How is AMRUT different?

Sameer Sharma
22 Dec 2016

The distinct features of the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) arise from the address of the President to the Parliament –

“By the time the nation completes 75 years of its Independence, every family will have a pucca house with water connection, toilet facilities, 24 X 7 electricity supply and access.”

This was elaborated in the budget speech,
“It is time that our cities and towns undergo urban renewal and become better places to live in. While developing housing and other infrastructure, both physical and economic, which can have local variations, four fundamental activities must underpin such development. These are provision of safe drinking water and sewerage management, use of recycled water for growing organic fruits and vegetables, solid waste management and digital connectivity. It is the vision of this Government that at least five hundred such habitations must be provided support, while harnessing private capital and expertise through PPPs, to renew their infrastructure and services in the next ten years.”

Urban is a complex sector – many issues compete for attention such as — decentralization, governance, accountability, reforms, institutional structure, financial self-sustainability, citizen participation, infrastructure sufficiency, service delivery etc. If, AMRUT were to address all these issues it would become too diffused. Therefore, AMRUT was designed as a national mission with a commonly understood and a commonly agreed objective across all three levels of Government and the focus was on commonly agreed priority areas and one that can show visible change to citizens.

The focus is on delivery of essential services, which is the only commonly understood and agreed upon issue.
1.The President’s speech as well as the 2014-15 budget speech both recognized delivery of essential services as a priority. Deficits in service delivery are well understood and agreed on by all stakeholders.

2.Service delivery is visible to citizens and affects all of them while other urban issues are opaque to citizens. For example, institutional structures are important and they impact services, but citizens are unable to relate to its benefits or discern the differences between ULB provided services and State Government provided services.

3.State and local Governments (as well as other stakeholders) recognize service delivery as a priority. If service delivery is the focus, they are also likely to address linked issues.

4.There is no shared understanding of solutions on other issues. For example, decentralization, governance, accountability and citizen participation are all agreed upon as right directions. But stakeholders don’t agree on specific solutions.

The lynchpin of AMRUT is on achieving universal coverage of essential services, starting with drinking water supply
1.Universal coverage is clearly understood by citizens and stakeholders in politics and the administration. It is an equitable target and can bring together all stakeholders.

2.It is easy to measure and shortfalls are visible. Universal coverage is one of the service level benchmarks (SLBs) of Ministry of Urban Develoment (MoUD) and is clearly defined in the SLB framework.

3.Adding other service level benchmarks as Mission objectives was not done. The key reason is that they are secondary to universal coverage and may dilute the focus on universal coverage.

The AMRUT provides financial support to states for state-specific service improvement plans to achieve universal coverage in the identified sectors.
The mission followed a decentralized approach, which includes,
1.Providing a pre-determined financial assistance to each state. GoI financial assistance was given to the state as a whole and will not be for specific projects or habitations.

2.Setting the objectives and indicators to be achieved by the states.

3.Seeking service improvement plans from the state, which outline technical, financial and institutional strategies to achieve universal coverage. The MoUD will only appraise and approve the state level plans and will not examine plans of a city or individual projects. Appraisal of state service improvement plans was done against a set of pre-determined set of criteria made available at the start of the Mission.

4.Tracking progress on mission objectives and other key indicators at the state level only using information technology based solutions.

In accordance with the idea of cooperative federalism, the State Governments have a major role to play and some of the activities they have to perform are given below.
1.Planning and achieving universal service delivery within the habitations that they would identify;

2.Design their own service improvement plans to achieve universal coverage and utilize the financial assistance from GoI as part funding;

3.Mobilise additional resources required to implement their service improvement plans;

4.Formulate operational aspects of the mission within the state to decide:

a.size of the service improvement plan at the State level, keeping in mind the fixed contribution to the State from GoI;

b.participating ULBs;

c.GoI: State: ULB share of investments. This could vary depending on the size of the city, or depending on the sector or on other state specific factors (like urban poor, geographical conditions, income backwardness etc.); and also decide the disbursement schedule of funds to the ULBs

d.reforms and / or initiatives that they may want to pursue at the state level, such as institutional reforms, commercial borrowing, regulation, PPP, putting in place ICT enablers, etc. The mission would encourage the adoption of these good practices but would not mandate them; and

5.Approve the service improvement plans of a ULB and individual projects; and
6.Monitor the progress of ULBs in achieving the mission objectives and other indicators. Information technology will play an important role in monitoring, as it will allow real-time monitoring thereby supporting effective decision-making. Information Technology would act as a platform on which city’s service delivery efficiency can be improved. Each state would be expected to develop its own way of using IT for monitoring and decision-making.

1.The guiding principles of the mission are co-operative federalism and minimum government, maximum governance. This requires that the national mission partner with the states. The national mission focuses on high-level objectives and does not get involved in operational supervision. The assumption is that if the stipulations from the national mission are limited in number, states will have the flexibility to design their own plans and this will also be in line with the guiding principles.

2.The service level gaps and the modality for achieving universal coverage vary widely among states and even within individual states. A common national approach will not be able to provide the flexibility that states need to devise and implement plans that suit state specific requirements. In the long run, the national mission encourages states to develop integrated state-wide service improvement plans for each sector covered by the mission.
For example, water supply in one state may require addressing gaps in distribution. In some other state it may require a common grid connecting many habitations to a distant water source. In sewage some states may choose a mix of centralized and decentralized systems. A state with high urban densities may choose centralized network based systems. A flexible mission allows states to allocate financial resources as per their unique contexts.
The financial share of cities will vary across states. It was left to State Governments to decide how the residual financing (over and above national government share) is shared between the state and the ULBs.

3.Individual states should be free to draw up their service improvement plans and intra-state allocations on their own. The national mission should provide states the flexibility to decide the size of their overall service improvement plan. States can decide the size of their service improvement plan based on their own strengths and plans. States where ULBs are able to borrow commercially or access private finance may pursue a larger service improvement plan by leveraging the support from the national mission.

4.States can apportion the investments between sectors based on gap analysis. States could also pursue multi-city solutions. For example, where surface water sources are scarce and distant, a state could plan for a regional grid for water supply. States which have already invested in one or other sectors (for example public transport) could allocate resources to other essential services.

5.States can also decide inter-ULB allocation based on gap analysis and strength of individual ULBs. For example, states can choose to include those habitations that have higher gaps in essential services. Financially strong (not necessarily based on size) ULBs in a state can finance a larger share of the investment as opposed to financially weaker ULBs. ULBs with a high proportion of urban poor could receive a higher share but as decided by individual states himself or herself.

6.The AMRUT can focus on state level service improvement plans, i.e how state governments diagnose gaps, plan & finance capital expenditure, and achieve service delivery targets. The financial support from the mission should be towards these service improvement plans at an overall state level. Inclusion of ULBs, allocation to individual ULBs and other inter-ULB issues should be designed by each State based on their individual contexts and as they deem relevant.

7.A national mission will not have the administrative bandwidth to appraise, process and monitor 500 habitations, which would lead to at least 1,000 projects. This bandwidth exists in some places and needs to be strengthened in others. Duplicating this at the national level is unnecessary. Focusing at state level, instead of city level, will also help the mission attend to higher-level issues such as devolution, leverage of finances etc.

8.Since the launch of JNNURM, state governments have gained experience in administering urban investment programmes. Many States, such as Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh have also launched their own urban development programmes. Many other States such as Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Uttarakhand and Assam are administering externally funded multi-city urban programmes. Many such states have strengthened their nodal agencies and institutional mechanisms. Therefore, State Governments have the requisite experience.

Sameer Sharma, PhD

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