[Answered]In the coming decade, India’s cities need to focus on governance and sustainable development. In light of this, discuss various reasons for the poor performance of urban local bodies in India. What should be done to improve urban local governance?

Demand of the question

Introduction. Contextual Introduction.

Body. Discuss various reasons for the poor performance of urban local bodies in India. Steps needed to improve urban local governance.

Conclusion. Way forward.

India’s economic survey 2018, estimates that the country’s urban population will reach 600 million by 2031, which is a cause for concern for urban planners. Thus, cities in India will need to create new houses, health care services, water, and transportation infrastructure to accommodate the flow of migrants. Our cities are not prepared for it and would face governance challenges in near future. City infrastructure such as water supply, sewerage, solid waste management are under pressure and require appropriate government efforts.

Various reasons for the poor performance of urban local bodies in India:

  1. Poor governance: The largest reason for the poor condition of India’s cities is the failure of municipal governance. In some States, elections to urban local bodies have not been held for years, defeating the goal of decentralised governance. Tamil Nadu is an example. There is a complete lack of planning and governance at the urban local body level.
  2. Lack of management capacity: Indian municipalities do not have the management capacity to either plan economic activity or execute it. Poor urban planning and rapid unregulated growth in cities has caused severe damage to India’s cities. For instance, Chennai experienced severe flooding for the first time in 2015, because of the mindless urban expansion in the watershed areas of the city.
  3. Financial condition: The finances of municipalities are in a bad shape. City municipalities do not collect enough taxes to pay the salaries of their own employees. The Economic Survey of 2018 pointed out municipalities do not realise the full potential of property tax. The Survey showed that Bengaluru and Jaipur are currently collecting only 5-20% of their respective potentials for property tax.
  4. Top-down approach: Urban planning is done at the state government level and municipalities have little or no role in it. There is no direct responsibility for the consequences of planning as long as the municipality completes the plan. Poor planning, poor accountability, and poor governance have led to disasters.
  5. Lack of coordination: Poor coordination among centre, state, and various departments at local level lead to poor implementation of urban policies. Inability to coordinate leads to administrative inefficiency and thus poor urban governance. There is a range of institutions with overlapping functional jurisdiction, leading to confusion and poor coordination.

Steps needed to improve urban local governance:

  1. Greater autonomy: The urban local bodies should be given greater autonomy. India needs to follow a devolved model that empowers urban local bodies. In practice municipalities have very little autonomy. State governments continue to take decisions on matters such as property tax, octroi, which have an impact on the revenue of urban local bodies. Municipalities should be more autonomous in their functioning, so that they can deliver quality service.
  2. Encouraging public-private partnership: Successful PPP programs should be formulated at both state and city levels to fund city development. Role of the state should be to create an enabling environment with an aim to expand and deepen private sector investments in infrastructure, whereas city administration should develop and implement PPP projects.
  3. Planning: Government needs to coordinate at various levels with regard to implementation of various programmes. The urban local bodies should prioritise the development programmes. Any mega project envisaged needs to be developed taking into account the views of all the stakeholders.
  4. Governance reforms: For strengthening ULBs, a minimum level of staffing should be provided in metropolitan areas. Elections to ULBs should not be, generally, delayed beyond six months. The Government may consider the adoption of a common categorisation of urban bodies across the country so as to assist a systematic planning process and devolution of funds. All areas having population more than 10 lakh should be defined metropolitan areas.
  5. Holistic approach: It is important to integrate various urban development and related programs at local, state and national levels to develop sustainable city or metropolitan regions. Urban institutions should be strengthened and roles of different organisations should be fixed.

The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs has floated several schemes for urban transformation such as the Smart Cities Mission, HRIDAY for heritage cities, Housing for all and AMRUT. However, these schemes have not changed much on the ground. Municipalities have failed in their objectives and the quality of life in urban slums is substandard. To overcome this, a series of reforms are needed by the Indian government to strengthen local-level governance. To improve urban governance and delivery of services there should be appropriate government as well administrative actions.

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