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A change in approach to make our cities liveable

A change in approach to make our cities liveable

Context:

Our cities are in a mess and the quality of life they offer is either worsening, or improving painfully slowly.

Issues:

 Our cities do not have proper spatial plans; public utilities in our cities do not have design standards; cities do not have adequate funds to invest in capital expenditure; they do not possess financial management systems that measure financial accountability; human resources policies and practices of municipalities are outdated; mayors and municipal councils (of all sizes) are largely toothless; and citizens do not have avenues to participate systematically in their neighbourhoods.

The results of the Annual Survey of India’s City-Systems (ASICS) 2017 report,

  • The broken governance systems in our cities.
  • As a country we need to invest significantly in strengthening the municipality as an institution, and in the institutional systems and processes of city governance.
  • We cannot afford to focus on short-term projects alone (such as bridges and flyovers), but need to undertake a twin-track approach of projects plus institutional reforms.

Who needs to do this and how?

  • India’s journey of transforming our cities will need to be uniquely collaborative with leadership from governments but ownership across stakeholder groups.
  • A wide variety of stakeholders will need to be engaged.
  • However, leadership for institutional reforms in spatial planning (by overhauling town and country planning acts), fiscal decentralization, overhauling cadre and recruitment rules for municipalities, empowering mayors and municipal councils and instituting decentralized platforms for citizen participation (ward committees and area sabhas) will need to be at the chief minister’s level. The buck for city governance reforms stops with chief ministers.

City blueprints which have five components:

  1.  Quantitative goals for a five-year period, e.g. number of kilometres of walkable footpaths in the city or number of households for whom piped water supply would be extended.
  2. Detailed activity road maps with quarterly milestones (comprising both reforms and projects), on how the quantitative goals are proposed to be achieved and how simultaneously institutional strengthening would happen.
  3. Single owners at the city level to be appointed in whom accountability can be vested for sectors such as mobility, water supply, sanitation, housing, safety, etc.—rather than having multiple agencies handle parts of the same quality of life area.
  4. Performance dashboards which are published quarterly and show progress against quantitative goals and activity milestones.
  5. An institutional structure that, at least in the interim, overcomes the significant challenge of fragmentation of governance in a city across the municipality, parastatal agencies such as the transport corporation, the development authority, the water board, state departments such as traffic police, etc.

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