India’s urban population has grown by 32% from 2001 to 2011 as compared to 18% growth in total population of the country. As per Census 2011, 31% of the country’s population (377 million people) live in cities, and contribute to 63% of the country’s GDP. The urban population is projected to grow up to 600 million by 2031.2 With increasing urban population, the need for providing better infrastructure and services in cities is increasing. The government has introduced several schemes to address different urban issues. These include the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), Smart Cities Mission, Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY), Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana – Housing for All (Urban) (PMAY-U), and Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban).
Last week the Ministry of Urban Development released the next batch of winners under the Smart Cities Mission. This takes the number of smart cities to 90. The government has also announced a few policies and released data indicators to help with the implementation of the urban schemes. In light of all this, we discuss how the new schemes are changing the mandate of urban development, the fiscal challenge of implementing such schemes, and the policies that are trying to address some of these challenges.
Urbanisation in India
The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM), launched in 2005, was one of the first urban development schemes implemented by the central government. Under JnNURM, the central government specified certain mandatory and optional reforms for cities, and provided assistance to the state governments and cities that were linked to the implementation of these reforms. JnNURM focused on improving urban infrastructure and service delivery, community participation, and accountability of city governments towards citizens.
In comparison, the new urban schemes move beyond the mandate that was set by JnNURM. While AMRUT captures most of the objectives under JnNURM, the other schemes seek to address issues around sanitation (through Swachh Bharat), affordable housing (through PMAY-U), and technology innovation (through Smart Cities). Further, the new schemes seek to decentralize the planning process to the city and state level, by giving them more decision making powers.2 So, while earlier, majority of the funding came from the central and state governments, now, a significant share of the funding needs to be raised by the cities themselves.
For example, under the Smart Cities Mission, the total cost of projects proposed by the 60 smart cities (winners from the earlier rounds) is Rs 1.3 lakh crore. About 42% of this amount will come from central and state funding towards the Mission, and the rest will be raised by the cities.
The new schemes suggest that cities may raise these funds through: (i) their own resources such as collection of user fees, land monetization, property taxes, etc., (ii) finance mechanisms such as municipal bonds, (iii) leveraging borrowings from financial institutions, and (iv) the private sector through Public Private Partnerships (PPPs).
In 2011, an Expert Committee on Indian Urban Infrastructure and Services (HPEC) had projected that creation of the required urban infrastructure would translate into an investment of Rs 97,500 crore to Rs 1,95,000 crore annually. The current urban schemes are investing around Rs 32,500 crore annually.
Financial capacity of cities
Currently, the different sources of revenue that municipal corporations have access to include: (i) tax revenue (property tax, tax on electricity, toll tax, entertainment tax), (ii) non-tax revenue (user charges, building permission fees, sale and hire charges), (iii) grants-in-aid (from state and central governments), and (iv) debt (loans borrowed from financial institutions and banks, and municipal bonds).
While cities are now required to raise more financing for urban projects, they do not have the required fiscal and technical capacity.8, The HPEC had observed that cities in India are among the weakest in the world, both in terms of capacity to raise resources and financial autonomy. Even though cities have been getting higher allocations from the centre and states, their own tax bases are narrow.8 Further, several taxes that cities can levy are still mandated by the state government. Because of their poor governance and financial situation, cities also find it difficult to access external financing.8,7
In order to help cities improve their finances, the government has introduced a few policies, and released a few indicators. Some of these are discussed below:
Policy proposals and data indicators
Value Capture Financing (VCF): The VCF policy framework was introduced by the Ministry of Urban Development in February 2017. VCF is a principle that states that people benefiting from public investments in infrastructure should pay for it. Currently when governments invest in roads, airports and industries in an area, private property owners in that area benefit from it. However, governments recover only a limited value from such investments, constraining their ability to make further public investments elsewhere. VCF helps in capturing a part of the increment in the value of land due to such investments, and use it to fund new infrastructure projects.
The different instruments of VCF include: land value tax, fee for changing land use, betterment levy, development charges, transfer of development rights, and land pooling systems.10 For example, Karnataka uses certain value capture methods to fund its mass transit projects. The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), and City and Industrial Development Corporation Limited (CIDCO) have used betterment levy (tax levied on land that has gained in value because of public infrastructure investments) to finance infrastructure projects.
Municipal bonds: Municipal bonds are bonds issued by urban local bodies (municipal corporations or entities owned by municipal bodies) to raise money for financing specific projects such as infrastructure projects. The Securities and Exchange Board of India regulations (2015) regarding municipal bonds provide that, to issue such bonds, municipalities must: (i) not have negative net worth in any of the three preceding financial years, and (ii) not have defaulted in any loan repayments in the last one year. Therefore, a city’s performance in the bond market depends on its fiscal performance. One of the ways to determine a city’s financial health is through credit ratings.
Credit rating of cities: In September 2016, the Ministry of Urban Development started assigning cities with credit ratings. These credit ratings were assigned based on assets and liabilities of the cities, revenue streams, resources available for capital investments, accounting practices, and other governance practices.
Of the total 20 ratings ranging from AAA to D, BBB– is the ‘Investment Grade’ rating and cities rated below BBB– need to undertake necessary interventions to improve their ratings for obtaining positive response to the Municipal Bonds to be issued. By March 2017, 94 cities were assigned credit ratings, 55 of which got ‘investment grade’ ratings.
Credit ratings indicate what projects might be more lucrative for investments. This, in turn, helps investors decide where to invest and determine the terms of such investments (based on the expected returns).
Earlier this month, the Pune Municipal Corporation raised Rs 200 crore through the sale of municipal bonds, to finance water supply projects under the Smart Cities Mission. The city had received an AA+ credit rating (second highest rating) in the recent credit rankings assigned by the central government.
Other than credit ratings, the Ministry of Urban Development has also come up with other data indicators around cities such as the Swachh Bharat rankings, and the City Liveability Index (measuring mobility, access to healthcare and education, employment opportunities, etc). These rankings seek to foster a sense of competition across cities, and also help them map their performances year on year.
Some financing mechanisms, such as municipal bonds, have been around in India for the last two decades, but cities haven’t been able to make much use of them. It remains to be seen whether the introduction of indicators such as credit ratings helps the municipal bond market take off. While these mechanisms may improve the finances of cities, the question is would more funding solve the cities’ problems. Or would it require municipal government to take a different approach to problem solving.
 Census of India, 2011.
 Mission Statement and Guidelines, Smart Cities, Ministry of Urban Development, June 2015, http://smartcities.gov.in/writereaddata/SmartCityGuidelines.pdf.
 Report on Indian Urban Infrastructure and Services, March, 2011, The High Powered Expert Committee for estimating the investment requirements for urban infrastructure services, http://icrier.org/pdf/FinalReport-hpec.pdf.
 “30 more smart cities announced; takes the total to 90 so far”, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Urban Development, June 23, 2017.
 Smart City Plans, Last accessed in June 2017.
 “Financing of Smart Cities”, Smart Cities Mission, Ministry of Urban Development, http://smartcities.gov.in/upload/uploadfiles/files/Financing%20of%20Smart%20Cities.pdf.
 “Report on Indian Urban Infrastructure and Services”, March, 2011, The High Powered Expert Committee for estimating the investment requirements for urban infrastructure services, http://icrier.org/pdf/FinalReport-hpec.pdf.
 Value Capture Finance Policy Framework, Ministry of Urban Development, February 2017, http://smartcities.gov.in/upload/5901982d9e461VCFPolicyFrameworkFINAL.pdf.
 Securities and Exchange Board of India (Issue and Listing of Debt Securities by Municipalities) Regulations, 2015, Securities and Exchange Board of India, July 15, 2015, http://www.sebi.gov.in/sebi_data/attachdocs/1436964571729.pdf.
 “Credit rating of cities under urban reforms begins”, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Urban Development, September 6, 2016.
 “Credit Rating of Urban Local Bodies gain Momentum”, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Urban Development, March 26, 2017.
 “Pune civic body raises Rs200 crore via municipal bonds”, LiveMint, June 19, 2017, http://www.livemint.com/Money/JOOzaSTKnC6k1EZGeFh8LJ/Pune-civic-body-raises-Rs200-crore-via-municipal-bonds.html.
The Uttarakhand Assembly concluded a two-day session on November 30, 2022. The session was scheduled to be held over five days. In this post we look at the legislative business that was carried out in the Assembly, and the state of state legislatures.
13 Bills were introduced and passed within two days
As per the Session Agenda, a total of 19 Bills were listed for introduction in the span of two days. 13 of these were listed to be discussed and passed on the second day. These included the Uttarakhand Protection of Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (Amendment), Bill, 2022, and the Uttarakhand Anti-Littering and Anti-Spitting (Amendment) Bill, 2022.
The Assembly had proposed to discuss and pass each Bill (barring two) within five minutes (see Figure 1). Two Bills were allocated 20 minutes each for discussion and passing - the Haridwar Universities Bill, 2022, and the Public Service (Horizontal Reservation for Women) Bill, 2022. As per news reports, the Assembly passed all 13 Bills within these two days (this excludes the Appropriation Bills). This raises the question on the amount of scrutiny that these Bills were subject to, and the quality of such laws when the legislature intends to pass them within mere minutes.
Figure 1: Excerpt of Uttarakhand Assembly's November 2022 Session Agenda
Law making requires deliberation, scrutiny
Our law-making institutions have several tools at their disposal to ensure that before a law is passed, it has been examined thoroughly on various aspects such as constitutionality, clarity, financial and technical capacity of the state to implement provisions, among others. The Ministry/Department piloting a Bill could share a draft of the Bill for public feedback (pre-legislative scrutiny). While Bills get introduced, members may raise issues on constitutionality of the proposed law. Once introduced, Bills could be sent to legislative committees for greater scrutiny. This allows legislators to deliberate upon individual provisions in depth, understand if there may be constitutional challenges or other issues with any provision. This also allows experts and affected stakeholders to weigh in on the provisions, highlight issues, and help strengthen the law.
However, when Bills are introduced and passed within mere minutes, it barely gives legislators the time to go through the provisions and mull over implications, issues, or ways to improve the law for affected parties. It also raises the question of what the intention of the legislature is when passing laws in a hurry without any discussion. Often, such poorly thought laws are also challenged in Courts.
For instance, the Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022 in this session (five minutes had been allocated for the discussion and passing of the Bill). The 2022 Bill amends the 2018 Act which prohibits forceful religious conversions, and provides that conversion through allurement or marriage will be unlawful. The Bill has provisions such as requiring an additional notice to be sent to the District Magistrate (DM) for a conversion, and that reconversion to one’s immediate previous religion will not be considered a conversion. Some of these provisions seem similar to other laws that were passed by states and have been struck down by or have been challenged in Courts. For example, the Madhya Pradesh High Court while examining the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 noted that providing a notice to the DM for a conversion of religion violates the right to privacy as the right includes the right to remain silent. It extends that understanding to the right to decide on one’s faith. The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2006 exempted people who reconvert to their original religion from giving a public notice of such conversion. The Himachal Pradesh High Court had struck down this provision as discriminatory and violative of the right to equality. The Court also noted that the right to change one’s belief cannot be taken away for maintaining public order.
Uttarakhand MLAs may not have had an opportunity to think about how issues flagged by Courts may be addressed in a law that regulates religious conversions.
Most other state Assemblies also pass Bills without adequate scrutiny
In 2021 44% states passed Bills on the day it was introduced or on the next day. Between January 2018 and September 2022, the Gujarat Assembly introduced 92 Bills (excluding Appropriation Bills). 91 of these were passed in the same day as their introduction. In the 2022 Monsoon Session, the Goa Assembly passed 28 Bills in the span of two days. This is in addition to discussion and voting on budgetary allocation to various government departments.
Figure 2: Time taken by state legislatures to pass Bills in 2021
Note: The chart above does not include Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. A Bill is considered passed within a day if it was passed on the day of introduction or on the next day. For states with bicameral legislatures, bills have to be passed in both Houses. This has been taken into account in the above chart for five states having Legislative Councils, except Bihar (information was not available for Council).
Sources: Assembly websites, E-Gazette of various states and Right to Information requests; PRS.
Occasionally, the time actually spent deliberating upon a Bill is lesser than the allocated time. This may be due to disruptions in the House. The Himachal Pradesh Assembly provides data on the time actually spent discussing Bills. For example, in the August 2022 Session, it spent an average of 12 minutes to discuss and pass 10 Bills. However, the Uttarakhand Assembly allocated only five minutes to discuss each Bill in its November 2022 Session. This indicates the lack of intent of certain state legislatures to improve their functioning.
In the case of Parliament, a significant portion of scrutiny is also carried out by the Department Related Standing Committees, even when Parliament is not in session. In the 14th Lok Sabha (LS), 60% of the Bills introduced were sent to Committees for detailed examination, and in the 15th LS, 71% were sent. These figures have reduced recently – in the 16th LS 27% of the Bills were sent to Committees, and so far in the 17th LS, 13% have been sent. However, across states, sending Bills to Committees for detailed examination is often the exception than the norm. In 2021, less than 10% of the Bills were sent to Committees. None of the Bills passed by the Uttarakhand Assembly had been examined by a committee. States that are an exception here include Kerala which has 14 subject Committees, and Bills are regularly sent to these for examination. However, these Committees are headed by their respective Ministers, which reduces the scope of independent scrutiny that may be undertaken.