“Urbanisation is our opportunity and priority,” said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in his speech in Parliament, as he presented the Union Budget 2018, presumably the current government’s last big one before the nation goes for elections in 2019.
Cities, per se, however did not see too much exclusive focus except in a few allusions to big-ticket schemes introduced by the current dispensation and a couple of city-specific allocations.
Here is a quick round-up of what Budget 2018 had to say about the plans for India’s urban future:
Air pollution in Delhi and NCR
Concern for the alarming levels of pollution in the National Capital Region and the root causes for the same had already been flagged in the Economic Survey, customarily released a couple of days ahead of the budget. In his budget speech, Jaitley referred to a special scheme that would be implemented to support the efforts of the governments of Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and the NCT of Delhi to address air pollution. Under the scheme, machinery required for in-situ management of crop residue would also be subsidised.
Under the Prime Minister Awas Yojana, launched in both rural and urban areas to meet the objective of housing for all by 2022, assistance has been sanctioned to construct 37 lakh houses in urban areas in 2018-19.
Towards the greater mission of universal housing, a dedicated Affordable Housing Fund (AHF) would be earmarked in the National Housing Bank, funded from priority sector lending shortfall and fully serviced bonds authorized by the Government of India. This has predictably pumped up real estate stocks.
The Minister referred to 99 cities that have been selected with an outlay of Rs 2.04 lakh crore under the Smart Cities Mission, under which projects like Smart Command and Control Centre, Smart Roads, Solar Rooftops, Intelligent Transport Systems, Smart Parks are in various stages of completion. Projects worth Rs 2350 crore have been completed and works of Rs 20,852 crore are under progress.
Under the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), state level plans of Rs 77,640 crore for 500 cities have been approved.
Water supply contracts for 494 projects worth Rs 19,428 crore and sewerage work contract for 272 projects costing Rs 12,429 crore have been awarded.
Credit rating for cities
The Economic Survey had already referred to the challenge of raising resources of the magnitude required to meet India’s urbanisation imperative, especially given its commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals, #11 of which is to make “cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.” To that end the Survey had suggested that Urban Local Bodies generate resources through financial instruments such as municipal bonds, PPPs and credit risk guarantees.
In his budget speech, the Finance Minister stated that 482 cities have started credit rating, and 144 cities have got investment grade rating.
The Mumbai-Bengaluru bonanza
The thriving metro cities of Mumbai and Bengaluru saw specific proposed allocations for mobility network.
Mumbai’s local rail network is being expanded and augmented to add 90 kilometers of double line tracks at a cost of over Rs 11,000 crore. 150 kilometres of additional suburban network is being planned at a cost of over Rs 40,000 crore, including elevated corridors on some sections.
A suburban rail network of approximately 160 kilometres at an estimated cost of Rs 17,000 crore is being planned for Bengaluru.
India’s first high speed rail project launched in September 2017, the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project, will also be benefited as an Institute is coming up at Vadodara that will train personnel to serve high speed rail projects.
Will urban planning get a boost?
Referring to higher education and augmentation of investments in research and related infrastructure in premier educational institutions, Jaitley said that the government would be setting up two new full-fledged Schools of Planning and Architecture (SPA), to be selected on challenge mode. Additionally, 18 new SPAs would be established in the IITs and NITs as autonomous Schools, also on challenge mode.
Other potential impact areas
In addition to the above direct proposals for urban regions, Jaitley’s budget outlined several other schemes and proposals that could have a bearing on the life of urban citizens, across all sections of society.
Health: Take, for example, the budget’s biggest announcement, the National Health Protection Scheme under the ‘‘Ayushman Bharat’’ programme. In what could be the world’s largest government funded health care programme, covering over 10 crore poor and vulnerable families (approximately 50 crore beneficiaries), the government has committed to providing coverage of up to Rs 5 lakh per family per year for secondary and tertiary care hospitalization. If implemented well, this could have significant implications for the health of the urban poor.
Air travel: The regional connectivity scheme of UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik) plans to connect 56 unserved airports and 31 unserved helipads across the country. The government proposes to expand airport capacity across India by more than five times, to handle a billion trips annually year under a new initiative – NABH Nirman.
Rail travel: The Budget emphasises a ‘Safety First’ policy, with allocation of adequate funds under Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh. All stations with more than 25000 footfalls will have escalators. All railway stations and trains will be progressively provided with wi-fi. CCTVs will be provided at all stations and on trains to enhance security of passengers.
In the final analysis, however, it is perhaps prudent to remember that the Budget is, after all, just a statement of accounts of the government. Proposals, schemes and plans are only as good as their final implementation on the ground, quantum of allocations notwithstanding.