Four Years of Modi Govt: Disaster for the Urban Populace

Tikender Singh Panwar

THE BJP party which was considered to be an urban party-having more influence in the cities was supposed to address the urban issues better than its predecessors in ruling. But, four years of the BJP rule at the centre with a clear majority of its own has completely disappointed the people living in the cities.

Today more than 1/3rd of the people live in urban centres. There are over 7,935 small and big towns and 468 class 1 cities. These cities are those which hold a population of above 1, 00,000. Nearly 70 per cent of the urban populace lives in these class 1 cities.

The cities contribute over 2/3rd of country’s GDP and 90 per cent of total government revenue. Hence the cities have also been termed as the power houses of growth in India. Quite obviously the people living in such spaces have great ambitions and wishes for their secure future. It is a fact that more than 40 per cent of the people in the large cities live in slums where the struggle to live is an everyday struggle. In less than a million population cites, the percentage of people in slums is more than 60 per cent. The people demand a decent living with proper jobs, adequate utilities which are affordable and good infrastructure both social and material for their liveability.

BJP PROMISES FOR URBAN CITIZENS

The BJP had very explicitly mentioned about the following promises: inclusive and sustainable development; quality life in villages and cities, basic amenities to all; massive infrastructure development, major steps in housing and transport, 100 new cities with sustainability and massive core infrastructure; upgrade existing urban centres, transitioning focus from basic infrastructure to public utility services like waste and water management; empowerment of the poor. The tool to carry out these ‘noble’ goals was to: strengthen local governance; improve their finances; cheaper housing for all; plug the deficiencies in critical infrastructure and service deficiencies like water power and transportation etc.

The delivery however has been quite non-concomitant to the promises made. Apparently nowhere even near to that.

The BJP had promised to build 20 million (two crore) houses for the urban poor in the country. However, an appraisal done recently has pointed out that just 3.61 lakh houses could be constructed which is 1.8 per cent of the total promised. Interestingly, 87 per cent of all the houses constructed are a follow up or convergence of previous programmes.

The 100 smart cities programme was considered to be a major leap in planning the infrastructure in the cities. These cities then were supposed to be the light houses of development for the others. The smart city programme is probably a complete damp-squib. The reality today is that even the BJP doe not want to talk much about this programme. There is a two-component investment strategy in these smart cities. Area based development (ABD), which is for a small area based on the size of the city and pan city development which mainly is about the information, communication and technology (ICT) solutions for traffic, transport etc. The core infrastructure is envisaged under the ABD which caters to a small population and region. But quite surprisingly 90 per cent of the total budget is consumed by the ABD which has an impact on 9 per cent of the population in the cities.

The smart city framework also happens to be challenging the direct authority of the elected institutions in the cities. The Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) which is to carry forward the agenda of the smart city needs to be registered under the companies act and the elected municipality is not a member of the SPV. It is headed either by a bureaucrat or some World Bank official and it is not answerable to the council. Many of the cities had refused to work under such paradigm shift framework of governance.

The implementation of the smart cities is also very tardy. Just 7 per cent from the central government has been offloaded to over 60 cities under the SCP. Seventy per cent of the projects are in development stage with just 5 per cent completion so far. The smart city mission has failed in empowering the municipal governments to bring together the institutional framework for urban development and rather proposes selective development.

The evictions of the poor continue unabated in the cities. The street vendors act which was an instrument to regularise vending mechanism has hardly been implemented. The homelessness in the cities has increased in the last few years and forceful eviction and demolitions of over 54 thousand houses has been documented in the recent past.

Another flagship programme of the BJP has been the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT). This programme was supposed to plug the gap in the water and sanitation delivery. The water networks both in slums and other areas was supposed to get a facelift under AMRUT. It looks like there is more of rhetoric and less of real intent to deliver. Simply because, the central assistance to address urban poor’s access to water has been just 19 per cent so far. There is a high cost that the poor living in the cities are forced to pay for water. They do not have regular connections of water and have to look at the informal sector for the delivery.  There is huge nexus of private water suppliers and even city government- including the officers and the corporators in the supply of water to such colonies either directly or through tankers.

Swach Bharat Mission (SBM) has consumed bulk of advertisements of the central government. It was launched in October 2014 in a mission mode. The main objective was to eliminate open defecation by constructing over one crore toilets in the country and promoting scientific management of municipal solid waste (MSW). Keeping all the high-pitched campaign aside, till date only 34 per cent of the toilets have been constructed. The target is to construct over 1.04 crore toilets. The plan is completely one sided. Without being able to dispose the waste from these toilets the situation will further worsen. In absence of proper sewage treatment plants (STPs), the dumping of sewage in nearby canals has further worsened the situation. It is estimated that over 78 per cent of total waste generated is untreated in the urban India. Even the parliamentary standing committee on urban development(2017-18) criticised the present government for lack of realistic projections and planning. The report of the committee also revealed gross non-utilisation of budgets allocated to major flagship initiatives thus puncturing the balloon of speedy governance in the country.

URBAN POOR: THE MOST VULNERABLE

It is a hard fact that nearly 90 per cent of the work force works in the informal sector. They are the ones who require the basic services so imminently. The National Urban Livelihood Mission (NULM) was launched with much fanfare by the BJP government. The NULM is the transformation of Swaran Jayanti Shehri Rozgar Yojana (SJSRY) launched by the UPA.  Since its launch the progress has been slow and well low than the other government schemes.

The Bloomberg report has stated that 30 per cent of the youth are neither employed nor in education or training in India. It has commented that the demographic dividend can turn into socio economic nightmare. Only 4.69 per cent of the Indian workforce is presently skilled in comparison to 52 per cent in US, 68 per cent in UK, 75 per cent in Germany, 86 per cent in Japan, 96 per cent in Korea and about 50 per cent in China. Greater the skill larger the capacity of the worker to bargain for a fair share in the jobs. But in India the situation continues to worsen. Interestingly the BJP government had kept a target of 400 million (40 crores) young people to be skilled in  various fields. The figures became a laughing stock. It is revealed that not even 12 per cent of the target has been achieved. Another important feature is that 69 per cent of the jobs in the country are under threat from automation. The artificial intelligence (AI) poses another challenge for the existing jobs in India.  

There is greater informalisation in the cities since the BJP government came to power. The urban informal economy takes place at homes, streets, roadside and pavements, on-site and at unplanned and unauthorised industrial areas and markets. Most of the workers are not even under the ambit of workers welfare boards. In the last four years with large scale evictions under the informal sector, workers have become more miserable thus increasing their economic vulnerability. Demonetisation and GST has shattered their economy with the poor being further pushed to the fringes.

Hence the last four years of Modi government have been a near disaster for the urban populace with their jobs being hit, services being worsened and their liveability being compromised.

 

Newsletter category: