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Budget 2022: No vikas, just redouble our prayas

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For a man who sprung a surprise like demonetisation, the Budget was a damp squib. There were no bold measures to tackle joblessness, no big public investment, even in health, and no safety net in terms of universal basic income for the poor. No one expected Rs 15 lakh in his bank account but a token Rs 15,000 direct cash transfer could have been made through the Jan Dhan accounts.

However, Mumbai and Maharashtra, the country’s financial capital and the top state in industrialisation and urbanisation may have a mixed bag. The Finance Minister mentioned modernisation of Transport Oriented Development and one can hope that the push for the Metro rail in Mumbai continues. Executed with a vision and purpose, this will certainly help realise the economic potential of not only the metro cities but also Tier-2 cities. However, the budget proposes Rs 19,130 crore expenditure for Metro rail, a marginal increase over the previous year’s figure of Rs 18,998 cr. No wonder, Nashik residents have been waiting one full year for an announcement about the promised Metro.

Can one expect a neater and more liveable Mumbai? The FM promised a ‘paradigm shift’ in urban planning, saying that the ‘business as usual’ approach would not work. Half of Maharashtra’s population already lives in cities and towns. Development plans for cities across the country remain on paper for decades. Just take two news reports dated February 1, 2022. The first one is about a Vasai resident’s PIL saying that the development plan for Vasai-Virar prepared by CIDCO is in limbo for the past eight years. The second report is about architects who won the Mumbai Street Lab project in 2019 complaining that Aaditya Thackeray’s initiative on ‘tactical urbanism’ – low cost intervention to improve urban infrastructure – is old wine in a new bottle.

The FM said that a high-level committee to give recommendations would be set up to revamp urban planning. It would comprise urban planners, urban economists and institutions. She also proposed the modernisation of building bye-laws and town planning schemes. Coming back to Mumbai’s transport, the need of the hour is to empower the Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority which will take a holistic view instead of piecemeal planning such as the kind that has led to Mumbai’s white elephant of a monorail or Navi Mumbai’s first Metro line leading from Belapur to Taloja instead of linking Navi Mumbai with Mumbai.

The FM proposes to back up her promise of overhauling urban planning by creating centres of excellence to develop ‘India-specific knowledge in urban planning and design, and to deliver certified training in these areas’. Up to five existing academic institutions in different regions will be designated as centres of excellence and these will be provided endowment funds of Rs 250 crore each. In addition, the AICTE will take the lead to improve syllabi, quality and access of urban planning courses in other institutions, the FM said. One only hopes that this will not end up as the promise in the 2014 budget to create 100 Smart Cities for the urban middle class.

There’s no boost for the construction industry, neither are housing loans made cheaper but the Budget promises 80 lakh homes under PM Awaas Yojana for the economically weaker sections in smaller cities; a sum of Rs 48,000 cr has been earmarked for it. Once again, a news report on the budget day: Aurangabad MP Imtiaz Jaleel claimed that of the 80,000 applicants for low-cost housing in the district, only 355 have got homes in the last six years.

Mumbai can expect 5G this year and broadband services to improve in the hinterland. On Climate Action, however, there’s precious, unless you consider battery swapping for electric vehicles. Maharashtra has benefited from this government’s focus on road building – the Mumbai-Nagpur Samruddhi Marg for one – and now the budget promises another 25,000 km of roads countrywide in the next three years.

One of the four multimodal logistic parks is slated to come up near JNPT and land is being acquired for it. Maharashtra should also be a big beneficiary of the promised 100 Gati Shakti terminals in three years to reduce the logistics lag. One nation, one land registry is another dream. As for Drone Shakti, Aurangabad is already using it to get a proper assessment for property tax.

As of now, it seems to be more ‘prayas’ on our part than ‘vikas’ on the government’s part. The budget details, though, will sort out the genuine stuff from the junk. Anil Singh

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