In the last decade, the government has implemented several schemes to address issues related to urbanisation and aid the process of urban development. One of the schemes is the Smart Cities Mission, which intends to take advantage of the developments in information technology in developing the urban development strategy, across 100 cities. Last week the government announced the list of 9 new Smart Cities, taking the total to 99. In light of this, we look at the Smart Cities Mission and a few issues with it.
What is a Smart City?
The primary objective of the Mission is to develop cities that provide core infrastructure and give a decent quality of life to its citizens, a clean and sustainable environment, and apply ‘smart’ solutions.
However, the Mission document does not provide one definition of a Smart City. Instead it allows cities to come up with their own solutions of what they identify as a Smart City. The guidelines suggest that the core infrastructure elements in a Smart City will include: (i) adequate water supply, (ii) assured electricity supply, (iii) sanitation, including solid waste management, (iv) efficient urban mobility and public transport, (v) affordable housing, (vi) robust IT connectivity, and (vii) good governance. ‘Smart’ solutions may include (i) energy efficient buildings, (ii) electronic service delivery, (iii) intelligent traffic management, (iv) smart metering, (v) citizen engagement, etc.
How were the Smart Cities selected?
The Mission was introduced in the form of a competition, called the Smart City challenge. The first stage was in July 2015 when states nominated their cities for the competition. In August 2015, the Ministry of Urban Development selected 100 of those cities to participate in the competition. These cities were required to develop their smart city plans (SCPs) and compete against each other. The SCPs were evaluated on the basis of the solutions, the processes followed, the feasibility and cost effectiveness of the plans, and citizen engagement. Over the last 2 years, the Ministry has announced winner cities in batches. So far, 99 cities have been selected under the Mission.
What information do these SCPs contain?
The cities had to prepare their SCPs with two primary strategic components: (i) area-based development, and (ii) pan-city development. The area-based development would cover a particular area of the city, and could have either a redevelopment model, or be a completely new development. Pan-city development would envisage application of certain smart solutions across the city to the existing infrastructure.
Each city had to formulate its own concept, vision, mission and plan for a Smart City that was appropriate to its local context and resources. The Ministry of Urban Development provided technical assistance, through consultancy firms, to cities for helping them prepare these strategic documents.
How will the Mission be implemented?
The Mission will be implemented at the city level by a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV). The SPV will plan, approve, release funds, implement, manage, monitor, and evaluate the Smart City development projects.
The SPV will be a limited company incorporated under the Companies Act, 2013 at the city-level. It will be chaired by the Collector/ Municipal Commissioner of the Urban Development Authority. The respective state and the Urban Local Body (ULB or municipality) will be the promoters in this company having 50:50 equity shareholding.
How are the Plans getting financed?
The Mission will be operated as a Centrally Sponsored Scheme. The central government will provide financial support of up to Rs 48,000 crore over five years, that is, an average of Rs 500 crore per city. The states and ULBs will have to contribute an equal amount. The central government allocated Rs 4,000 crore towards the Mission in the 2017-18 budget.
Since funding from the government will meet only a part of the funding required, the rest will have to be raised from other sources including: (i) states/ ULBs own resources from collection of user fees, land monetization, etc., (ii) innovative finance mechanisms such as municipal bonds, (iii) leverage borrowings from financial institutions (such as banks), and (iv) the private sector through Public Private Partnerships (PPPs).
The total cost of projects proposed under the various SCPs of the 90 winner cities is Rs 1.9 lakh crore. About 42% of this amount will come from central and state funding, 23% through private investments and PPPs, and 19% through convergence with other schemes (such as HRIDAY, AMRUT, Swachh Bharat-Urban). The remaining will be generated by the cities through the levy of local taxes, and user fees.
What are some of the issues to consider?
Financial capacity of cities: Under the Mission, cities have to generate additional revenue through various sources including market borrowings, PPPs, and land monetization. The High Powered Expert Committee on Indian Urban Infrastructure and Services (HPEC) had observed that ULBs in India are among the weakest in the world, both in terms of capacity to raise resources and financial autonomy. Even though ULBs have been getting higher allocations from the centre and states, and tax devolution to them has increased, their own tax bases are narrow. Further, owing to their poor governance and financial situation, ULBs find it difficult to access external financing.
Such a situation may pose problems when implementing the Mission, where the ULBs have to raise a significant share of the revenue through external sources (PPPs, market borrowings). For example, the Bhubaneswar Smart City Plan has a total project cost of Rs 4,537 crore (over five years), while the city’s annual budget for 2014-15 was Rs 469 crore.
In order to improve the finances of the ULBs, committees have made various recommendations, which include:
The government has recently introduced a few policies and mechanisms to address municipal financing. Examples include value capture financing through public investments in infrastructure projects, and a credit rating system for cities. In June 2017, the Pune Municipal Corporation raised Rs 200 crore by issuing municipal bonds.
Technical capacity of the ULBs: The Smart Cities Mission seeks to empower ULBs to raise their own revenue, and also lays emphasis on the capacity building of ULBs. The HPEC had observed that municipal administration has suffered due to: (i) presence of untrained and unskilled manpower, and (ii) shortage of qualified technical staff and managerial supervisors. It had recommended improving the technical capacity of ULBs by providing technical assistance to state governments, and ULBs in planning, financing, monitoring, and operation of urban programmes. The central government had allocated Rs 10.5 crore towards the capacity building component of the Mission in 2017-18.
The Ministry of Urban Development has been running several programmes to improve capacity of ULBs. This includes MoUs with 18 states to conduct training programmes for their ULB staff.
Coverage of the Mission: The Mission covers 100 cities, of which 99 have been announced as winners so far. The urban population that will be impacted through the Mission is around 96 million (data for 90 cities excluding the recently announced 9 cities).
As per Census 2011, India’s urban population was 377 million. The Mission impacts about 25% of this population. Further, most of the SCPs approved so far focus on area-based development, thus affecting a particular area of the cities. About 80% of the total project cost proposed is towards this model of development. In each city, this area-based development will cover up to 50 acres of area. The remaining 20% of the project cost is towards pan-city development proposals, which provide smart planning solutions for the entire city. It may be argued that even within the selected cities, the Mission will only impact few selected areas, and not necessarily help with development of the entire city.
On June 13, 2022, the West Bengal government passed a Bill to replace the Governor with the Chief Minister, as the Chancellor of 31 state public universities (such as Calcutta University, Jadavpur University). As per the All India Survey on Higher Education (2019-20), state public universities provide higher education to almost 85% of all students enrolled in higher education in India. In this blog, we discuss the role of the Governor in state public universities.
What is the role of the Chancellor in public universities?
State public universities are established through laws passed by state legislatures. In most laws the Governor has been designated as the Chancellor of these universities. The Chancellor functions as the head of public universities, and appoints the Vice-Chancellor of the university. Further, the Chancellor can declare invalid, any university proceeding which is not as per existing laws. In some states (such as Bihar, Gujarat, and Jharkhand), the Chancellor has the power to conduct inspections in the university. The Chancellor also presides over the convocation of the university, and confirms proposals for conferring honorary degrees. This is different in Telangana, where the Chancellor is appointed by the state government.
The Chancellor presides over the meetings of various university bodies (such as the Court/Senate of the university). The Court/Senate decides on matters of general policy related to the development of the university, such as: (i) establishing new university departments, (ii) conferring and withdrawing degrees and titles, and (iii) instituting fellowships.
The West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 designates the Chief Minister of West Bengal as the Chancellor of the 31 public universities in the state. Further, the Chief Minister (instead of the Governor) will be the head of these universities, and preside over the meetings of university bodies (such as Court/Senate).
Does the Governor have discretion in his capacity as Chancellor?
In 1997, the Supreme Court held that the Governor was not bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, while discharging duties of a separate statutory office (such as the Chancellor).
The Sarkaria and Puunchi Commission also dealt with the role of the Governor in educational institutions. Both Commissions concurred that while discharging statutory functions, the Governor is not legally bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers. However, it may be advantageous for the Governor to consult the concerned Minister. The Sarkaria Commission recommended that state legislatures should avoid conferring statutory powers on the Governor, which were not envisaged by the Constitution. The Puunchi Commission observed that the role of Governor as the Chancellor may expose the office to controversies or public criticism. Hence, the role of the Governor should be restricted to constitutional provisions only. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 also mentions this recommendation given by the Puunchi Commission.
Recently, some states have taken steps to reduce the oversight of the Governor in state public universities. In April 2022, the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly passed two Bills, to transfer the power of appointing the Vice-Chancellor (in public universities) from the Governor, to the state government. As of June 8, 2022, these Bills have not received the Governor’s assent.
In 2021, Maharashtra amended the process to appoint the Vice Chancellor of state public universities. Prior to the amendment, a Search Committee forwarded a panel of at least five names to the Chancellor (who is the Governor). The Chancellor could then appoint one of the persons from the suggested panel as Vice-Chancellor, or ask for a fresh panel of names to be recommended. The 2021 amendment mandated the Search Committee to first forward the panel of names to the state government, which would recommend a panel of two names (from the original panel) to the Chancellor. The Chancellor must appoint one of the two names from the panel as Vice-Chancellor within thirty days. As per the amendment, the Chancellor has no option of asking for a fresh panel of names to be recommended.