Former PM Manmohan Singh once said Mumbai would be another Shanghai but the only thing Mumbai has in common with China at the moment is noodle soup at eateries.
‘Smart City’? Or a perennial crunch. The recurring woes and the disorder such as the recent flooding in Mumbai– home to India’s richest municipal body, crowning all news channels these days has served to remind us that urban India cannot cope with the chronic weather phenomenon. Urban India provides the largest share of India’s economy with the service sector in the lead. Despite being the main source of economic activity and population, urban India is low in policy maker’s priorities. Urban governance structures are guaranteed to fail if the state governments refuse to share power with the local bodies. It is hard to believe but the chief minister has more say in making city related decisions than a mayor which means a city rarely gets the level of attention it deserves. To make things worse, a mayor in India is helpless and the benefit of city management is completely absent in India.
The government has launched the programme, ‘Smart Cities’, to make certain cities smart and liveable. But today, citizens are likely to respond bitterly when asked about ‘Smart City’. In Delhi, people have been tragically electrocuted by live wires and the city is on the heights of hazardous levels. In Bengaluru, a lake is foaming with toxic fumes. Kolkata is being painted blue, making citizen get the blues. Before the current Mumbai floods, rising water levels waterlogged Chennai. In Varanasi, reports show the Ganga is getting even dirtier. From Pataliputra to Indraprastha, we have always taken pride in our cities but without any facilities from city authorities.
On June 1, the 74th Amendment of the Indian Constitution which paved way for the formation of urban local bodies completes 26 years. These elected bodies were supposed to improve urban infrastructure and services. Nearly three decades on, these bodies are far from achieving their goal. They blame it on the unwillingness of the state governments to share power with the local governments and lack of capacity within the urban local bodies. These, along with lack of funds has resulted in chaotic cities with bad roads, bad drainage and malfunctioned administrative structure.
The problem in local administration is rather a simple one. Lack of funds. Local government has two sources of revenue- the grants from the state and central and tax collection. In reality, adequate funds are not being granted because most of the state fiscal devolution remains on paper. Also due to inadequate manpower, lack of digitization and awareness, the local bodies fail to collect tax from locals
Corruption, Violence, and Politicization are another and the major defects in the functionaries of these bodies. Any employment of violence by the state official will become a national issue in the newspaper. But if a local goon who wields power in local governance resorts to violence then there is little hope for justice.
Plastic bags banned, but do bans ever really work? The most important reform is to make the mayor directly accountable to voters. This can happen only when the motive behind the 74th amendment of the constitution – which recognized urban local bodies as the third tier of government, is respected. Mayors or the local authorities need financial autonomy and freedom to perform reforms. To illustrate, garbage disposal is a complicated which requires expertise, resources and leadership. When cities fail at this essential task, it falls into public health problems. Similarly, urban planning can no longer be left to unaccountable architects and inconsiderate policy makers. Indian cities need to be taken seriously or they will fall apart.