For Smart Cities, it takes about 15-18 months to set up a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) and it takes another 18 months to get the project consultant.(PTI File Photo)
For Smart Cities, it takes about 15-18 months to set up a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) and it takes another 18 months to get the project consultant.(PTI File Photo)

Lok Sabha elections 2019| ‘Focus on employment correct, criticism on job creation not’: Hardeep Singh Puri

For Smart Cities, it takes about 15-18 months to set up a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) and it takes another 18 months to get the project consultant, said Union minister of housing and urban affairs Hardeep Singh Puri.
By Anisha Dutta | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON MAR 21, 2019 05:31 AM IST

Union minister of housing and urban affairs Hardeep Singh Puri, in an interview to Anisha Dutta, talks about the implementation of key urban schemes during the term of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in comparison with what was achieved by the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), and the challenge the government faces in countering the narrative about growing unemployment. Edited excerpts:

You have been overseeing key schemes such as the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY), Swachh Bharat mission and Smart Cities. How have they fared in the past five years?

My happiness with the schemes is subjective since I am the minister. I don’t like to talk about subjective happiness. I’ll give you the figures. If you look at the figures for 10 years of the Congress-led UPA government, which is 2004-2014, to ours, the total expenditure on urban missions was 157,703 crore and the four-years figure of the NDA government (the government got elected in May 2014 and the flagship programmes only commenced in June, 2015) the expenditure stood at ?907,286 crore -- it’s a 475% increase, so these figures speak for themselves. When you look at allocation, that is much higher. I will give you an example of Smart Cities mission. The overall allocation is ?205,000 crore with 5,551 projects, as of date there are 3,108 projects worth ?123,000 crore tendered. We have given urban areas a thrust which the previous 10 years had not even conceptualised and there is a good reason for that; for several decades after independence our mindset essentially was to focus on agriculture and rural development. Today, what is staring you in the face is robust, autonomous urbanisation which is taking place. People are coming into the cities in large numbers; therefore, the Modi government, if you look at the 2014 BJP manifesto, it embraced urbanisation as a major area of focus. It is a challenge but also a huge opportunity. I have then gone on to say we have embarked upon a comprehensive programme of urbanisation undertaken anywhere in the world. That has been the game-changer pre-2014 and post-2014.

One criticism has been that these schemes are UPA-era schemes which were rebranded by the NDA government. For example, housing for all under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) had many houses sanctioned, which were absorbed by the NDA’s PMAY scheme.

It is very easy to criticise but let the facts speak for themselves. Only 2% were sanctioned under JNNURM; the scale is completely different. In the 10 years of the UPA government, the total number of homes approved for construction in 10 years was 13 lakh, here in four years, we have sanctioned is 79.4 lakh, which is a 485% increase. Only around 2% houses sanctioned earlier were absorbed. We have a 485% increase in the homes approved for construction; you have a 381% increase in the houses grounded for construction, and you have a 100% increase in houses completed in 10 years as against four years. The number of beneficiaries under subvention increased by 2,322%; this is the best. It is a completely different game. The basic difference in the pre-2014 and post-2014 era is concept and design. All the schemes post-2014 under the Modi government scheme are anchored in what is loosely called cooperative federalism. We only design the scheme and we don’t do anything beyond that; we leave the implementation to the states. Earlier, the schemes were designed at the Centre, they were implemented here and micromanaged from here. PMAY was supposed to finish by 2022, by which time every Indian will have a home.

What about the Smart Cities mission, when can we see the first city completed?

For Smart Cities, it takes about 15-18 months to set up a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) and it takes another 18 months to get the project consultant. What is a Smart City? Earlier, the perception was that it is a new Greenfield project straight out of science fiction. When we drafted the party manifesto in 2014, we said we will build 100 cities but when we got down to implementing it, we realised if you have existing cities which are in a mess the first thing you have to do is do brownfield projects and fix those cities. Heart of the smart cities is the integrated control and command centre (ICCC). We have got the ICCCs operational in 15 cities and another 50 by the year-end. At present, 3,181 projects are underway worth R205,000 crore. The nerve of the smart city is the ICCC, where you have a huge screen where you can monitor things like water supply, storage, city traffic, crime prevention, all on one screen.

A lot of these projects are also dependent on behavioural change. You can build all the toilets in the world but if people are not going to use them, you’re going to have a problem. The good news is that I think that change is taking place.

Is there a framework to avoid a mass surveillance and misuse of information through the ICCs?

I’m not bothered about the privacy part because we are dealing with common goods. They are not going into your wallet details or private life. They are going into monitoring basic city infrastructure. What I am worried about is somebody hacking into the system and choking the entire system. I have asked the concerned officials to build safeguards in there.

How will you counter the unemployment issue in the elections?

The economy is growing 7-7.5 %.., with 7.9 million homes being sanctioned, roads being constructed at a record pace, civil aviation growing at 20%. What you are lacking is not jobs, you lack a proper means and a mechanism of measuring the growth of jobs, which is essentially taking place in the informal sector. Agriculture is the biggest sector of employment in the informal sector. I got a professional study done on the assessment of employment generation because of PMAY. According to NSSO (National Sample Survey Office) data, the whole analysis was on the basis of zero urbanisation, which is nonsense. Urbanisation is taking place at a rapid rate. We are looking at something like 600 million urban population by 2030. I had NBCC do this analysis. It is based on the assessment of about 32 lakh homes, and they said, total job creation, both direct and indirect, under PMAY is 60 lakh and this is absolutely scientifically calculated.

Young people want jobs, there is no doubt about it. There was a study produced by IIT (Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay)...The IIT-Bombay study says 15 million jobs are created every year. This debate and focus on employment is correct, the criticism that jobs are not being created is not correct. The flawed narrative is the order of the day. Everyone is a participant.

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