Urban transport can be profitable, but do our city governments have the powers and the capability? Sudhir Krishna, Secretary, Union Ministry of Urban Development, who was recently in Mumbai to attend the Traffic Infra Tech Expo, spoke exclusively with Shashidhar Nanjundaiah, and told him what steps the Centre has taken to streamline processes and delegation to empower ULBs better.
Typically, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission's (JNNURM's) first edition had a mixed purpose between transport and utilities. Do you believe it may be worthwhile exploring a JNNURM-like scheme for urban transport alone?
Urban transport is not a stand-alone activity in the true sense: it is a part and parcel of city planning and development. Therefore, there is an advÂantage in having urban traÂnsport as an element of integrated urban growth. Because it is intertwined
in and influential to city planÂning, it is desirable to incÂlude it as a part of a holistic scheme.
On the other hand, JNNURM itself should be more integrated to include actiÂvities such as transport, waste management and water supply; we are now coming up with a paradigm for JNNURM that provides focus to the preparation of integrated city planning. Such a plan should not only be about, for example, land use that is based on people's needs and exploits growth potential in a way so that every segment of the society receives adeqÂuate attention and care. For example, we typically notify certain areas as residential. But if a city is prosÂperous, middle- and higher-income people occupy the residential areas and in the absence of clearly identified areas, the poorer ones get marginalised to slums with unhygienic conditions. Good city planning not only takes care of providing equitable solution to them, but also take care of all economic activities, needs of stakeholders, and how people would commuteâ€”or in the case of mixed land use, not commute.
Inevitably, when they need to commute, the comÂmute should be convenient. People of all strata should receive proper connectivity. Transport systems have larger economic ramifications. For example, the garment industry employs a large number of women at lower wages. The women work at lower wages willingly because the workplace is close to their homes. With better connÂectivity, i.e., if these women can cover a longer distance in the same time to workplaces that can pay better, then their economy improves.
The central government can only do so much through grants and mobilisationâ€”empowered Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) are key to actual development. What is the government doing to empower them to build their cities in the manner that you've explained, both equitably and for profit?
When it comes to the matter of defence, they align with the central government. But for civic matters, health and utility, for example, they look up to their councillor. ULBs have a very significant role to play since they represent their city. People identify with them more closely. That is why we would like to nurture city governments.
But in what specific ways do you mean? Are they really empowered in terms of information, knowledge, and proceduresâ€”for example, delivery of projects through various models of delivery? Overall, they seem to be weak on delivery.
That is true. The capacity-building function among ULBs is very importantâ€”to plan, manage and execute. But this capacity also comes with [initial] hand-holding. So on the one hand, our ministry has prepared manuals and model documents for delivery through, say, the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) mode. These have been prepared and sent off to the various states for further relay to the cities.
We have also advised states that when we provide funds for development, they may by all means pass it on to a Boardâ€”say, the Water Boardâ€”but that should route it through a city government, so that the there is a stake for the ULB in the project. That way, the Board becomes an agency of the local governmentâ€”not the state or the central government. This is one way in which local governments gain experience and control.
Then, of course, we have training and capacity-building, both through our own programmes as well as with assistance from multilateral agencies such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
Despite such measures, implementation has not been uniformly effective. Why?
In our system, local governments are the sole authÂority of governance at local levels. A corporation and a transport authority, among many, have authorities outÂside the corporation. So local governments are not one-stop shops for decision making. Because many of these authoritiesâ€”for example, an environment authorityâ€”exist because of statutes, they cannot be simply subsuÂmed by a city government by the stroke of a pen. Such parallel bodies in co-existence create this complication. We need a rethink of the government's structure itself.
Taking advantage of the geographic advantage of an urban agglomerate, is it possible to integrate these functions through a single-window clearance, for example?
For the transport segment, we have proposed a Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMTA), and some states have already moved aheadâ€”Karnataka (for Bangalore), Gujarat (Ahmedabad) and to an extent, Delhi. But UMTA is envisaged as a coordinating body, while the agencies around it are by statute. Even so, there is some benefit: For example, in Delhi, members of the Unified Traffic and Transportation Infrastructure (Planning & Engineering) Centre (UTTIPEC), set up by Delhi Development Authority, sit around and discuss and provide solutions.
Ideally, a city government should take on all the roles to help the integration conceptâ€”environment and pollution control, traffic regulation, policing, planÂning, taxation, etc. But this needs a paradigm shift in the governance structure, which is being pursued, but will clearly take some time. But in the meantime, bodies like UMTA with executive instructions will resolve the issue.
Profitability in urban transport was not dreamed about, you have said. But today that is changing. How and why is this happening?
This is a transport management issue, and transport management is a dynamic phenomenon. Many transport corporations are making it viable, in some part by fare revision, but also through advertisements and real estate development.
Almost like an airport model, where non-aero revenues have played a huge role?
Yes. Adoption of modern technology such as inteÂlligent traffic management systems and RFID tracking have helped these corporations as well.