Urban Governance and Issues of Indian Cities

“Cities are regarded as “engines of growth” for economies. The confluence of capital, people and space in cities unleashes the benefits of agglomeration, creating a fertile environment for innovation of ideas, technologies and processes which produce huge economic returns. Cities in India generate two-third of national GDP, 90 per cent of tax revenues and the majority of formal sector jobs, with just a third of the country’s population.” – The Economic Survey 2017-18.

Urban Local Government is variedly referred to as Municipal Corporation, City Corporation, Mahanagar Palika, Mahanagar Nigam, or Nagar Nigam in different states. The 74th Constitution Amendment Act 1992 introduced a new Part IXA into the Constitution and made it obligatory on the state governments to do democratic decentralisation by devolving requisite powers of institutions of urban local governance.

The Mayor is an elected person and is the head of the urban local government but his role is largely ceremonial as the executive powers are vested in the Municipal Commissioner (who is non-elected). Tenure of a mayor is of 2.5 years. Pro-decentralisation views argue that more powers should be given to the mayor to enable him to work decisively and to enhance democracy in these root level organisations.

Issues in Urban Governance:

Multiplicity of Agencies:
One of the problems of urban areas is the multiplicity of government bodies and confusion regarding jurisdiction and responsibility, leading to reduced accountability and ineffective governance. For example, in Delhi, at least six agencies are involved in maintaining the city’s roads. Enhanced cooperation among authorities and a clarity over responsibilities is necessary for smooth functioning of administrative machinery.

Waste Management:
Waste generation is rising rapidly. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) estimates that by 2030, India will generate four times the amount of waste it generated in 2017. There is no clear roadmap about how this surge in waste would be managed. Government-appointed contractors, tasked with waste collection, themselves are burning waste openly in many cities. Most dumpsites and landfills are already past their saturation point and pose serious risk, as is evident from accidents such as fires, landslides at dumpsites.
The situation is not all grim though. Initiatives in Panaji, Alappuzha, Mysore and other cities, have shown that garbage management is a matter of simple solutions such as recycling at source, door-to-door collection, with a significant role of the neighbourhood waste collector and effective public awareness campaigns.

Plastic waste problem is particularly problematic for cities, as it chokes cities’ drainage and aggravates flood during heavy rainfall. It also pollutes water resources with micro-plastics that are known to disrupt our endocrine system. Single-use plastic items should be avoided and the right grade of plastic should be used. Minimum permissible thickness of plastic carry bags was increased to 50 microns (from earlier 40 microns) in Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016. Later in 2018, plastic carry bags were banned across India, with mixed results.

Waste should be segregated at source so as to ease recycling. Waste processing businesses should be encouraged and supported, so that waste can be recycled and organic waste can be used to generate bio-compost and bio-energy. But experts suggest that recycling would not be enough to take care of our bourgeoning piles of waste. We need to adopt healthier, eco-friendly lifestyles and reduce waste generation in the first place.

Infrastructure Funding for Cities:
Cities are growth engines of the nation. Urban Local Governments rely on devolutions from state government to fund cities’ infrastructure needs. However, many municipalities have innovated and use the following methods for self mobilisation of resources:

  • Municipal Bonds: These bonds utilise the large investor base in cities and are a much better option than bank borrowing to raise funds.
  • Value Capture Finance (VCF):
    • Value Capture is a type of public financing that recovers some or all of the value that public infrastructure generates for private landowners.
    • VCF tools can help raise resources by taking a share of the increase in the value, of land and other properties such as buildings, that results from public investments and policy initiatives in the identified area of influence.
    • These tools vary in nature across states (since land is a state-list subject) and apply in the form of – fees received for change of land use, development fee, etc.
      In 2016, India’s first VCF policy was announced by Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.

More related information:

Cantonment boards are administered by Union Ministry of Defence, all other urban local bodies are under respective state governments.

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