UPSC CSE Mains Syllabus: GS-2- Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States, issues and challenges pertaining to the
federal structure, devolution of powers and finances up to local levels and challenges therein.
Robust Urban Governance – only way ahead
COVID-19 has brought in unprecedented challenges to India’s metropolitan cities, yet again highlighting their limited capabilities to self-govern. India’s top metropolitan cities — Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad — now account for nearly half of the country’s cases of COVID-19.
- Metropolitan Governance has a bearing not just on the response to COVID-19 but also in preparedness for other natural and man-made disasters and contingencies.
- Specific systemic factors underlying city governance include spatial planning, municipal capacities, empowered mayors and councils and inter-agency coordination, and ward-level citizen participation.
- Twenty-seven years have passed since the enactment of the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act, but these reform agendas continue to be on slow.
Lack of robust integrated spatial planning:
- The Constitution mandates formation of Metropolitan Planning Committees (MPCs) in all metropolitan areas with a million-plus population.
- MPCs are envisioned to ensure integrated planning for the entire metropolitan area, and are responsible for the preparation of draft development plans, synthesising priorities set by local authorities, State and Central governments.
- In reality, MPCs are either not constituted or are defunct.
- Janaagraha’s Annual Survey of India’s City-Systems (ASICS) 2017 report found that only nine out of 18 cities assessed had constituted MPCs even if on paper.
- The absence of comprehensive integrated planning is starkly visible in the COVID-19 crisis. Poor housing, sanitation, and a lack of access to meaningful social security are a reality for the urban poor.
Weak municipal capacities:
India’s metropolitan cities have weak capacities in finance and staffing.
- Bengaluru’s average percentage of own revenue to total expenditure is 47.9%
- Chennai 30.5%
- Mumbai 36.1%
- Kolkata at 48.4%.
According to ASICS 2017, Mumbai has the highest number of officers per lakh population at 938. However, this is abysmally low compared to global cities such as Johannesburg with 2,922 officers and New York with 5,446 officers per lakh population.
COVID-19 resurfaces the poor capacity of municipalities in delivering infrastructure and services, and managing disasters.
Weak mayoral system:
- The leaders steering India’s metropolitan cities are powerless.
- No big metropolitan cities with 10 million-plus population has a directly-elected Mayor.
- Mumbai’s Mayor has a tenure of 2.5 years, Delhi and Bengaluru, a mere one year.
- Furthermore, Mayors do not have full decision-making authority over critical functions of planning, housing, water, environment, fire and emergency services in most cases.
- Metropolitan cities are far from being local self-governments.
- Parastatal agencies for planning, water and public transport report directly to State governments. The State government also largely controls public works and
Rise of smaller towns:
- A World Bank report notes that despite the emergence of smaller towns, the underlying character of India’s urbanisation is “metropolitan”.
- New towns are emerging around existing large cities.
- According to a McKinsey report, in 2012, by 2025, 69 metropolitan cities, combined with their hinterlands, will generate over half of India’s incremental GDP between 2012 and 2025.
- Despite this, India is yet to begin an active discourse on cohesive metropolitan governance frameworks.
- The challenges posed by COVID-19 offer a glimpse into various other future threats of climate change, natural disasters, etc. which will further strain Indian cities.
- The first steps should include empowered Mayors with five-year tenure, decentralised ward level governance, and inter-agency coordination anchored by the city government.
- Globally, metropolitan cities are steered by a directly-elected leader, with robust mechanisms to reduce fragmentation in governance.
- Evolved examples include the Tokyo metropolitan government, and recent experimental models such as combined authorities in the United Kingdom and Australia.
- India needs home-grown solutions suited to its context and political realities, while imbibing lessons on institutional design from global examples.
- While India’s urban vision should focus on its metropolitan cities to reap the benefit of scale, it shouldn’t ignore smaller cities.
- There is an urgency to bolster the capability of municipalities to self-govern.
- Only medium- to long-term spatial planning that focuses on equal access to opportunities and services can avoid a repeat of such disasters.
- India should use the current pandemic as an opportunity to introspect and reform the way its metropolises are governed. It is time the Central and State governments lead efforts towards a metropolitan governance paradigm.
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