Researching the politics of development



The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM): Lessons learnt

5 November 2014.
By Sundar Burra.
The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), articulated in 2005-06 with a budget of more than Rs.60,000 crores, signalled the beginning of a focus upon the ‘urban’. There were 65 cities where the Urban Infrastructure and Governance (UIG) sub-Mission and the Basic Services for the Urban Poor (BSUP) sub-Mission were to be implemented. A few hundred smaller towns were to be covered under other similar programmes.
The JNNURM – particularly its UIG component – was primarily meant to be a demand-based, reform-driven programme that would be a game-changer and incentivise the induction of private capital. That did not happen, for many reasons, but at least because – as in other government programmes – expenditure became the measure of success and various key reforms were put on the back burner in the race to spend budgetary allocations. The BSUP, the poorer cousin in JNNURM, became synonymous with building new houses for the urban poor and its impact was limited. Legislation for Community Participation and Public Disclosure has not been passed in many states.
JNNURM has been a flagship programme of the Government of India. Reportedly, new initiatives are being planned by the new Government at the Centre and so it is an appropriate time to do some stock-taking. Isher Judge Ahluwalia’s book, Transforming Our Cities, documents many success stories in different towns and cities around water supply, wastewater disposal and treatment, solid waste management, public transport and city planning, and so on.
It is important to analyse these success stories to learn what mix of ingredients she mentions led to success: leadership, the local political and bureaucratic environment and the roles played both by the State and Central Governments. What lends itself to replication and how do we try to come up with such a mix are questions that need to be answered. Just as success stories are important, so too are stories of failure or of potential not realised. What lessons can be learnt and how can we avoid making the same mistakes in planning and implementation? Can we reimagine JNNURM?
Firstly, simple arithmetic tells us that, given the amount of subsidy available and the magnitude of urban poverty, efforts to build new houses for the urban poor will reach only a miniscule proportion of them. To get much better value for money, the emphasis should be on universalisation of basic services, like water, sanitation, drainage, pathways and electricity for all slums. A much higher proportion of the urban poor will benefit. Improved health for children and adults, and greater longevity and productivity will surely follow, as will the benefit of dignity for women. The provision of basic services, along with some form of security of tenure, are essential requirements to improve the condition of the urban poor, but both have been neglected under BSUP.
Secondly, with the exception of a few cities, there has hardly been any community participation in the identification of needs or in planning and implementation of projects and activities. In most cities, there is no institutional mechanism to secure the participation of communites, and in some cases, there are few civil society groups to take up such a challenge. As a result, in some cities where relocation was planned, houses have been built for the poor but remain unoccupied, because they are  in distant locations, usually without,  or with unaffordable, public transport.
In the absence of livelihood opportunities or social infrastructure, like schools and health centres, people are either reluctant to move in, or, if they do,they then move back to central locations in the city, even if they go back to the slums. It is evident that the links between habitat and livelihoods are inadequately appreciated. It is striking that the programme fared much better where there was a long institutional history of community development – as in Visakhapatnam in Andhra – or where a partnership developed between the State agencies and community-based organisations/non-governmental organisations – as in Pune and Bhubaneswar.
Thirdly, in the absence of community participation, City Development Plans (CDPs) and Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) were prepared by consultants and then evaluated by consultants. The consultancy industry grew at a healthy pace, but the reports had very little connection with local reality – in the absence of local knowledge and under the pressure of tight deadlines – and hence could not be implemented. CDPs, meant to articulate the vision for a city, were blind to its specificities. Non-implementation of DPRs, or re-doing them, led to huge delays and huge cost escalation. Since there was no provision for escalation, projects remained incomplete or corners were cut in implementation. There have been instances of ‘cut-and-paste’ jobs when consultants have forgotten to change the name of the city!
Fourthly, the administration of the scheme was over-centralised, as every minor change required the approval of the Centre, leading again to delay. There was hardly any flexibility and it was a common refrain by State officials that a ‘one size fits all’ policy cannot accommodate the wide variations that characterise different States and cities in terms of levels of urbanisation, densities of population, proportions of the urban poor, amounts of land available, and so on.
Should all housing have ground plus two or three floors? In many smaller towns and cities, a rural way of life persists in the new environment. How can lay-outs and building designs accommodate the rearing of cattle or the use of biomass for cooking? Why would a family occupying a larger plot of land in Bhopal, Jaipur or Ahmedabad agree to live in a smaller flat of 275 or 300 square feet? How are people’s livelihood concerns to be addressed? Why cannot these decisions be taken at State/local levels? Was federalism being trampled upon? Many State Government officials felt that grants should be given to the States under broad heads and State Governments should have the freedom to formulate their own programmes.
Fifthly, it seems that huge quantities of data were being collected without clear purpose. What is the value of filling family profile forms for, say, 100,000 families, when in a given year there will be projects for say only 2,000 families? These data become obsolete as deaths take place, births are registered and some families migrate elsewhere. It should be enough to do a slum profile in half a day, with rough approximations/estimates of population after holding focus group discussions. Family profiles can be taken up once a project is sanctioned and ready for implementation. Money and time will be saved. It would be instructive to analyse what practical purposes have been or can be served by all the data collected so far.
Sixthly, we need to revisit the vexed issue – in the backdrop of the 74th Constitutional Amendment – of whether Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) are the appropriate agencies to implement the JNNURM. Their lack of institutional capacity and the fact that funds, functions and functionaries have not been adequately devolved or provided, are a real hurdle. Project Management Units (PMUs), staffed by consultants on fixed term contracts, focused in most cases on project implementation, monitoring and evaluation, rather than upon building the capacity of State agencies and hence the original objective remained unmet.
The sub-Missions of UIG and BSUP were given money in the ratio of about 70:30. We need to ask why JNNURM thought it desirable to compartmentalise urban infrastructure investments (the UIG component) and the extension of basic services to the urban poor (the BSUP component). The effect of making such a separation was that the design of UIG projects typically left out considerations of poverty. Can people who rely on walking or cycling to get around the city afford to travel in air-conditioned buses? Flyovers are also inaccessible to those who are primarily pedestrians or cyclists. How can we plan infrastructural investments in ways that are inclusive of the poor rather than exclusionary? The decision to have a common leadership for the Ministries of Urban Development and Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation is a welcome step from the point of view of bridging the disconnect between UIG and BSUP.
Yes, JNNURM has brought the urban sector to public attention, but has it alleviated urban poverty? Can we go back to the drawing board and universalise basic services for the urban poor? International and Indian experience suggest that the poor will incrementally improve their houses out of their own or borrowed resources, if they are given some form of security of tenure. Unfortunately, in most cities, the difficult task of giving tenure was not resolved, but houses were built or upgraded where people already had tenure.
Beyond these specific issues, which speak to a need to redesign JNNURM towards developing state capacity to catalyse inclusive and democratic urban development, some broader issues are also worthy of consideration: Did the definition of a slum as a cluster of 60 or more households result in under-counting and under- estimations of slum populations? Was JNNURM biased towards larger cities, as many Census towns were left out of its ambit? Was it a ploy, as some critics suggest, to sanitise the city and push the poor far away from sight? All those interested need to address these difficult questions.
This blog is based upon two rounds of field research  in 11 cities originally and followed up by repeat visits to Pune, Bhubaneswar, Visakhapatnam, Bhopal and Patna – by staff of the NGO Society for Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC). The work is part of an on-going research study in different countries by the Effective States and Inclusive Development Research Centre of The University of Manchester.
Sundar Burra had careers both in the IAS and with the NGO SPARC, but is now retired from both. He is a researcher for ESID’s urban poverty project.