Pandemic- An Urban crisis
- The novel coronavirus pandemic has largely been an urban crisis so far, with megacities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chennai accounting for most of the COVID-19 positive cases.
- Indian cities are not only facing a public health crisis but also a larger emergency of economic issues and livelihoods with a high percentage of urban residents lost employment due to lockdown.
- Over the last decade, cities have started receiving more policy attention from the government, with dedicated national-level programmes on urban development.
- For instance, the ‘Smart Cities Mission’, a flagship programme completed five years, in June 2020.
- The Mission had sought to make 100 selected cities “smart”, primarily through an “Area-Based Development” model under which a small portion of the city would be upgraded by retrofitting or redevelopment.
About Smart cities mission
Criticism of the mission:
- Many of the projects undertaken under the ‘Smart Cities Mission’ are behind schedule.
- According to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, of the 5,151 smart city projects across the 100 cities, while around 4,700 projects have been tendered, only 1,638 projects have been completed.
- In terms of expenditure, of the total investment of ₹2 lakh crore, only projects worth ₹26,700 crore have been completed.
Less attention to public health
- ‘Smart Cities Mission’ has not given much attention to basic services such as public health.
- An analysis of the smart city projects under the Mission shows that only 69 of over 5,000 projects undertaken under the Mission were for health infrastructure.
- These projects amount to just around one percent of the total mission cost.
Slip away from its objective
- Health infrastructure though not a core element of a “smart” city, the ‘Smart Cities Mission’ aims to improve the quality of life of urban residents for which public health is necessary.
Significance of Public health:
- Public health is an essential local government function in India’s constitutional scheme.
- As per the 12th Schedule of the Constitution, introduced by the 74th Amendment, “public health” is one of the 18 functions that are to be devolved to the municipalities.
What is the issue?
- Public health infrastructure of cities has often been neglected over the years and new programmes such as the ‘Smart Cities Mission’ have further driven local governments away from their core responsibilities.
Challenges in local governance:
The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the weaknesses in the institutional and human capacity of Indian cities to handle a public health emergency.
- Financially and administratively weak
- Heavily understaffed.
- High level of vacancy of Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) workers
- Decentralised political and administrative systems with strong local governments
- High investment in local public health care
- Promote programmes that improve the livelihoods of urban vulnerable communities.
- Instead of Smart Cities Mission, programmes such as the National Urban Livelihoods Mission and National Urban Health Mission need to be strengthened.
- Introduction of a national urban employment guarantee programme that assures jobs for urban residents and strengthens the capacities of urban local bodies can be considered.
Kerala has been running such an employment guarantee scheme since 2010 and States such as Odisha, Himachal Pradesh and Jharkhand have also recently launched similar initiatives in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
As Indian cities face an unprecedented challenge, it is important to get the priorities of urban development right and invest in programmes that improve the health and livelihoods of its residents.