CDPs are lacking in vision it is perhaps because they have no clear ownership. The task of drafting them, says the Hazards Centre, seems to have been left to consultants. “When NGOs have been involved, they have been chosen because they are known to be market-friendly,” alleges Roy.

The CDPs are fuzzy on figures for population, employment, migration and so on though these are readily available in most cases and should have been used to define a clear vision for the future of a city.

“How can plans be made for a city when a CDP does not spell out the baseline data with which the consultants are working?” asks Narayanan.

How thorough has the Hazards Centre been? Has it allowed its own position against privatisation in general to influence its assessment of JNNURM?

Asked about this, Roy says the Hazards Centre’s interest is in what works. “All evidence points to private-public partnerships not working. If that is so why are we pushing them?” he asks.

In the case of JNNURM, the stakes are particularly high. If the government’s single biggest initiative on urban renewal is adrift, as the Hazards Centre says, then an opportunity to showcase India’s growth through its cities will be lost together with precious time and resources.

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Filed under Infrastructure finance, JNNURM, Land, Urban reforms Agenda

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