“The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission. There is no doubt that India by and large still lives in our villages. But the development process of the past five decades has made a significant difference. An increasing share of our population now lives in urban India. Urbanisation is a relentless process, which has come to stay and has to be factored into all our developmental thinking and development processes. We have already added 65 million persons to our urban population in the decade of the `90s alone. We are poised to have nearly fifty per cent of India living in our cities by the earlier part of the present century and that should give you an idea of the magnitude of the development and renewal task that awaits all of us.
With urbanization comes the need to invest in infrastructure and improve the quality of life in our cities. Rapid urbanization has not only outpaced infrastructure development, but has also brought in its train a terrible downside – the downside of proliferating slums, the downside of increasing homelessness, the downside of growing urban poverty and crime, of relentless march of pollution and ecological damage. This gives you an idea of the massive challenge that lies ahead.
Recognising this challenge of an acute urban crisis, the National Common Minimum Programme had stressed that the government initiate a process of urban renewal. I am happy that today we are commencing this new effort through the launch of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission.
I compliment the Ministries of Urban Development, Urban Employment and Poverty Alleviation, Planning Commission, state governments, urban local bodies and other experts who have participated in the preparation of this Mission. This Mission is the single largest initiative of the Government of India for a planned development of our cities. It responds to the long-standing demand for tapping the vast potential and vitality of our cities.
Our urban economy has become an important driver of economic growth. It is also the bridge between the domestic economy and the global economy. It is a bridge we must strengthen. The latent creativity and vitality of our cities and the people who live in them must be tapped to facilitate higher economic growth.
It is therefore, a matter of great satisfaction for all of us that this new Mission is being named after Jawaharlal Nehru. Panditji used to refer to factories as the temples of modern India. He saw in industrialization a renewed hope for urban India. The infrastructure created by Panditji has helped the process of industrialization enormously. However, our cities have not been able to cope with the pressures of industrial development and the growth of the services economy. In many cities like Bangalore, the phenomenal growth of the services sector in the last decade has exerted unexpected pressure on urban infrastructure and services. If we do not take remedial steps, the future could be in jeopardy.
As we build infrastructure we must also improve the quality of living for all those who live in our cities. Our vision of urban development has so far been uni-dimensional. This must change. We have thus far focused more on space and less on people. We need to have an integrated framework, in which spatial development of cities goes hand-in-hand with improvement in the quality of living of ordinary people living there. An important element of our strategy has to be slum improvement and providing housing for the poor.
To improve urban infrastructure and provide urban services for the poor, we need urgently urban governance reform. I am happy that this Mission has been structured with a clear focus on these two important components – urban infrastructure and basic services to the urban poor, with governance reform as an overarching third component.
Governance reform should be seen as a massive catalyst for change. Shri Rajiv Gandhi had conceived, with great foresight, the 74th Constitution Amendment for decentralization of power to the urban local bodies. While considerable ground has been covered under the 73rd Amendment relating to Panchayats, an honest assessment would show that the 74th Amendment has not yet been effectively translated into improved urban governance.
Cities unfortunately with some exceptions, have not been enabled to look inward and build on their inherent capacities, both financial and technical, and instead are still being seen in many states as ‘wards’ of the State governments. This should and this must change.
The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission is a city-based programme. It will seek to build the capacity of our cities for management. Cities have the financial muscle and the technical resources to rebuild themselves. We see the governance reform-related proposal in the Mission for a participation law and a disclosure law, as enabling the cities to locate the needed human and financial resources for improving its services. This is a major reform for the governance of our cities.
To tap technical resources, the Mission envisages the creation of a Voluntary Technical Corps in each city. I place great hope on this effort, as I am personally aware that a large number of urban professionals today want to contribute their skills for the improvement of their cities. Many cities like Bangalore, Mumbai, Thiruvananthapuram have come up with citizen initiatives for urban renewal. This process would be strengthened through the creation of Voluntary Technical Corps for each of our city.