The choice of Hardeep Singh Puri as India’s new Housing and Urban Affairs Minister was a well calibrated decision to fulfil PM Narendra Modi’s key agenda for housing for all and create world class urban infrastructure for Indian cities, banking on Puri’s profile as a diplomat with vast global experience.
In political terms too it was a big move, as the Ministry was placed high in the pecking order after it was vacated by Vice President Venkaiah Naidu, who was a senior BJP leader. Many within the party were eyeing the Ministry.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah were discussing the portfolio allocation, they took inputs from senior leader Arun Jaitley, who also favoured the use of Puri in a substantive Ministry which will be a priority of the government in the next two years, given his ability to perform in crunch situations.
It only helped his cause that Jaitley is an old college buddy and vouched for his performance as Mr. Dependable and that his performance as a diplomat has been exceptional.
However, PMO insiders say that even then before making up his mind, the PM got a 360 degree review done which gave him the confidence that an important Ministry could be entrusted to Puri, who was an accomplished diplomatic professional but a political greenhorn.
Puri, who is a first time entrant to the Council of Ministers, will now be elected to Rajya Sabha. He has got a big responsibility on his shoulders considering he now has the mantle of a high profile ministry.
Several pet projects of the PM are handled by this ministry – Swacch Bharat mission, Smart City Mission, Housing for All initiative and Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT). As he takes over, the challenges are evident. Besides, the
Under Housing for All scheme, the number of affordable houses built is 1.5 lakh against a target of 1 crore houses till 2022.
Swachh Bharat Mission’s main component, Solid Waste Management, has shown tardy progress. The Smart City project is ambitious but is yet to take off. Puri will also need to handle Metro projects as well as the archaic CPWD, amongst other elements of his Ministry to make a difference.
Clearly the PM will closely monitor his progress. If Puri performs well he can create a huge legacy for the Prime Minister and this can serve as Puri’s political launch pad.
PMO sources say that the Minister has been tasked to move things on a fast track from the ambitious smart city project, creating cleaner and better living and public spaces.
Puri is a go-getter and as a diplomat, is known to take on challenges and make things possible, which is what made the PM confident that he can deliver in the Ministry. However, for now he will have to tread carefully as he will need strong allies in the system to navigate through the Lutyens political corridors.