New Delhi: M. Venkaiah Naidu, the urban development, housing and urban poverty alleviation, and parliamentary affairs minister in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, said in an interview that urbanization is a worldwide phenomenon and that India should treat it as an opportunity.

According to a 2010 report by McKinsey and Co., India’s urban population will increase from an estimated 340 million in 2008 to a projected 590 million in 2030. By then, the country would have 68 cities with a population in excess of a million, up from 42 in 2010.

Naidu was the president of Bharatiya Janata Party for two years and the rural development minister in the previous NDA government in 1999.

What will be the focus of the new urban renewal mission you have announced?

Basically it will be urban governance, planning, transport, drinking water, solid waste management, sanitation, urban poverty elimination, skill development, GIS (geographic information systems), and planning and housing in a big way. We have a goal of housing for all by 2022, which is a big task. JNNURM (Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, launched by the previous United Progressive Alliance government) has come to an end.

With a new government come new ideas; we have given a commitment to people through our manifesto and we have given a brief to the officials and they are working on it. I met state ministers and they have given their suggestions also and we are at the formulation stage of this mission. (We are) also waiting for budget allocation for the sector.

We are also working on a concept of smart cities. Building a city is a long-term affair. We are getting feedback from different international agencies who have shown keen interest and will study their models. We want to go for PPP (public private partnership), involve PSUs (public sector undertakings).

Have you set a timeline for the creation of the new mission?

The first 100 days.

You recently convened a meeting of state housing and urban development ministers to discuss the housing-for-all issue. How easy was it to convince the states, many of which your party doesn’t govern, to go along?

The problem is the same for all and it is a gigantic problem. I am not going to construct houses for BJP or NDA people, it is for Indians. There is a broad consensus (on housing for all) and that is why many states came together (at the meeting) and approved the national declaration (on this). I don’t say it is a big achievement but it is a step forward.

Migration to urban areas from rural areas is a huge challenge. How will your government deal with it?

One (solution) is improving rural infrastructure as people move because of (lack of) education, employment and entertainment. Urbanization is a worldwide phenomenon and you cannot prevent it; you cannot treat it as a problem. You should treat it as a challenge and convert it into an opportunity.

You have to regulate growth of the cities, and plan for the future of it and other nearby villages. The planning has to be extended to the nearby villages without adding a tax burden to them. Secondly, it is important to provide facilities for people who are living in cities because increasing congestion and migration ensure that the original inhabitants are the worst sufferers. We need attentive and responsive urban bodies to take care of the needs of people. We are focusing more on populism and less on governance. I am not in favour of populist measures that will get you temporary satisfaction. Hard decisions for long-term happiness are the need of the hour and we are moving in that direction.

In terms of urban governance, urban local bodies (ULBs), the lowest tier in the administrative framework, yet the ones closest to users, are in bad shape. How do you plan to revive them?

Capacity building of urban local bodies is the need of the hour.

Without people’s participation, there cannot be success; so, involving people at every level and bringing accountability will assure prompt payment of taxes. You (have to) assure people that taxes collected will be spent in a better manner, for betterment of facilities and to make their life better. But it is a gigantic task (that has to be taken up by) all chief ministers and urban local bodies across the country because the Centre cannot take this up. You have to transfer funds, functions and functionaries to the bodies; only then they can survive. At the same time, accountability is needed. You should also give them the facility of mobilizing additional resources; allow them to use land, advertisements, and other facilities.

If the mindset changes then there will be revenue generation. But unfortunately, politicians, and it includes me and my party, do not take hard decisions and impose or enhance taxes. If you have to perform, you have to mobilize resources. The result is that the municipality looks up to the state government for support, the state government looks to the central government and central government looks to the World Bank, ADB (Asian Development Bank) and international funding agencies. At the end of it, everyone has to repay.

How do you plan to take care of capacity building at the level of urban local bodies?

States are in the process of developing a municipal cadre, which is a good idea. This is one of the reforms. You can’t force anybody (to implement something) but if you want to bring changes and you want the system to work in a better manner, you need to have reforms.

The real estate regulatory Bill is an area of your ministry that interests homebuyers. How soon can that be passed?

It has to be brought at the earliest but it takes time because I am studying it and holding consultations with the real estate sector and then I have to take feedback from the states also. After the budget session, I will be able to pay attention to it and it will be one of my priorities because the private sector is also playing an important role and we have to understand their problems. At the same time, the real estate companies have to be accountable. You find them putting out very attractive advertisements and people innocently go and purchase (a house).

If people are aggrieved and denied their right then they have to go to court and going to court means it will take a lifetime.

But at the end of the day, people are helpless and the law of torts is very weak in india. Customer redressal is very weak. I am trying to bring accountability for the real estate sector.

How soon can single-window clearances for the realty sector become a reality?

This will also take time since the clearances have to come from different bodies—the local body, state and Centre. We also need to study whether it is possible to have single-window clearance for environment approvals. The word single-window clearance is attractive and I can use single window for my departments but what about other departments? I am discussing this with my colleagues (in other ministries) to evolve a system where it is easy.

Since you are also the parliamentary affairs minister, how difficult do you expect the ongoing session of Parliament to be?

Nothing is difficult if you have political will and have some patience. Fortunately, we have a comfortable mandate. The Prime Minister has already said that government is ready for discussion on any and every issue. The government is ready to go the extra mile to take the opposition along.

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