Dilli's ills - 3 - "Who governs our cities?"

"How to tackle the institutional problems of a metropolis is a mystery wrapped up in an enigma. I wonder how these mega problems can be broken up into bite sized, chewable ones".

The list of agencies 'taking care' of NCR is truly endless.

NDMC (New Delhi Municipal Council)
NDMC, SDMC, EDMC (trifurcated Municipal Corporation of Delhi)
DCB Delhi Cantonment Board
DUDA Delhi Urban Development Agency (newest kid on the block)
*(The ever-expanding NCR has other agencies too)
MCF Municipal Corporation Faridabad
MCG Municipal Corporation Gurgaon
Noida Development Authority / Noida Municipal Corporation

"The fact is that Indian cities, unlike many cities abroad, lack leadership. The mayor, supposed to be the first citizen of the city, has neither the time nor the power to steer the city's affairs. The tenure is a glorious one year in cities like Delhi and Bangalore or a slightly extended 20 months in some other cities. Contrast this with cities such as London, Paris or New York where the mayor is looked upon as a person to lead and guide the destiny of the city in good times and bad. Following 9/11, it was mayor of New York, Rudy Guiliani, and not the governor or president, who played a key role in restoring the city and the spirit of its citizens."
"It is time for radical reforms in city governance. The 74th constitutional amendment of 1993 aimed at making the municipalities units of self-governance. Seventeen years down the line, this vision has remained mostly on paper. A multiplicity of authorities are engaged in administering a metropolitan city - the municipal corporation, water board, electricity board, urban development authority, road transport corporation, slum clearance board and over and above all these, the state government wielding powers of control and direction. The decentralisation envisaged under the constitution remains a mirage. State governments are reluctant to let go of their powers over cities which not only generate wealth but wealthy politicians and bureaucrats, exemplified by the recent scams: Commonwealth Games in Delhi, Adarsh in Mumbai and land deals elsewhere. The urban growth in India is accompanied by the growth of political economy in its ugly form.

As the Indian population turns more and more urban and with increasing number of urban electoral constituencies, cities are becoming battlegrounds of political power. In the last elections to one of the largest municipal corporations in India, candidates are said to have spent up to Rs 2 crore to win a small ward of not more than 30-40,000 people - an indicator of the enormous scope for corruption in our fast-growing metros. No wonder civic services suffer and urban infrastructure is far below the expected standards.

Any urban reform agenda should aim at creating city-level leadership along with accountability. This can be achieved by introducing a system of a directly elected mayor with executive powers and a five-year tenure. The mayor with his team would become responsible for all civic services and major city activities. Ward and neighbourhood committees would be constituted with powers to deal with local issues. The central and state governments would have to devolve adequate authority and resources to the local governments to function effectively. Systems and procedures would need to be streamlined to ensure transparency, accountability and efficiency.

Not that these reforms will transform our cities overnight but they are likely to throw up city-level leaders who will behave more responsibly. A system of checks and balances will have to be put in place. Local democracy also demands a vigilant citizenry that is more law-compliant. Ultimately, good governance is a combination of enlightened leadership and responsible citizenship."

(from a 2010 article by A Ravindra, former chief secretary of Karnataka)

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