|Demand of the question
Introduction. Contextual introduction.
Body. Discuss various issues related to urban local bodies in India. Mention measures to strengthen urban local bodies in India.
Conclusion. Way forward.
Indian cities are expanding rapidly. With growing urban population, city infrastructure such as water supply, sewerage, solid waste management are under pressure and require appropriate government efforts. There is a need to strengthen urban local bodies to deal with rising pressure on urban governance.
Various issues related to urban local bodies in India:
- Financial condition: The first and most serious problem facing the urban local bodies is the acute scarcity of finance. City municipalities do not collect enough taxes. The Economic Survey of 2018 pointed out municipalities do not realise the full potential of property tax.
- Excessive State Control: There is also strict control exercised by the state government over urban bodies. This proves to be more of a curse than a boon, because, instead of providing guidance and support through the control mechanism, the control turns out to be negative, restricting the functioning of these bodies.
- Irregular Elections: Elections to urban bodies have suffered constant postponement for indefinite lengths of time. In some States, elections to urban local bodies have not been held for years, defeating the goal of decentralised governance.
- Poor governance: The largest reason for the poor condition of India’s cities is the failure of municipal governance. There is a lack of planning and governance at the urban local body level.
- Lack of management capacity: Indian municipalities do not have the management capacity to either plan economic activity or execute it. The system of recruitment fails to bring in the best men. Several vacancies are not filled for years and transfers are effected at the free will of the senior bureaucrats and the government.
- Corruption: In these bodies corruption, favouritism and nepotism are rampant. In the case of most of the bodies, the state government is empowered to take disciplinary action and the urban body has very little control over its personnel.
- Urban planning: 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.
- 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.
Measures to strengthen urban local bodies in India:
- Greater autonomy: The urban local bodies should be given greater autonomy. India needs to follow a devolved model that empowers urban local bodies. Municipalities should be more autonomous in their functioning, so that they can deliver quality service.
- Governance Reforms: Governance reform are needed as catalyst for change. 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.
- Timely elections and recruitment: 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Urban local government institutions are constituted for the maintenance and planned development of urban areas. The objective is to ensure that suitable levels of infrastructure and services are available to the citizens. In many parts of India, the quality of life in urban areas is miserable and the citizens lead a difficult life. To overcome this problem, a series of reforms need to be initiated by the Indian government to strengthen local-level governance.