MoS Hardeep Singh Puri talks about Swachh Bharat, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, Smart Cities and more

The World Urban Forum is the biggest non-legislative, bi-annual conference of the United Nations to discuss Sustainable Urbanization and Cities. The ninth session of the World Urban Forum (WUF9) was convened by UN-Habitat in Kuala Lumpur during 7-13 February 2018. The focus of WUF9 was to Scale up and Localize the New Urban Agenda (NUA) which was formally adopted by world community including India during UN-Habitat’s Habitat-3 conference in 2016, Quito (Ecuador). NUA provides a vision for the future cities of 2030 and a framework to achieve that. NUA envisions future Cities of 2030 as Inclusive, Just & Safe, Healthy & Accessible, Prosperous & Affordable, Resilient & Sustainable Cities.

The outcome of the WUF9, the Kuala Lumpur Declaration made several recommendations including 1. Persuading nations to bring a comprehensive National Urban Policy for implementing NUA at National, Regional and Local Level; 2. Empowerment of Urban Governments & Mayors; 3. Territorial development of city regions including urban, peri-urban and rural areas. 4. Regional Economic Development of the city regions and development of trade corridors especially for landlocked regions by cooperation and partnership between cities. 5. Extending urban rights to the international migrants (refugees).

Hardeep Singh Puri, Union Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs (MoS, MoHUA), India, was representing Government of India at WUF9.

Hardeep Singh Puri, MoS, MoHUA, India

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Hardeep Singh Puri is the Union Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs (MoS, MoHUA) since 3rd September 2017. He is Member of Upper House of the Legislature, i.e. Rajya Sabha. Before joining active politics in the year 2014, he had an illustrious diplomatic career. He was permanent representative of India to the United Nations in Geneva and New York, president of the United Nations Security Council and chairman of the Counter-Terrorism Committee of the UN Security Council (2011-12). He played an active role in formulating women’s body of United Nations, i.e. UN-Women while he was India’s permanent representative of India to UN. Mr Puri was appointed as the President of UN-Habitat’s Governing Council at Kuala Lumpur in 1st week of February 2018. As an urban journalist, I was covering the conference (WUF9) and I had an opportunity to interview him. Here is what he responded to my queries:

On India’s role in multilateral negotiations in WUF9 and about the implementation of NUA in India: 

I will briefly refer to the sustainable development goals which were adopted by the UN in 2015 and the New Urban Agenda which was adopted in Quito in 2016. New Urban Agenda is very much part of the Sustainable Development Goals. SDGs has 17 goals, one of the goal is goal 11 which is about Sustainable Cities and Communities. And much of what most countries are doing, at least certainly what India is doing, broadly conforms to that. But countries have their own programs, countries also look at the evolving narratives outside… India has been an active player in the multilateral negotiations when it came to the negotiations of the sustainable development goals. India was an active participant and many of those goals including goal 11, are areas on which India has autonomously embarked.”

“India has already initiated a lot of programmes, Affordable Housing Scheme, Smart Cities, Swachh Bharat, these are all part of it. We also have other schemes like AMRUT where we are giving water connections and helping with sewage management system in 500 cities. HRIDAY is scheme more of limited duration, it will run till about October this year after HRIDAY scheme is being implemented, it will be dovetailed in the scheme, in the work done by tourism ministry to avoid duplication of work.”

Part Video recording of the interview

(The unedited video recording of the interview is with author)

On India’s Urbanization Challenges:

“I will try and give you a brief overview and perspective of challenges of urbanization as I see them. In 1947, 17% of India’s population lived in urban areas, that was 17% out of a population base of only 300 million. According to the census of 2011, 30% of Indians live in urban spaces. But the population of India meanwhile has gone up to 1.25 Billion. By the year 2030 when the sustainable development goals are supposed to be completed, close to 600 million people will live in urban spaces in India. To build the India of 2030, we will have to construct something like 700 to 900 million square meters of residential and commercial space every year between now and 2030. In other words, 70% of the India of 2030 has still to be built.

Why is the urbanisation in India is opportunity and challenge? As it is the Indian cities provide for 65% of India GDP, they also provide for 90% of India’s tax returns. Every month, 1 million people move from the rural areas to the urban areas in search of economic opportunities. Quite simply because the contribution of the agriculture to our GDP is less than 15% now, I think it is around 14.6%. This places massive pressure and strain on the existing urban infrastructure that is why it has to be built.

When Prime Minister Modi was elected in May 2014, he conceived and announced several major flagship programs and I want to cover three of them which will alter the shape and structure of India’s Urbanization and produce rejuvenation.”

About Clean India or Swachh Bharat campaign:

“Swachh Bharat campaign was announced by the Prime Minister on 15th August 2014 and by the time we celebrate 150th birth anniversary of the father of the nation ‘Shri Mahatma Gandhi’, India should be completely open defecation free, India should have hundred percent scientific waste management capacity, there should be enough toilets in urban and rural areas.

So far as urban areas are concerned, we are required to build something like 67 lakhs toilets and 5 lakhs community toilets. In next three quarters, we will get the required number of toilets built by at least one year in advance of the 2019 deadline. It is one thing to build toilets, but it is quite another thing to make sure that people use them. That will require some behavioural change.

Also, one area where we might have to put in much more efforts is to ensure that we produce 100% scientific waste management. In India we generate something like 62 million tons of waste every year, we haven’t placed a good policy to produce compost and energy from waste. We will be able to do more certainly by the time we reach October 2019.”

On Housing for All or Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY):

“Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana or the affordable housing scheme is an ambitious scheme. We need to build 10 or 11 million homes by the year 2022 and not all houses have to be built by the government, a lot will be built by the private sector. In PMAY, Government provides the land in 6 out of the 8 options and subsidy (the direct grant or credit linked) to cushion the interest rate. The title house home (in PMAY scheme) will have to be in the name of the lady of the house which will give the push to the Gender Empowerment.

We gave the infrastructure status to affordable housing. We introduced new legislation called as RERA in May last year which was languishing for many years. The previous budget also provided fiscal incentives for affordable housing. Affordable housing fund has been created under the National Housing Bank of something like 25000 crores. Every Indian citizen will have a house they can call their own by 2022. The house in PMAY will have all the modern amenities, they will come in different sizes ranging from 30 square meters 250 square metres.”

On Smart Cities Programme:

“100 cities have been selected in the Smart City programme, 99 have been identified. These smart cities will use technology to improve the standard of living. Different cities are in different stages of implementation, around June to October this year, you will begin to see the physical contours of the Smart Cities.

We also have other schemes like AMRUT where we are giving water connections and helping with sewage management system in 500 cities. So, I am just mentioning these. HRIDAY is scheme more of limited duration, it will run till about October this year after HRIDAY scheme is being implemented, it will be dovetailed in the scheme, in the work done by tourism ministry to avoid duplication of work.”

About Territorial development, Landlocked countries and Economic corridors:

“You cannot think only in terms of urban spaces very often you have to deal with rural issues and you know there are new words being designed like RUrban which is partly rural partly urban, you know one of our former Presidents used word ‘PURA’ Providing Urban Amenities to Rural Areas. Landlocked countries is not an urban agenda issue, it has got many other dimensions. However, we have excellent relations with Nepal, Bhutan. On the issue of landlocked Countries, India takes very progressive & forward-looking view.”

Conclusion : 

The World Urban Hon. MoS Mr Puri reiterated India’s commitment towards implementing New Urban Agenda (NUA) and informed about India’s participation in multilateral negotiations of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the NUA. He provided a brief overview of urbanization in India and advocated affirmative action by government to drive the development. He said that India is working on the urban issues extensively and what India is doing, broadly conforms to the New Urban Agenda. However, critical issues like bringing comprehensive National Urban Policy in conformity with NUA, rights to migrants, amendments to the law for gender equity etc could not be pursued in the due paucity of time.

India is home to a very large number of economic migrants as well as persecuted peoples such as Bangladeshis, Afghans, Tibetans and now Rohingyas. The influx of migrants having diverse ethnic, racial and economic backgrounds has created not only local demographic challenges but also challenges of assimilation. In the context of urbanization, provision of housing, sustainable livelihood and extending other social sector schemes to migrants has become an important factor in sustainable urbanization. India must meet this challenge of inclusiveness and sustainability while marching ahead in urbanization. There is a need for better articulation of policies from the government in this regard.

Similarly, India is a federal polity with three levels of governance – national, regional and local. Under the constitution, Urban development is a state subject. Policies with regard to gender discrimination against women, LGBT is not in the realm of urban development. However, to implement NUA, a comprehensive National Urban policy for future of urbanization in India has to be forged with the participation of all three tiers of government. Stakeholders from all three levels of government and civil society will have to come together on a common platform for effective implementation of NUA. That is a challenge in nutshell.

It may be too early to expect clear picture about India’s plan for implementation of NUA. However, the feedback pertaining to implementation of New Urban Agenda by all the National Governments of member countries to UN-Habitat is scheduled in July 2018. I wish to interact with Hon. Minister in next few days for following up on the issues.

New Urban Agenda Implementation Plan 2018 – 2026

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