India is a developing country, with many challenges to overcome in housing, healthcare, sanitation, employment, poverty, equity, etc. This makes India a breeding ground for the imagination and experimentation of new schemes that address social and environmental development, as well as economic development.
Several development challenges lie in urban areas, where growing urbanisation applies more pressure on a city’s resources. In 2019, 34.47 per cent of India’s population was urban. Many of our national urban programmes are aligned with the global Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs).
SDG 11–Sustainable Cities and Communities promotes inclusive development of sufficient and resilient urban infrastructure and social services, so that cities can be accessible, innovative and create economic growth for all.
Under the SDG India Index (2019) by NITI Aayog, five national indicators were chosen to measure India’s progress towards this goal. However, these indicators cover only 2 of the 10 SDG targets outlined under this goal:
- 11.1 — By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums
- 11.6 — By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management
These targets are also interlinked with those of No Poverty (SDG 1) and Clean Water and Sanitation (SDG 6). Three main schemes are working towards the SDG 11 targets:
- Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna–Urban (PMAY–U) focused on building 1.12 crore affordable pucca houses by 2022
- Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) focused on upgrading urban centres and providing public utility services like waste and water management
- Swachh Bharat Mission–Urban (SBM–U) focused on building toilets to make cities Open Defecation Free (ODF) and building solid waste management facilities
Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana–National Urban Livelihoods Mission (DAY–NULM) addresses Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG 8 targets).
Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA’s) Parliamentary Watch Report, 2019 found that each of these programmes have dismal completion rates and large unutilised funds. Of the 1.12 crore houses proposed to be built by March 2022 under PMAY–U, 83 per cent had been sanctioned but only 25 per cent had been completed since 2015. Only 40 per cent of the funds allocated had been released, of which only 25 per cent had been utilised as of November 2019. AMRUT was announced for a period of five years, 2015–2020, but as of 2019, not even one State/Union Territory had completed 40 per cent of the work on piped sewer systems and tap connections proposed under its plan. Only 42 per cent of the funds allocated had been utilised over 4 years. In SBM–U, targets were frequently revised to inflate success rates of number of toilets constructed, and only 58 per cent capacity to process solid municipal waste was built.
Apart from implementation inefficiencies, these schemes are also based on outdated or insufficient information. The data used for the population in slums is based on the 2011 Census. AMRUT’s estimation for the water facilities needed in slums was based on the National Sample Survey Report of 2012. Along with using outdated data, the planning processes are also exclusionary. No separate funds were demarcated for providing basic facilities to slums under AMRUT, and unauthorised colonies were excluded while assessing the demand for household toilets under SBM–U. Currently we are limited in the goals we can target/assess because of the indicators we choose, which are limited by the data available across all States. Regularly collecting and updating demographic data and scheme feedback is essential to be able to achieve the SDGs.
The Smart Cities Mission launched in 2015 is another urban development scheme focused on turning Indian cities into technologically–forward, ‘high growth centres’ to deal with the growing population influx. This scheme has been criticised for its over emphasis on high–tech infrastructure in urban development, making cities more exclusive for elite populations and not actually addressing the needs of the rural population moving into the city. It also has funds allocated in some cities for ‘beautification’ or slum clearance, without proper guidelines for slum rehabilitation. Its implementation directly contradicts one of the targets under SDG 11–
11.7 — By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management (11.7)
Although the scheme claims to focus on inclusive and sustainable development, the participatory processes employed at the proposal stage were flawed. Primarily MyGov.in, the Indian government’s online citizen engagement portal was used for reaching out to people and receiving suggestions and responses. According to NSSO’s 75th round national survey (2017–2018), only 43.5 per cent males and 30.1 per cent females know how to use the internet in urban areas. Of the top 60 cities researched by the Centre for Policy Research, only 40 could provide data on how many people they had reached out to through non digital means and only 24 could provide data on how many people responded through these channels. Additionally, when calculating social media outreach and feedback, any kind of interaction from a ‘like’ to a ‘share’ was considered a positive response to the Mission, an inaccurate interpretation of social media. This tokenistic and exclusionary citizen engagement, coupled with the high–tech focus of the Mission raises the question of who exactly these new ‘smart cities’ are being designed for.
Many of the schemes discussed above seem well–intentioned and effective on paper. The Indian Government is aware that India, having 1 out of every 6 people in the world, can contribute greatly towards achieving the global Sustainable Development Goals. However, the schemes right now are not holistic and inclusive enough. They barely mention climate action, when that should be an underlying concern of every development programme. We need to understand the flaws in our schemes and improve upon them more rapidly, not simply to win the next election cycle, but to promote the social, environmental and economic development of the nation.
Niyoshi Parekh, Brown University. Niyoshi is currently interning at YUVA.