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Finally, slum to skyscraper mission

New Delhi, Dec. 3: The government of the aam aadmi (common man) has finally turned its attention to the poor in the cities, launching the ambitious Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission with a budget of Rs 1 lakh crore.

“A major failure of city governance has been our inability to address the needs of the poor ' basic services like drinking water supply, sanitation, housing and social services are not available to an increasing share of urban population,” said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who launched the mission.

The mission sets out to correct this, with a focus on vertical expansion of cities on the lines of the Dharavi model drawn up by the Maharashtra government to change the face of Asia’s biggest slum.

The most ambitious programme for urban development in the country is to be implemented over seven years and cover about 60 cities with a million-plus population, all state capitals and other cities considered important from religious, historical or tourist point of view.

The Dharavi plan envisages redeveloping slum land into a township of skyscrapers and shopping arcades, with a part of the land being freed for commercial activities and the rest used for low-cost housing for the slum-dwellers. Delhi has taken up a similar scheme under the mission.

Giving land rights to the urban poor at affordable rates will encourage private investment in social housing and improve the quality of life in cities, the Prime Minister said.

By launching the mission, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, which came to power on the promise that its government would be for the “aam aadmi”, has fulfilled its commitment made in the common minimum programme to take up urban renewal and expansion of social housing.

The mission will be guided by a national steering group, chaired by the urban development minister and co-chaired by the minister of state for urban employment and poverty alleviation. It will consist of two sub-missions ' one on infrastructure and governance and the other on basic services for the poor.

Singh called for urban governance reform, saying: “Cities' have not been enabled to look inward and build on their inherent capacities, both financial and technical, and instead are still being seen in many states as ‘wards’ of state governments. This should change.”

Municipal finance is in an unsatisfactory state on account of inability to properly tap and utilise proceeds from property tax because of inadequacies in the valuation system and inefficiencies in the collection system, the Prime Minister added. The mission seeks to bring in improvements that would enable city-level institutions to become financially viable.

Observing that many cities like Bangalore, Mumbai and Thiruvananthapuram have come up with citizen’s initiatives for urban renewal, Singh said this process would be strengthened through the creation of voluntary technical corps for each city.

State governments and urban local bodies would be required to sign a memorandum of agreement with the Centre, giving an undertaking to implement the reform agenda, according to a mutually agreed road map.

Urban development minister Jaipal Reddy, home minister Shivraj Patil and Planning Commission deputy chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia were present at the launch.

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