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Indian cities lack resources to cope with rapid urbanization

LiveMint logoLiveMint 06-06-2014 Neha Sethi

New Delhi: Indian cities do not have the money or expertise needed to deal with the rapid urbanization sweeping the country, with Bangalore served by only 0.1% of the technical workforce that New York city has, according to the findings of an annual survey of cities by Janaagraha, a non-profit organization, released on Friday.

The survey ranked 21 Indian cities including metros Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Chennai on four parameters: urban capacities and resources; urban planning and design; transparency, accountability and participation; and empowered and legitimate political representation.

Surprisingly, Kolkata, often thought to be crumbling, was ranked number one overall— helped by a sound electoral process, a robust election commission and high voter turnout.

Conversely, Chandigarh, considered one of India’s best planned cities, came at the bottom—the result of a poor legal framework and lack of laws on public disclosure and community participation.

On the urban capacities and resources parameter, the 21 cities scored an average of only 2.6 out of 10, compared with the perfect 10s notched up by international benchmarks London and New York. The low average score signifies that Indian cities have a very poor institutional framework and non-existent performance management systems.

The national capital of Delhi ranked first in this category because it has the best staff strength among Indian cities and better financial management capability. Delhi has a staff strength of nearly 140,000 employees.

Ramesh Ramanathan, co-founder of Bangalore-based Janaagraha, said that all Indian cities suffer from a shortage of relevant staff at the urban local body (ULB) level. They also do not have the qualified professionals needed for the job.

Ajay Negi/Mint“Bangalore and New York have the same population, but Bangalore only had 15 technically qualified professionals (in areas like water management, solid waste management, urban planning and urban design) as compared to New York’s 15,000,” he said.

Ludhiana ranks the worst in this category, lacking autonomy over finances, and appointment and termination of its employees.

Srikanth Viswanathan, coordinator (advocacy, research and capacity building) at Janaagraha, said the first step that all ULBs should take is to ascertain the number of employees they need to manage the city.

Delhi was the best in urban planning and design as it has spatial development plans at the ward level, while Chandigarh again ranks the lowest here as it does not have a contemporary planning law and has plans only at the municipal level.

All the 21 cities score zero out of 10 when it comes to implementing spatial development plans, even though a lot of them have these plans in place.

Smaller cities like Thiruvananthapuram, Bhopal and Raipur ranked among the top five in transparency, accountability and participation as they have better and relatively newer legislation compared with bigger cities.

Thiruvananthapuram, for instance, was the only city to have appointed a local body ombudsman. Thiruvananthapuram and Patna are the only two cities that are in the process of designing new municipal legislation.

According to the survey, Indian cities also lack open government practices or participatory processes. All the cities scored between 1.4 (Dehradun) and 7.1 (Surat) on audits of ULBs. Only Mumbai, Pune and Surat made their audits available to the public.

On the empowered and legitimate political representation parameter, Kolkata came out the best as it is the only city to have constituted a metropolitan planning committee with the mayor as an ex-officio member.

The survey points out that mayors of bigger cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Ahmedabad do not have five-year terms and are not directly elected.

Ramanathan said that the new urban development process in the country needs to stand on three pillars—“spatial planning, improving urban capacities, both in terms of human and finance, and planning”.

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