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Our cities are struggling; what do BJP and Congress manifestos promise them?

What do BJP and INC manifestos have on key urban issues such as water, mobility and healthcare? Will their agenda make our cities more liveable?

As the Lok Sabha 2024 election is underway, political parties have released their election manifestos. What do the parties promise for us urban residents? How do they plan to make our cities sustainable and liveable?

Why cities matter

  • In 2022, approximately a third of the total population in India lived in cities. The trend shows an increase in urbanisation by more than 4% over the last decade, which means that people have moved away from rural areas to find work and make a living in the cities.
  • The demographic dividend of India is significant, with 65% of its population being below the age of 35 years.
  • Unemployment rate in February, 2024 was at 8%, according to Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy Pvt. Ltd. (CMIE’s) Consumer Pyramids Household Survey.

Workers are increasingly migrating to urban areas that face various challenges related to natural resources, amenities and services. In light of this, we examine the political parties’ manifestos to understand their proposed solutions. Our analysis specifically focuses on their policies concerning healthcare, urban development, and water management.

Urban issue #1: Healthcare

When it comes to the health of urban populations and the major challenges that the sector faces, here are some of our key findings:

  • Bengaluru: The city witnessed over 4,000 cases and several deaths due to dengue last year. At 4.08, Karnataka tuberculosis (TB) prevalence (P:N) ratio is far higher than the national average of 2.84, Bengaluru recorded a rise of 17% of the notified cases.
  • Chennai: Despite experiencing heat-related health issues and high workloads, nurses in Chennai receive no support to brave extreme heat conditions. Climate change is wreaking havoc around the world. Now, research has found that climatic factors play a role in tuberculosis infections in Chennai.
  • Mumbai: Mumbai witnessed an increase in monsoon maladies, rising TB – 65,617 cases were detected in Mumbai in 2022. Over 40% of Mumbai students suffer from anxiety, depression, and related mental health issues.
A Public Health Centre in Mumbai
Healthcare workers at a fever clinic run by Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC)

BJP has claimed that 34+ crore citizens are receiving free health insurance of Rs 5 lakh under Ayushman Bharat, but data proves otherwise.

According to a paper published by Ashoka University, however, Indian households spent an estimated Rs.120 billion on health and healthcare-related services in November 2022. Government spending on healthcare remains low in India as compared to global standards, resulting in high reliance on the private sector and high proportions of out-of-pocket expenditures by households. Compared to the global average of 18%, Indians spend close to 55% of all expenditure on health, which is financed out-of-pocket.

So, what are the key agenda items for the sector that the two main contenders in the upcoming general elections — the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress (INC) — have laid out in their manifestos?

  • Expand the Ayushman Bharat Yojana to cover senior citizens.
  • Strengthen and expand Ayushman Bharat programme
  • Expand schemes for women to prevent and reduce anaemia, breast cancer, cervical cancer and osteoporosis; a focused initiative to eliminate cervical cancer
  • Make sanitary pads available at 1 Rupee
  • Strengthen traditional practices, including yoga and meditation. Enhance the scope and coverage of mental health initiatives like Manas and Manodarpan
  • Enhanced training capacity for paramedics, technicians, pharmacists and nurses
  • Support ‘Bharatiya’ vaccine manufacturers and biopharma companies to boost production and distribution
  • Emergency and Trauma Care Mission for immediate and effective care to trauma patients
  • Increase the number of UG and PG seats in medical education. Strengthen AIIMS network
  • Work towards elimination of malnutrition among tribal children and of sickle cell anaemia
    …and more
  • Increase budget allocation for health annually, to achieve 4% of total expenditure by 2028-29
  • Rajasthan model of cashless insurance up to Rs 25 lakh
  • Maternity benefits for all women and mandate paid maternity leave by all employers
  • Double the number of Anganwadi workers and creation of additional 14 lakh jobs
  • Double central government contribution to the pay of frontline health workers (such as ASHA, Anganwadi, Mid-Day Meal cooks, etc.)
  • National Mission on Immunisation to ensure 100% of children are immunised within 5 years of age
  • Extend the mid-day meal scheme up to Class XII to fight nutritional deficiency
  • Fill all vacancies in medical and paramedical posts in public health institutions and in medical colleges in three years; establish a government medical college-cum-hospital in each district
  • Review the National Medical Commission (NMC) Act and ensure full autonomy for the NMC to carry out the obligations under the Act
  • Support all medical systems and scrutinise all medicine manufacturers to ensure quality and good manufacturing practices

Urban issue #2: Water management and sanitation

According to a Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) report, ‘Dynamic Ground Water Resources Assessment of India – 2022‘, the overall stage of groundwater extraction in the country is 60.08%! According to the World bank, India is home to 18% of the world’s population, but only 4% of its water resources, placing it among the most water-stressed countries in the world.

manual scavenger
Delhi government has introduced 200 machines that will mechanise sewer cleaning and end manual scavenging. Pic: Wikimedia Commons (CC BY:SA 3.0)

Here is how the water situation is in cities we looked at:

  • Bengaluru: Karnataka has declared drought in 223 out of 240 taluks. Bengaluru has been facing severe water shortage forcing The Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) to implement restrictions, such as banning the use of portable water for non-potable use, and implementing measures to conserve water such as fixing aerators and re-use of treated water for construction, etc. In 2022, the city experienced severe flooding.
  • Chennai: Illegal extraction and poor rainwater harvesting affect groundwater in Chennai. There are issues with water supplied from the Nemmeli desalination plant. A city plagued with cyclones and other weather vagaries is in urgent need for an integrated water management system to prevent floods and drought.
  • Mumbai: Water crisis is deepening gender inequality. Despite promises by political parties, annual Mumbai floods are still a problem. The impact of climate change in Mumbai will increase, according to a new report.

What do the manifestos of BJP and INC say about solving water-related issues?

  • Revive water bodies as part of overall thrust on sustainable and people-friendly cities
  • Create water-secure cities, leveraging best practices for wastewater treatment, aquifer recharge and smart metering for bulk consumers.
  • Create a curriculum for urban governance that will include urban water management
  • Revitalise rivers
  • Support state governments in developing systems to treat water contamination; ensure comprehensive water quality management
  • Ensure clean drinking water, Har Ghar Nal se Jal, for all households; use technology to reduce water wastage
  • Work with state and local governments to stop discharge of effluents into rivers and water bodies; Discharge of any kind of effluent into rivers will be prohibited by law
  • Expand the remit of Ministry of Jal Shakti and bring all water-related activities and departments under one authority.
  • Implement a nationwide plan to provide potable water in all cities
  • Mandatory water harvesting; Desalination plants in coastal areas
  • Collaborate with states to create comprehensive underground drainage network and safe disposal of sewage in all towns and municipalities in 10 years
  • Focus on storage in dams and water bodies, and on replenishing groundwater. Create a large participatory water management programme

Urban issue #3: Overall city governance

Urban development in India is a multifaceted challenge, encompassing the need for improved mobility and sustainable transportation, robust infrastructure, and efficient waste management.

Chennai city
World Bank’s Chennai City Partnership project aims to transform Chennai into a world-class city. Representative image. Pic: JK/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY:SA 4.0)

Here are some of the key issues plaguing our cities:

  • Bengaluru: A long pending, yet key demand has been the implementation of the 74th Amendment. The last municipal election was in 2015, the city has been functioning without an elected municipal government for the last 4 years now. Poor implementation of Smart city projects.
  • Chennai: Civic organisations in Chennai have voiced several concerns and put forward demands for clean air, better mobility, housing and fisher welfare.
  • Mumbai: This city, too, has been waiting for civic body elections for over two years now. Several Metro lines have been commissioned, but it has not resulted in reduced traffic and last mile connectivity continues to be a problem for Mumbaikars. Toll charges are adding to their travel costs.

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) Audit report flagged urban local bodies (ULBs) as being powerless and cash-strapped. ULBs, of which the Mayor is the head, are powerless. The Mayor’s short tenure further prevents him/her from making any meaningful contribution. The 74th Amendment was meant to devolve powers to the ULBs but successive governments have done little to implement it; some manifestos even promise devolution of powers, but only on paper.

Centre-State relations in India have been a topic of intense discussion, particularly with some southern states expressing discontent. The issues often revolve around financial allocations, and the perceived encroachment of the Centre on state powers. Concerns abound over the distribution of resources.

But even with these issues calling for urgent attention, the manifestos of the two largest parties seem to lack a clear roadmap on many of the gaps that cities experience today. Here are their key agenda items for overall urban improvement:

BJP agenda for improving urban life

  • Expand the metro network in major urban centres ensuring last mile connectivity
  • Extend current redevelopment of 1,300+ railway stations to all other major and medium-sized stations
  • Expand RRTS services and launch other regional connectivity programmes to major cities
  • Launch of a Super App to provide all train-related services to users in a single app.
  • Construct ring roads around major cities to improve mobility and decongest cities.
  • Increase the fleets of Electric Vehicles and establish more EV charging stations.
  • Create unified metropolitan transport systems that integrate multi-modal transport facilities and reduce commute time in cities.
  • Implement AI technologies for traffic management and transport efficiency.
  • Extend PM-eBus Seva across cities to provide affordable and safe transport to citizens.
  • Continue eliminating open landfills to manage all kinds of waste being produced through ‘Waste to Wealth Mission’.
  • Strengthen land records by creation of the Digital Urban Land Records System.
  • Encourage states and cities to create a modern set of legislation, by-laws and urban planning processes using technology.
  • Create a fresh curriculum for urban finance, urban infrastructure, urban environmental protection, urban water management, urban transport and more.

INC agenda for improving urban life

  • Launch an urban employment programme guaranteeing work for the urban poor in reconstruction and renewal of infrastructure
  • Make a law to specify and protect the rights of gig workers and unorganised workers and enhance their social security
  • Propose laws to regulate the employment of domestic help and migrant workers, and ensure their basic legal rights
  • Augment transport facilities and connectivity between rural areas and the nearby towns/cities so that people may live in rural areas and work in urban areas
  • Implement a comprehensive plan for multi-modal urban public transport
  • Review existing policy on Road Tolls and apply reasonable formulas to determine the toll amount and the period of levy for each stretch of the road
  • Amend laws to grant more executive, financial and administrative powers to the directly-elected Mayor/Chairperson for effective governance in urban local bodies. The administration will be accountable to the Mayor/Chairperson and the Council
  • Support the construction of a twin city near an existing city but separated by a clear green and no-construction zone between the old and new cities to regulate mindless expansion of existing cities.

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