Hardeep Singh Puri is a distinguished former diplomat. Many people were surprised when he was chosen to head the Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry. But, Puri has a number of plans, and he is proceeding at a breakneck speed to implement PM Narendra Modi’s flagship programmes. Excerpts from a conversation with BW Smart Cities’ Suman K Jha.
Were you surprised when you were chosen to head the Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry? You are after all a distinguished diplomat.
Well, I would not use the word surprise. All I can say is that it is a great honour and a privilege to be inducted into the council of ministers. But If I had to think as to what kind of ministry I would get, all I can say is that urban affairs is an issue which is very much a part of sustainable development goals the UN has negotiated in terms of 2030 agenda. And, in fact, urban local bodies cover 15 out of those 17 SDGs. So these are issues which I am familiar with. I am definitely very much excited and very positive in terms of challenges there.
There is a theory that you presented a paper which impressed the Prime Minister very much.
The distinguished members of the Fourth estate came up with all these theories. I have not presented any paper on anything. I have spoken on SDGs in different forms. I have written articles on the same as well. But, I did not prepare any paper as such.
What can be done to revive the housing sector of the Indian economy?
The housing sector will definitely be revived. The buzz in the market is that the future belongs to affordable housing. The sheer numbers, I am talking about 10 million houses in the current situation where you are looking at the 2011 study. But, 70% of the India of 2030 is still to be built. People will demand housing. The kind of innovative schemes the Government is providing such as land, credit linked subsidy schemes, etc. will make the sector attractive.
Why do you think that even the BJP-ruled states are dilly-dallying on RERA?
I would not say that. There are two things. We arrive at a judgement very hastily. RERA was not there for 70 Years. We have got RERA now, but, it was languishing for 8 years. It was effected only in May this year and it is still 7 months to arrive at any conclusion. I have been writing to the state governments to set up your RERA mechanisms and appellate tribunals. However, some states came under the influence of builders and tried to tweak the provisions on affordable housing and on on-going projects. The court is very clear and I am very clear about it though.
Many people feel that the Smart City Movement is slow.
It is not correct. It is just that people do not know enough about it. From the number of projects that are underway and tendering, it will be very clear soon that you are looking at huge amounts of money. When physical manifestations of schemes become clear, then people stop asking questions like this. A total investment of Rs. 1, 91,155 crores has been approved. It is just the start of the whole process. Smartness does not mean just Wi-Fi hotspots, but also integrated transport, cycle tracks, gardens and buildings, etc.