Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday asserted that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government was committed to carrying out urban renewal and municipal reforms and promised more funds to help improve quality of life in urban areas by providing better civic amenities and infrastructure.

Dr. Singh was addressing the National Conference on the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) here.

The Prime Minister said the Ministries of Urban Development, and Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation had approved projects and buses for urban transport worth over Rs.1-lakh crore. For this, the Centre had committed an assistance of Rs.55,625 crore. “It is good that the focus of projects approved under the Mission has been on basic services like water supply, sewerage, drainage, solid waste management, improvement of slums and construction of houses for the urban poor,” he said.

Dr. Singh said that for most developing countries, the 21st century would mark the transition from a primarily rural to a mainly urban economy. “In many of these countries, more than half the population already lives in cities and towns. The transition has been somewhat slower in India; but in the next 20 years, our urban population might well double. This is both a challenge and a unique opportunity, and will require concerted action across all tiers of our federal system of governance if we are to meet this challenge head on and effectively.”

He, however, lamented that Indian cities and towns were not an acceptable face of a rapidly modernising and developing economy. “As infrastructure struggles to keep pace with demand, urban chaos is becoming a way of life. Our cities and towns are not an acceptable face of rapidly modernising and developing economy.”

Referring to the JNNURM, Dr. Singh said since its launch four years ago, it had fulfilled many of the expectations of the people.

“The programme has succeeded in focussing the attention of our policy makers on issues of urban renewal as never before. The problems of urban areas and their sustained development are no longer accepted stoically; they are being tackled and beginning to be tackled effectively.”

Affordable housing

Pointing out that JNNURM had created a paradigm shift on how the urban sector was viewed, both at the State and city levels, Dr. Singh said affordable urban housing would be an area of focus. He hoped that to launch the ambitious Rajiv Awas Yojana for slum-dwellers within the city and redevelop the cities to make them slum-free.

Urban infrastructure financing and development would be an area that would require significant attention in the coming years.

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