Society for Policy Studies in association with India Habitat Centre held a lecture in the “2022: The India We Seek”
Chair: C Uday Bhaskar, Director, Society for Policy Studies.
Smart cities, not just about infrastructure, but changing habits and mindsets: Minister Hardeep Singh Puri
“In 2030, 600 million Indians will be living in urban spaces and the current urban infrastructure will be subjected to extreme strain. 70 per cent of India of 2030 still needs to be built,” said Union Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Singh Puri while addressing a gathering on the topic, “2022: The India We Seek” in New Delhi on February 22.
Acknowledging the environmental damage that has been done in the name of development, Puri said Indian cities are almost “unliveable” with air pollution and carbon emissions having adverse effects on the most vulnerable sections of the population.
He went back to history to trace the economic development of India and the resilience that the nation has shown to overcome some of the most difficult challenges. “When we gained independence in 1947, we were a young nation, but ours is an advanced civilization that goes several thousand years. History of India is also in essence the history of culture that created many religions. Colonization led to the invasion of mind. Between the years from 1750 to 1950, India’s share in the global trade dropped to just 3 per cent from 27 per cent. Yet with the current USD 2.3 trillion economy, India is one of the most successful examples of post-colonial reconstruction. Ours is a civilisation that was subjugated but cannot be defeated,” he said.
In achieving the vision of urban transformation that the government has set out to achieve, Puri outlined how poverty and deep-rooted social prejudices are among the biggest of hurdles that need to be overcome. “India has more poor than all the poor of some of the developing countries put together. The contours of 2022 as laid out emphasises on the need for equal opportunities, equitable development, justice and peace for all. It will be an India that embodies the idea of inclusive development. The Prime Minister’s vision of sabka saath sabka vikas also resonates with the global call to leave no one behind,” he added.
Throwing light on the demographic dividend, Puri said, “The new India is also an impatient India. Half the population is below the age of 25 years. The Prime Minister is committed to enabling the youthful India to achieve its full potential. The level of aspirations will be matched with the quality of labour. It will enable our citizens for full transformation.”
Puri discussed at length some of the flagship programmes of the government. “The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna promises a house to every Indian. 12 million houses will be built in urban areas between now and 2022. The government is sanctioning 5 lakh (500,000) homes every month and with the Cabinet approval for a new affordable housing scheme, the targets are well on their way to be achieved,” he said. He added that the ministry has come out with eight models to encourage private sector partnership where in six of the schemes, the land will be provided by the government.
Addressing the cynics, Puri opined, “Earlier schemes of housing has not achieved in 10 years what our government has achieved in three years. Before the approvals were done at the level of central government. Now approvals are accorded by the state governments which is cooperative federalism in practice. Our government has silently acknowledged the rightful role of elected chief ministers.”
He also spoke about how the government has been empowering women through this scheme with the ownership of the house in the name of the female member and with the mandatory provision that every household should have a toilet to ensure the safety and dignity of women.
Speaking on the Swacch Bharat Mission, he said, out of the targeted 67 lakh toilets, 42 lakh toilets have already been built. He was of the opinion that meeting physical targets is the easier part. To make India Open Defecation Free (ODF) by this year, what is required is behavioural change which he hoped Jan Andolan will be able to achieve. While dwelling on the positives, he acknowledged that the overall capacity of solid waste management causes anxiety and needs revolutionary change.
Shifting his focus to Smart Cities Mission, he said the goal is to try to do more with less. Some of the components of smart cities will be effective surveillance, integrated traffic management, making garbage collection more efficient etc. He emphasized that “smart city is about smartifying existing brownfield infrastructure.”
“Smart city is not just about infrastructure but changing habits and changing mindsets,” he added.
He spoke about the significant achievement of his government in regulating the real estate sector through the Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA). “Government’s initiatives like GST, demonetization, insolvency bill, fiscal incentives etc have begun to revive the real estate sector. With time, prices will also become realistic and speculative buying will be circumscribed,” he said.
He spoke about the fourth industrial revolution which will be about technology and urban services. Calling it a win-win situation for India, he said the doubts surrounding artificial intelligence are valid. But it needs to be understood that mankind is more conscious of the ill effects of technology more than ever. “We must skill and reskill our people. We are committed towards increasing access to all sections of the population. The focus is on awakening and building national consciousness. The development of a nation depends on education, education and education,” he opined.
C Uday Bhaskar, Director, Society for Policy Studies in his remarks, appreciated the ruling NDA government in India for its efforts while also cautioning that the most important litmus test will be to get all the projects implemented before the 2019 general elections.
The talk was organised by Society for Policy Studies, a think-tank based in New Delhi in association with the India Habitat Centre.