City Lights

According to a World Bank report titled Dealing with Construction Permits, India is languishing at the 183rd position in this parameter, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Afghanistan (185). But, finally, the government has attacked this in right earnest. March has been a watershed month of sorts in the history of construction in India. The Budget announcement on allowing 100-per-cent deduction for profits to projects building homes up to 30 sq m in the four metros and 60 sq m in other cities is likely to spur supply of affordable homes. This was followed by the passing of the Real-Estate Regulatory Act (RERA), which has created a robust structure for protecting homebuyers. And recently, the Model Building Bye Laws 2016 were proposed – these provide a structural framework for a single-window, integrated, building plan approval process and set the maximum time limit for all kind of building approvals at 30 days, after which the approval can be considered ´deemed´. All these measures have come at a time when the sector is reeling under debt stress and low demand but they form firm pillars for the sector to stand upon during better times. The next wave of the economic boom can be well sustained for a longer duration with systems in place that provide checks and balances.

Our cities are in definite need for resuscitation. As per a 21-city survey conducted by Janaagraha, our cities continue to score poorly in comparison with the likes of London and New York.

The lowest-ranked city among all is surprisingly Chandigarh, having the dubious distinction of coming last among 21 for the second time in a row. Further, our cities are grossly underprepared to deliver a high quality of life that is sustainable in the long term.

This is particularly worrisome given the rapid pace of urbanisation in India and the huge backlog in public service delivery. Cities face governance challenges on multiple levels. Most fail to disclose audited accounts. They have no evaluation mechanism for the plans implemented by the municipal corporations. They have extremely weak finances and no city among the 21 reviewed has an effective system in place to monitor and prevent violations or mechanisms to undertake punitive or corrective action. City leaders don´t really have the power to formulate a long-term vision or the length of tenure to execute the same. How is it possible for Bengaluru and Jaipur to become smart cities unless they provide some stability to their commissioners? Both cities have had six commissioners in five years while Raipur has had eight! The Swachh Bharat mission has also ranked the ´cleanest cities´ in India where Mysore, Chandigarh and Tiruchirapalli have secured the top three honours. Now, the smart cities challenge launched by the Ministry of Urban Development has set a race among cities and their leaders, including chief ministers, in urban renewal. Although there is a long way to go, this is now being taken up on a war footing.

So far all deadlines for the smart cities mission have been maintained and the programme appears to be moving forward to prepare India to rebuild its growth engines: Its cities. Read this issue´s cover story for a ringside view of the plans for the cities of tomorrow…..