The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission is the largest initiative for planned development of India’s cities to date.

Launching the project, prime minister Manmohan Singh said: “Our urban economy has become an important driver of economic growth. It is also the bridge between the domestic economy and the global economy. It is a bridge we must strengthen. The latent creativity and vitality of our cities and the people who live in them must be tapped to facilitate higher economic growth.”

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Though much of India’s population remains rural, a radical shift is occurring. Urban areas added 65 million people to their numbers in the 1990s and nearly 50% of Indians are expected to be living in cities within the next few years. This influx, brought about by industrial development and the growth of the services economy, has put heavy pressures on urban infrastructure and services, especially in booming cities such as Bangalore.

The Nehru mission will seek to improve urban infrastructure and provide better services for the poor, primarily through urban governance reform.

Among the first cities to be targeted are those with importance to national heritage and potential for tourism and religious pilgrimage, such as Varanasi, Amritsar, Haridwar and Ujjain.