Skip to main content

Union budget: Except metro rail projects, no 'appreciable' increase in urban sector

By Tathagata Chatterji* 

Coronavirus had badly impacted urban India, which accommodates one-third of its population and two-thirds of economic production. Metro cities, which are nerve centers of the economy and gateways to global trade, turned into pandemic epicenters. Millions of jobs were lost during the Covid-19 peak and lockdown phase, which triggered an unprecedented wave of deurbanization of migrant workers.
The pandemic had also widened urban social divides. Ignored and entrenched socio-economic inequalities in our city systems regarding access to water, sanitation, healthcare, and digital connectivity, have come out in the open. It is imperative to get our cities, especially metropolitan cities, up and running again, create jobs, and meet India's burgeoning youth population's livelihood aspirations.
Would the first post-pandemic Budget help us restart our city economies in full throttle and help us build better, healthier, and more humane cities? Analysis of the Budget presents a mixed picture. Finance Minister (FM) Nirmala Sitharaman addressed several issues related to urban infrastructure while presenting the Union Budget 2021-22.
Total funds earmarked for the urban development have also gone up from Rs 50,040 crore in FY 2020-21 to Rs 54,581 crore in FY 2021-22, an overall increase of 9.07 percent. However, funds allocated for transfer to the states for centrally sponsored schemes had remained static at Rs 24,845 between FY 2020-21 and FY-2020-22. Moreover, devolution of grants to the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) had also gone down from Rs 25,098 crore in FY 2019-20 to Rs 22,114 crore in FY 2021-22 – a drop of 11.89 percent.
Urban-centric issues in the budget speech could be broadly grouped around the themes of cleanliness, mobility, and shelter.

Cleanliness

The Economic Survey 2021-22 and the 15th Finance Commission report strongly emphasized the criticality of sanitation and water services in the Covid-19. With cleanliness high on the government's priority table, the Swatch Bharat Mission received a new impetus in the Budget. Announcing Swatch Bharat Mission 2.0, the FM  mentioned that the scheme would aim towards complete fecal sludge management and wastewater treatment, source segregation of garbage, reduce single-use plastic, and manage waste construction-and-demolition activities, and bioremediation of garbage dump sites. The second phase of the mission would be implemented over five years through an outlay of rupees 1.41 lakh crore.
Additionally, Rs 2,217 crore was allocated to address air pollution in 42 big cities with more than one million. Moreover, to provide universal piped water supply in all 4,378 ULBs over the next five years, the FM announced the Jal Jeevan Mission (Urban) launching with an allocation of Rs 2.87 lakh crore.

Mobility

FM highlighted both bus and rail-based systems under mobility. Presently, the country has a metro rail network of 702 km, and another 1,016 km of the network is under-construction in 27 Indian cities. She declared that expansion of rail-based mass transit system shall be carried out for Tier-II cities and fringe areas of Tier-I cities primarily through MetroLite and MetroNeo technologies.
According to the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA), the Metrolite trains would have 3-car units capable of carrying 300 passengers at a maximum speed of 60 km per hour. The trains would be powered by 750V DC overhead traction and standard run-on gauge of 1435 mm width laid at grade or elevated. MetroLite trains' capital costs are about 40 percent of conventional metro lines and are also cheaper to maintain. The MetroNeo trains, which even cheaper, can run on road slabs and have rubber tires.
Adaptation of light rail systems will provide a cleaner and greener mass transit system at a cheaper cost. The Budget also announced that the Centre would provide counterpart funding for the extension of the metro rail networks of Kochi (Rs 1,957 crore), Chennai (Rs 63,246), Bengaluru (Rs 14,788), Nagpur (Rs 5,957 crore) and Nashik (Rs 2,092 crore).
Budget also announced a scheme to augment city bus services through an 'innovative' PPP (Public-Private Partnership) model. It was mentioned 20,000 new buses would be added for which Rs 18,000 crore is allocated. But what form and shape the 'innovative PPP mode' would take and reconfigure public-sector bus transport undertakings remains to be seen.

Shelter

The government announced an affordable rental housing program as a sub-scheme under the PMAY (Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana), through PPP mode as part of the economic stimulus package in May 2020. The Budget 2021-22 sought to facilitate affordable housing through indirect measures by extending tax breaks for the developers of notified affordable housing projects. Similarly, income tax rebates of Rs 1.5 lakh for individual home buyers were also extended until March 2022.
With the pandemic accelerating the digitalization process, it was hoped that the FM would announce additional funds for the Smart Cities Mission, a flagship initiative of the NDA government. Moreover, Integrated Command and Control Centres developed under the mission played significant roles in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic through spatial tracking of virus outbreaks, hospital beds' availability, and targeted emergency medical assistance delivery. 
Would the first post-pandemic Budget help restart our city economies in full throttle, help build better, healthier, more humane cities?
But the prestigious mission failed to receive any additional support in Budget 2021-22. Similarly, the allocation for the AMRUT (Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation) had remained static between FY 2020-21 and 2021-22.
Both missions were launched in 2015 to upgrade Indian cities to international standards by infusing digital technology and streamlining management practices. However, five years down the road, both projects are struggling with low fund utilization. In the revised Budget for FY 2020-21, the Smart Cities allocation was sharply cut by Rs 3,050 crore from the original allocation of Rs 6,450 crore, while AMRUT faced a more modest reduction of Rs 850 crore from allocated Rs 7,300 crore. In FY 2021-22, both the missions are assigned with the same amount as in the previous year.
Expectations from Budget 2021-22 of an urban employment guarantee program went in vain after the COVID-19 induced livelihood crisis of informal workers in the cities. The hopes were in line with the rural-centric MGNREGA to reduce vulnerabilities of the urban poor.
The Budget failed to provide any additional financial support for the ongoing urban poverty alleviation program- Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana National Urban Livelihood Mission (DAY-NULM). The self-help groups (SHG) registered under the DAY-NULM in various states contributed enormously to the battle against the pandemic by producing over 6.80 crore masks and 2,84,000 liters of hand sanitizers. Moreover, the mission had generated over 21 lakh livelihoods.
But in Budget 2021-22, the DAY-NULM was allocated only Rs 795 crore -- the same amount as in FY 2019-20. Additionally, Rs 200 crore was allocated for PM SVANIDHI (Prime Minister's Street Vendor Atmanirbhar Nidhi) and Rs 100 crore under Nirman Kaushal Vikas Yojana (NKVY). More generous funding for these ameliorating poverty schemes could have helped reduce the urban poor's livelihood vulnerabilities in these difficult times.
The DAY- NULM, together with PM- SVANIDHI and NKVY account for only Rs 1,095 crore, just about 10 percent of their rural counterparts. The rural livelihood mission- Ajeevika was allocated Rs 10,005 crore crore in FY 2019-20, which had gone up to Rs 14,473 crore in FY 2021-22 -- a sharp 44.65 percent increase. Even though India is going through a process of steady urbanization of poverty, acknowledgment of the phenomenon seems limited in the top policy circles.

Supply-side approach

To sum up, the Budget had reposed faith in the supply-side approach, focusing on augmenting urban infrastructure, and had sought to favor the PPP model to deliver significant projects. Except for metro rail projects, direct budgetary support for urban sector schemes does not show any appreciable increase. This could be attributed to the difficulties faced by the government due to the Covid-induced economic downturn and shortfalls in revenue collection.
However, the flow of funds for urban development may improve substantially in near future, as the FM tabled the report of the 15th Finance Commission on the day of the budget presentation. The 15th Finance Commission has allocated Rs 1.21 lakh crore in grants to the ULBs over five years compared to Rs 87,000 crore by the 14th Finance Commission. Recognizing the importance of the million-plus cities in the Indian economy, the 15th Finance Commission has set aside Rs 38,196 crore has been set aside as performance-linked grants for 50 million-plus cities.
Basic grants are available for smaller ULBs. Moreover, the 15th Finance Commission also suggested an additional grant of Rs 70,051 crore to rural and urban local governments for developing public health infrastructure and primary health clinics. If implemented properly, these recommendations can improve the financial health of Indian cities and reduce disparities with regard to health care facilities in Indian cities. However, to enable the ULBs to utilize additional fund flows optimally, it would be necessary to improve their techo-managerial capacities simultaneously.
---
*Professor, Urban Management & Governance, Xavier University, Bhubaneswar

Comments

TRENDING

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Did Modi promote Dholavira, a UNESCO site now, as Gujarat CM? Facts don't tally

By Rajiv Shah  As would generally happen, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tweet – that not only was he “absolutely delighted” with the news of UNESCO tag to Dholavira, but he “ first visited ” the site during his “student days and was mesmerised by the place” – is being doubted by his detractors. None of the two tweets, strangely, even recalls once that it’s a Harappan site in Gujarat.

Labelling a Jesuit a Marxist? It's like saying if you use a plane, you become American

Jesuits: Cedric Prakash, Stan Swamy By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ* A thirteen- fourteen-year-old has many dreams! That's an impressionable age; at the cusp of finishing school. It is also a time when one tastes a different kind of freedom: to go for camps with boys of your own age (not with ones family). Such camps and outings were always enjoyed to the hilt. The ones, however, which still remain etched in my memory are the mission camps to the Jesuit missions in Maharashtra and Gujarat.

Giant conglomerates 'favoured': Whither tribal rights for jal-jungle-jameen?

Prafull Samantara By Mohammad Irshad Ansari*  The struggle for “Jal, Jungle and Jameen” has been a long-drawn battle for the tribal communities of India. This tussle was once again in the limelight with the proposed diamond mining in the Buxwaha forest of Chhatarpur (Madhya Pradesh). The only difference in this movement was the massive social media support it gained, which actually seems to tilt the scale for the tribal people in a long time.

If not Modi, then who? Why? I (an ordinary citizen) am there! Main hoon naa!

By Mansee Bal Bhargava*  The number of women ministers is doubled in early July from the first term after cabinet reshuffle by the present government led by Narendra Modi. While there were 06 women ministers in the previous term, this term there are 11. The previous two governments led by Dr Manmohan Singh had 10 women ministers in each tenure. Are these number of women ministers something to rejoice in the near 75 years of independence? Yes maybe, if we think that things are slowly improving in the patriarchal system. This change is less likely to achieve gender balance in the parliament otherwise we require more than 11 as per the 33% reservation . This change is also less likely because the men politicians’ inability to handle the country’s mess is becoming more and more evident and especially during the corona crisis. Seems, the addition of more women ministers may be a result of the recent assembly elections where women played a decisive role in the election results. For example

Effluent discharge into deep sea? Modi told to 'reconsider' Rs 2275 crore Gujarat project

Counterview Desk  In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, well-known Gujarat-based environmentalist, Mahesh Pandya of the Paryavaran Mitra, has protested against the manner in with the Gujarat government is continuing with its deep sea effluent disposal project despite environmental concerns.

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Gujarat govt gender insensitive? Cyclone package for fisherfolk 'ignores' poor women

By Our Representative A memorandum submitted to the Gujarat government by various fisherfolk associations of the Saurashtra region of Gujarat under the leadership of Ahmedabad NGO Centre for Social Justice's senior activist Arvind Khuman, who is based in Amreli, has suggested that the relief package offered to the fishermen affected by the Tauktae cyclone is not only inadequate, it is also gender insensitive.

Debt bondage, forced labour, sexual abuse in Gujarat's Bt cottonseed farms: Dutch study

By Rajiv Shah  A just-released study, sponsored by a Netherlands-based non-profit, Arisa , “Seeds of Oppression Wage sharecropping in Bt cottonseed production in Gujarat, India”, has said that a new form of bondage, or forced labour, exists in North India’s Bt cottonseed farms, in which bhagiyas, or wage sharecroppers, are employed against advances and are then often required to work for years together “without regular payment of wages.”

Tussle between Modi-led BJP govt, Young India 'key to political battle': NAPM

Counterview Desk  In its month-long campaign, civil rights network National Alliance for People’s Movements (NAPM) carried out what it called Young People's Political Persecution and Resistance in “solidarity with all comrades facing political persecution and remembering human rights defender Stan Swamy…”