URBAN BASIC SERVICES SCHEME: A STRATEGY FOR IMPROVING THE LIVING...
URBAN BASIC SERVICES SCHEME: A STRATEGY FOR
IMPROVING THE LIVING CONDITIONS OF THE URBAN
N. ASHOK KUMAR and V. GNANESHWAR
Proliferation of slums and urban poverty are the twin evils afflicting the urban society in India. A number of
schemes were devised to alleviate the living conditions of the urban poor, but such efforts could not
achieve the desired results because of sectoral approach. In the light of these earlier pit-falls, a
comprehensive and integrated scheme, viz., Urban Basic Services, was launched by the Government of
India in the seventh plan period, with the involvement of the UNICEF, the Central Government, the state
governments and the local bodies. A three-tier planning frame with an array of activities and active
community organisation was conceived in the scheme. The scheme depends heavily on voluntary
community participation and on the convergence of urban development activities at the town level.
The scheme, launched with laudable objectives and promises, could not achieve the anticipated results
in the first part of the seventh plan period. The reasons for this are multiple and complex. In this study,
an evaluation of the scheme is made, based on certain sample towns in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa.
Dr. N. Ashok Kumar and Dr. V. Gnaneshwar are Research Officers at the Regional Centre for Urban and
Environmental Studies, Osmania University, Hyderabad.
In developing countries like India, the problems of urban areas are multi-faceted.
Rapid urban growth, unrelated to the overall developmental growth, has been the
main characteristic of the urbanisation process. However, the pace of urbanisation
differs from country to country. What concerns the government is the pattern of the
spatial distribution of urban population within the country. The concentration of
population and natural resources in a few cities is the main reason for the present
state of urban chaos. This has not only resulted in an unbalanced pattern of
urbanisation, but has also produced back wash' effects, demanding immediate
attention. Challenges like water scarcity, pollution, drain of natural resources, health
hazards, malnutrition, proliferation of slums, urban poverty, and unemployment
plague the present urban system. In the light of these problems, urban policy makers
have realised, although late, the importance of evolving a composite national urban
policy, involving settlement planning and social and economic development.
Urban development did not receive due attention in the planned developmental
process, till the fifth five year plan. Various urban development programmes have
been launched since then, viz., Environmental Improvement of Urban Slums (1972),
Integrated Urban Development Programme (1974-75), Integrated Development of
Small and Medium Towns (1979), and Low Cost Sanitation. This apart, the Govern-
ment of India has sponsored urban development schemes in collaboration with
international agencies like UNICEF, World Bank and ODA. But these have not been
effective mainly because of their sectoral approach. Different agencies have
attempted developmental tasks with no forward or backward connections.
2 1 6 N. Ashok Kumar and V. Gnaneshwar
Urban Basic Services—A New Approach
During 1981-83, UNICEF launched the UBS under the Master Plan of Operations, in
agreement with the Government of India under the principle of the Programme of
Cooperation. Under this programme, the UNICEF provided financial assistance to the
Urban Local Bodies to undertake three different programmes under the urban basic
services scheme: Urban Community Development, Low Cost Sanitation, and Small
and Medium Towns Development. The activities and projects implemented during
this period were essentially sectoral in approach. The funding and implementation of
the scheme was managed solely by the UNICEF with no direct involvement of the
Government of India. Subsequently, the Government of India thought of merging all
the three programmes, implemented during this first attempt of the UNICEF, into one,
and converging it with the other central and state government schemes already in
operation, in order to avoid duplication and to make the scheme more effective. The
scheme of Urban Basic Services (hereafter UBS) was thus evolved by merging the
UCD, LCS and SMTD in the year 1985 under the 2nd M.P.O. over the period 1985-89.
This scheme is now centrally sponsored like the other schemes which are in operation
with the direct involvement of the Government of India, the State Government and
the Local Bodies concerned.
As the UBS is a community oriented scheme, aiming at the development of the
community as a whole, the importance of community participation in the implementation
of the scheme was given utmost priority.
The basic theme of the scheme is to improve the living conditions of the urban
poor—in particular, women and children. In order to achieve this goal, the following
objectives were formulated:
(i) to inculcate a community spirit among the people;
(ii) to provide primary education to women and children;
(iii) to provide primary health and nutritional facilities to urban women and children
of the low income groups, in order to improve their survival rate;
(iv) to motivate community organisation and group action;
(v) to impart vocational training to women of low income categories and facilitate
their employment opportunities in order to improve their economic position;
(vi) to provide basic civic facilities.
Modalities of Implementation and Machinery
The approach of the scheme is multi-disciplinary and the strategy adopted is that of
convergence of the various activities. A spectrum of activities like employment
generation, health, nutrition, skill development, education and training, social and
economic awareness and provision of civic facilities form part of this scheme. As the
Urban Basic Services Scheme 217
scheme, per se, does not involve much financial commitment, its integration with
various ongoing developmental programmes at the town level is envisaged, to help
bring about a composite over-all development.
Preparation of plans is attempted at three levels: district, town and neighbourhood.1
The main functionaries responsible for implementing the scheme are the district
coordinator, the assistant coordinator, the project officer, the community organiser
and members of the neighbourhood committees.2 The municipal commissioner or the
executive officer is expected to supervise the implementation at the town level. The
district coordinator is made responsible for the preparation of the district plan. The
plan of action at the town level is prepared by the project officer, in consultation with
the municipal commissioner, and with the assistance of the community organisers.
The preparation of the community level plans (basti- or mini-plans) are entrusted to
the neighbourhood committees. Over and above these, the actual implementation is
left to the community itself.
Objectives of this Study
The purpose of this paper is
(i) to examine the overall performance of the scheme;
(ii) to outline the factors affecting the speedy implementation of the scheme; and
(iii) to study the role of voluntary organisations.
The observations made in this paper are based on a field study conducted in selected
Findings of the Study
The scheme commenced in the year 1985. Initially, it was designed to cover 200
towns. On an average, each town was allocated Rs. 3.00 lakhs per year and the
financial pattern is in the ratio of 40:20:20:20 for the UNICEF, the Government of
India, the State Governments and the Local Bodies, respectively.
As per the guidelines of the scheme, identification of projects is the responsibility of
the neighbourhood committees. This means that the formation of neighbourhood
committees should be followed by the formulation of projects. The formulation of
projects begins with the identification of slums. And for the identification of slums and
projects, a base-line survey is a pre-requisite, and this base-line survey is to be taken
up by the neighbourhood committees, with the assistance of the community
organisers. By doing this, it was expected that the various projects would reflect the
real needs of the community. But, this has not happened in the sample towns under
study. No base-line survey was conducted to identify the slums and the real needs of
the community. Slums were selected from the existing list, which was prepared a long
time ago by the municipal staff. Even the different projects designed are based on the
pre-conceived notions of the municipal staff and do not, necessarily, reflect the real
needs of the communities. This was due to the considerable delay in the appointment
of the scheme functionaries.4 In the absence of the UBS functionaries, the municipal
staff did the preliminary work relating to the selection of the slums and the
2 1 8 N. Ashok Kumar and V. Gnaneshwar
identification of the projects which were to be undertaken under the scheme. In most
of the towns, the formation of neighbourhood committees is yet to be completed.
As a result of this initial delay, the release of funds commenced only in the latter part of
1986-87. The UNICEF released its first instalment in November 1986, in all the
selected towns under study, except Bhavanipatna and Kariar (in Orissa), which
received it in September and June of 1987, respectively. The Government of India,
on its part, released the first instalment for all the sample towns in Andhra Pradesh and
Kariar in Orissa during 1987-88. For the remaining three towns in Orissa, the first
instalment was released in March, 1987. On the other hand, the state government
released their first instalments in March, 1987 (except in the case of Anantapur and
Cuddapah towns in Andhra Pradesh). Almost all the municipalities added their due
share to the fund as and when required. Delay in the release of funds hampered the
pace of the implementation of the scheme. As a result, there were considerable
constraints on the programmed expenditure.5
The absence of specific written guidelines, and the lack of clarity about the role of each
functionary, are the major obstacles facing the functionaries. This apart, the concept
of the UBS scheme is still not clear to the functionaries. These three issues need more
attention. A number of merely oral instructions from the UNICEF put the functionaries
in a dilemma of whether to follow them or not. This is because, in the present
bureaucratic set-up, every guideline or clarification should be lucid and in writing. The
functionaries are hesitant to carry out the instructions given orally, as they are directly
answerable to the government as and when the latter seeks clarification, regarding
the various aspects of the scheme. In the absence of specific guidelines, the
functionaries are reluctant to take decisions at the right time, which results, inevitably,
in a wastage of time and a delay in implementation.
It was observed that the project officer felt neglected and humiliated in a number of
cases. This is because he has to function under the direct supervision of a municipal
commissioner, and both of them are senior officers. Apart from their different
backgrounds, they have status problems too. The project officers are not even
provided with supporting staff. They have to depend, for everything, on the municipal
commissioners, and this makes their position irksome. The roles of the project officers
and the municipal commissioners are not clearly stated in the guidelines. This causes
problems of coordination between these two functionaries. In the process, the
functioning of the community organisers has become more complicated. They are
compelled to work under two equal ranking senior officers, often uncertain about
whose orders they must carry out. The commissioner is one of the members of the
selection committee constituted for the selection of the community organisers, and
this makes the community organisers obliged to accept the orders issued by the
commissioners, although they do not belong to the municipal cadre. Contrary to this,
the community organisers are placed in the lowest hierarchy of primary UBS
functionaries and, hence, are subordinate even to the project officer. They find
themselves in a dilemma when the commissioner expects them to carry out only his
orders and not the project officer's, and vice versa. This problem did not, however,
surface wherever there was no project officer. A clear and specific role demarcation
for each functionary is, thus, very essential. The conflict of roles was also seen at the
level of the assistant coordinator. The assistant coordinators, who are drawn from the
rank of deputy collector, are not even provided with the minimum facilities, such as a
Urban Basic Services Scheme 219
separate room with supporting staff. In a few towns, all the three primary functionaries
are compelled to carry out their jobs sitting in a single room.
The Commissioners, in certain cases, are under the impression that they have no
direct role to play, as a separate cell was created in the municipality for the
implementation of the scheme, and, hence, they are not directly responsible for any
drawbacks in the success of the scheme. This is not the situation in other centrally
sponsored schemes like IDSMT, EIUS and Low Cost Sanitation, where the
commissioners are made responsible for implementing the schemes.
Among the functionaries, including the municipal commissioners, the concept of
UBS' is not yet clear. This is, primarily, due to the lack of experience in this field. This
scheme involves working with the people, community development and community
participation, particularly of the urban poor. Regular field exposure, and the sharing of
experiences among all the levels of the functionaries, is vital in developing
One of the main weaknesses observed relates to integration of this scheme with the
other ongoing (centrally and/or state-sponsored) urban development schemes. In the
selected towns in Andhra Pradesh, where one or more centrally or state-sponsored
urban development schemes like IDSMT, EIUS, LCS, and UCD are in progress, no
attempt has been made to integrate these programmes with the UBS scheme. This
lacuna was not noticed in the sample towns in Orissa State as there was no other major
scheme under implementation, other than the UBS.
In the implementation of the UBS programme, a vide gap was observed between the
aims and the actual performance. The various types of projects recommended under
the scheme can be grouped into the following five components:
Name of the
Projects covered under each component
Drilling of borewells, provision of hand pumps and soak
Training for dhais, training in first-aid and oral dehydration
to NHC members, supply of ventilators, distribution of
vitamin tablets, and immunization.
Low cost individual and community latrines, dust bins,
construction of common platforms near borewells with
soak pits, smokeless chullahs, low cost drains, street
lighting and tree plantation.
Balwadi and adult education centres, T.V., radio and
reading centres, film shows, and awareness programmes.
Training for the UBS functionaries, members of NHCs
220 N. Ashok Kumar and V. Gnaneshwar
While the projects listed above are incorporated in the town action plans, the
projects attempted in the towns under study are immunization, tailoring, balwadi and
adult education centres, dust bins, smokeless chullahs, and awareness programmes.
Only a few municipalities in Orissa could implement other additional projects, namely,
low cost community halls, individual and community latrines, tubewells with platforms
and hand pumps, and supply of ventilators. On the whole, it is seen that, though a
number of projects were incorporated in the town action plans, implementation
was restricted to only a few. For that matter, the income generating projects,
which are given much importance in the town action plans with a view to improving
the living conditions of the urban poor, are conspicuous by their absence. The only
exception to this is the project which gives training in the field of tailoring. The reasons
for the shortfalls in achieving the desired results are as follows:
(1) Non-availability of either government or municipal land in the selected areas
in the towns, because of which the municipalities are unable to undertake
projects like the construction of community halls or balwadi centres. In the
absence of community halls, it is very difficult for the urban local bodies to
run the balwadi/adult education centres as envisaged in the guidelines.
Currently, these centres are located either in the instructor's own house or in
rented rooms. To pay the rent, some fee is being collected from the beneficiaries
themselves, leading to a confusion among the people about the very purpose
of the scheme.
(2) Poor inter-agency coordination during the implementation of the scheme was
observed. Urban local bodies are the primary agencies for the implementation
of the scheme, but they also have to depend on the other departments, as the
scheme is multi-sectoral. This is due to inadequate manpower as well as
expertise available in the municipalities. The major departments, whose
cooperation is required during the implementation of the scheme, are education
industries, health, women and child welfare, public relations, industrial training
institutes, youth services, revenue and horticulture. In order to seek cooperation
from these departments at the district levels, the Joint Collectors are placed in
charge of the overall monitoring of the scheme. But, it was observed that the
municipalities are confronted with a lack of cooperation from these departments,
resulting in a wastage of time.6
(3) The absence of clarity relating to the service conditions, and to the continuity
of the scheme after the withdrawal of the UNICEF, has created considerable
confusion among the community organisers, and they are, therefore, losing
interest in the implementation of the scheme. To compound the problem, the
scale of pay of community organisers has been reduced from the existing scale,
causing a hue and cry among them.
(4) Political pressures and the non-involvement of men-folk during the imple-
mentation of the scheme are further reasons for the poor results. As per the
guidelines, all members of the neighbourhood committees are females. There
is no scope for men becoming members and it has resulted in the development
of a negative attitude among the men, who will not allow their wives to participate
in the scheme.
(5) The UNICEF has imposed certain restrictions in the utilisation of its share of
Urban Basic Services Scheme 221
financial assistance, and this has had a negative impact on the functionaries
and beneficiaries. The restrictions are listed below:
(i) restriction on appointing ayahs;
(ii) restriction on taking accommodation on rental basis to run the balwadi
and adult literacy centres, and tailoring centres;
(iii) no provision was made to supply nutritious food to the balwadi centres;
(iv) no provision was made for the payment of remuneration to the instructors
of the sewing centres;
(v) the fixation of a ceiling of Rs. 15,000/- on the cost of construction of
community halls, and the insistence that the beneficiaries contribute one-
fourth of the total cost;
(vi) no provision was made for engaging any supporting staff to assist the
functionaries in their daily official duties;
(vii) the insistence that the urban local bodies put in their share into the scheme
Only in a few cases did urban local bodies go ahead ignoring the constraints
imposed on them, in order to avoid a delay in the implementation of the scheme,
by providing ayahs and nutritious food (mostly bread slices) to the balwadi
centres and paying remuneration to the instructors of tailoring centres. All these
were done under compulsion and against the accepted norms of the scheme.
(5) A lack of regular and effective review meetings at the district and town levels
to monitor the implementation of the scheme was observed.
(6) The involvement of voluntary agencies was not as envisaged in the guidelines.
Wherever voluntary agencies are involved, good results have been noticed.
In a few cases, the functionaries themselves, being the members of voluntary
organisations like Rotary and Lion's Club, could mobilise the support of these
voluntary organisations in organising training camps on literacy, health and
income generation aspects. Except for these stray instances, not much effort
was made to involve voluntary, and other such allied, agencies, in the
implementation of the scheme. Hence, this is an area which needs greater
attention, as participation of voluntary organisations is one method of getting
people's participation in the development programmes.
Suggested Remedial Measures
In the light of certain weaknesses observed, the following suggestions are made to
strengthen the scheme:
(1) Convergence is the basic principle of the scheme. In the towns, wherever
other development programmes are in progress, they can be integrated with
the Urban Basic Services Scheme in order to avoid duplication and help achieve
a total perspective of development on a target population.
2 2 2 N. Ashok Kumar and V. Gnaneshwar
(2) Before launching the scheme, identification of needs is a pre-requisite. The
specific requirements of the people, in the light of services available in their
localities, needs to be taken into consideration. For this, a base-line survey has
to be undertaken. And if the projects are formulated, based on the survey, they
will reflect the 'felt needs' of the people. In most of the community development
programmes, this effort of conducting a base-line survey by the neighbourhood
committees, prior to the finalisation of the projects, is lacking. This activity has
to be made compulsory.
(3) A package of income-generating activities for women of low income groups
could be designed under the scheme, on the lines of DWCRA (Development of
Women and Children in Rural Area Programme). Feeble attempts have been
made in this direction, mainly in the form of training in papad
knitting. Imparting training alone will not automatically improve the living
conditions of women of the low income group. Training in both manufacturing
and marketing of various household goods like candles, chillies or turmeric, sambar
powders, fryums, soap, nut powder, leaf plates, pickles, bags, stationery
items like writing-pads and note-books, simple food stuffs, must be imparted
simultaneously. Similarly, in the case of different occupational groups like
Medara, training in the household manufacturing of various types of decorative
items, made of bamboo and cane, can be imparted, in view of the large
demand for such items in different parts of the country. Additional income
for the low income groups could be created by such efforts and would help
in the improvement of living conditions. To achieve this, apart from training
and marketing, seed money must also be provided. The involvement of various
agencies like public financial agencies, departments of marketing and co-
operatives, industrial training institutes, and departments of small scale
industries, thus, becomes necessary in this process.
(4) The present practice of constituting and holding separate monitoring meetings,
to review different urban development schemes individually, could be replaced
with a comprehensive committee for all the schemes, with the concerned
officials and non-officials as its members. This will make it possible to hold a
comprehensive sitting in order to review the progress of all the different
urban schemes at one time. Not only will it help in sorting out inter-departmental
problems, but will also facilitate cooperative efforts in solving the problems of
the urban poor. It is advisable to hold the meetings once in three months, rather
than once a month, as there would not be much progress or change in the scheme
implementation in just a month.
(5) Training programmes, and orientation on various aspects of the scheme, are
to be organised for all levels of functionaries, such as the UNICEF staff, members
of the voluntary agencies, community leaders, housewives, and members of the
municipal council. This apart, workshops-cum-seminars need to be conducted
for the higher officials at the state level, like secretaries and directors of
municipal administration, in order to make them understand the theme of the
scheme more clearly, and for them to know the role they are to play in the
(6) Most of the assistant coordinators and project officers feel that they had
accepted the jobs either because of personal obligations or unavoidable
Urban Basic Services Scheme 2 2 3
compulsions. To them, the new assignment is not in the least attractive from
the point of view of exercising their powers. The amount of interest they have
in the scheme is negligible. In the light of these aspects, and taking into
account the time-bound nature of the scheme, two alternatives appear to be
appropriate: (i) to motivate them by giving independent charge, with the
required infrastructure facilities; or (ii) appointing persons for these positions
from the municipal administration department itself. Today, these functionaries
are facing a status problem and once it is solved there would be a greater
impetus for their participation in the scheme.
(7) Similarly, doubts relating to the service conditions, and the continuation of the
scheme after the withdrawal of the UNICEF from its association, has created
much uncertainty among the community organisers. It is a natural tendency,
given the present state of unemployment. Most of the community organisers
feel that if they get permanent positions and scales of pay, they can spend
their time and work on this job with more commitment and involvement. Hence,
there is an urgent need to clarify these doubts among the community organisers
who are the vital elements for the implementation of the scheme.
(8) Procurement of the land (municipal/government and/or private) before the
finalisation of projects, is necessary in order to avoid undue delay in the
implementation of the scheme. In this regard, interaction between the munici-
palities and the revenue department should be sound.
(9) Provisions pertaining to the appointment of ayahs, remuneration for the
instructors of the tailoring centres, and the allocation of funds towards the
payment of rents for the accommodations taken to run the balwadi and adult
literary centres, and tailoring centres, must be made in the scheme. This apart,
supply of nutritious food to the balwadi centres must also be introduced.
(10) The role of each functionary should be made clear in the guidelines, in order
to avoid role confusion and conflicts.
(11) With respect to the construction of the community hall, the beneficiaries need
not be compelled to contribute their share of one-fourth of the total cost of
construction, as they are ready to put in 'labor' as 'shrama daan' (free of cost).
(12) There should not be many restrictions on the utilization of funds provided
by any agency. The local bodies should be allowed to share the expenditure
on the repairs of the vehicles, the drivers salaries, diesel or petrol costs for
the vehicles under the UNICEF account, or else this will have an adverse
impact on the functionaries.
(13) In view of their catalytic nature, the voluntary organisations have a vital role
to play in the scheme. Further, the scheme covers areas such as social welfare,
provision of services, development of socio-economic environment around
human beings by improving the degree and quality of survival, and the
development of activities of women and children, which are similar to those
of the voluntary agencies. Every effort should be made to motivate the
voluntary agencies to involve themselves in the implementation of the scheme.
Regular links must be established with these organisations at the town,
224 N. Ashok Kumar and V. Gnaneshwar
district and state levels by the functionaries, including the commissioners
of the urban local bodies.
(14) The people's participation in the scheme needs to be encouraged at all costs.
Awareness programmes relating to the concept and objectives of the scheme
through films, interaction with service-oriented persons, drawn mostly from
mahila mandals and other related agencies, have to be organised. People's
participation should be encouraged at all stages of the implementation of
the scheme, from the stage of the formulation of the projects to their final
The authors feel that, so far, the achievement of the objectives of the scheme has
not been as expected. Yet, it is hoped that in the remaining period, the objects will
1. The district plan consists of the analysis of the urban situation on the district;
selection of towns in the district; objectives to be achieved; programme activities;
staff requirement and financial commitment. The plan of action is a town level
plan document. The plan of action, linking all the mini-or basic-plans, is prepared.
It consists of component-wise details of each activity, along with the objectives
and action programmes of each implementing agency, targets to be achieved,
budget allocation, and the expected outcome of each activity. The plan is
prepared within the frame work of the district plan operations. The basti-plan,
which is the basis for the preparation of the plan of action at the town level,
reflects the problems and immediate needs of each and every household in the
community, and necessitates the people's participation in the implementation of
2. The joint collectors act as the district coordinators at the district level. The status
of the assistant coordinators is equivalent to that of a deputy collector. They are
on deputation from the revenue department on a full-time basis to monitor the
scheme at the district level. The project officers, whose status is equivalent to
that of a Block development officer, are also drawn from the revenue department
on deputation. The community organisers are recruited afresh at the town level.
The neighbourhood committees comprise elected volunteers, each representing
20 to 25 families.
3. The towns covered under the study are Srikakulam, Nalgonda, Suryapet,
Miryalaguda, Anantapur and Cuddapah in Andhra Pradesh, and Bhavanipatna,
Kariar, Junagarh and Titilagarh in Orissa.
4. In most of the towns, the community organisers were appointed in early 1987.
In Kariar and Junagarh towns in Orissa State, the appointments for the position
of community organisers were made only in September/October, 1987, while in
Miryalaguda Municipality in Andhra Pradesh no community organiser was appointed
till November, 1987. It was a similar case for the appointment of project officers.
Urban Basic Services Scheme 225
5. By the end of December, 1987, the expenditure incurred on the scheme by the
sample municipalities is as follows: Nalgonda (87%), Suryapet (82%), Miryalaguda
(0%), Srikakulam (41.92%), Kariar (97%), Bhavanipatna (60%), Junagarh (71%),
6. For instance, the Kariar Municipality had been requesting the revenue department
to demarcate a bit of government land in a particular locality where it proposed
to construct a community hall. Noticing undue delay and poor response from
the revenue department, the municipality took the initiative and started the
construction of the community hall in order to avoid wasting time. The work is
under progress. This is, of course, in anticipation of orders from the revenue
department. The question is, how many municipalities can take such an initiative
when there is poor cooperation between the municipality and other departments?
7. The Regional Centre for Urban and Environmental Studies, Hyderabad, has
successfully completed the first round of training programmes for all the
functionaries, covering two states, namely, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, in
collaboration with the UNICEF. The reorientation programme is currently going
on at the Centre.