Castles in the air 

Castles in the air 

News:

  1. The article discusses about the concept of ‘Charter Cities” and its implications.

Important Facts:

  1. About Charter Cities
  • These are characterised as “startup cities” that experiment with reforms by breaking out of the existing state system and build new cities with distinct rules that foster innovation and economic growth.
  • Since the nation-state is too big a unit to try out new rules, these are built-from-scratch cities where an ideal site is selected at which new rules and institutions are introduced to attract investors and residents.
  • The concept of ‘Charter Cities’ was introduced by Paul M. Romer who has been awarded Nobel Prize in Economics this year jointly with William D. Nordhaus.
  • Nordhaus is credited for his pioneering work on “endogenous growth theory” that highlights how knowledge and ideas drive economic growth.
  1. Building Charter cities:
  • Charter Cities are created by setting apart tracts of uninhabited land for civic experiment.
  • The host country is required to enact a founding legislation or a charter that lays down the framework of rules that will operate in the new city.
  • A developing country can host the “Charter City” in its territory by “delegating” some of the responsibilities of administration to a developed country.
  1. Concerns regarding Charter cities:
  • Charter cities are being criticised as thinly disguised version of neo-colonialism.
  • Its calls poor nations to relinquish their sovereignty over certain territories in exchange for economic growth.
  • The people in Charter Cities do not have the right to vote to decide how the city is run. Hence, “Charter Cities” go against the basic principles of democracy and citizenship.
  1.   Justification to build Charter City:
  • Unlike colonialism, which was coercive, “Charter Cities” offer choice:. i.e. people have the freedom to decide to move into it. Based on their preferences, individuals can “vote with their feet”.
  • Romer remarked that British colonial rule in Hong Kong “did more to reduce world poverty than all the aid programs that we’ve undertaken in the last century”.
  1. Earlier attempts to build Charter Cities:
  • Madagascar:  “Charter Cities” was introduced in Madagascar in 2008 collapsed when the President who favoured the idea was greeted by violent protests and finally removed in a coup.
  • Honduras: The next attempt, in the Honduras, also failed as the Supreme Court there, in 2012, declared the creation of “Charter Cities” to be unconstitutional.
  • South Korea: The Songdo International Business District in South Korea which is eco-friendly “smart city” with the best of hi-tech amenities is threatening to be an underpopulated, lifeless ghost town.
  1. India’s Case:
  • India being a colonial nation once with a poor track record may find the idea of Charter Cities unattractive.
  • India’s experience in creating new cities with parallel rules and governance systems has also been fraught with conflicts.
  • Examples: Lavasa, a city near Pune which was developed by a private company, has been caught up in environmental disputes for many years.
  • The Dholera Special Investment Region and Gujarat International Finance Tec-City, the various investment regions housed within the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor have also made slow progress.
  • The initial idea of creating 100 new cities as “smart cities” has been reformulated as a programme for redeveloping merely a small portion of existing cities.
  1. Way forward:
  • Initiatives such as “Charter Cities” seek to supersede the politico-economic institutions with guiding logic is that creating built-from-scratch cities with parallel rules and institutions can drive economic growth.
  • It is not possible to create sanitised technocratic cities uncontaminated by politics as social and political claims over these cities cannot be ignored
  • Despite the failure of many such new cities and private governance regimes, the allure for Charter Cities refuses to die down.
  • Such initiatives need to be challenged for both their ignorant and implausible premise as well as their iniquitous normative framework.
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