India urgently requires resilient and empowered cities

News:  Equitable and sustainable cities are the only solutions to balance the need for economic growth with the needs of people and the environment.

Cities across the world contribute about 80% of global gross domestic product. They are drivers of growth and dense labor marketplaces. However, recent developments have highlighted the severe economic, humanitarian, and ecological impacts of unbalanced urbanization in India.

What are the impacts of unbalanced urbanization in India?

Firstly, unbalanced development has made cities more vulnerable to environmental shocks that get more frequent and intense.

A World Resources Institute India report notes temperature rise and flooding as two key risks to Mumbai.

Mumbai’s municipal commissioner has highlighted the possibility of 70-80% submergence of key parts of the city by 2050.

Secondly, lack of adequate health infrastructure. It resulted in the mass movement of laborers towards their homes during the Pandemic. This mass movement of labor paralyzed industrial units, apart from civic and other services in cities.

So, building equitable and sustainable cities is the solution. However, there are certain problems with it.

What are the challenges in building equitable and sustainable cities?

Firstly, the reactive approach to development rather than the proactive approach often results in short-term gains that don’t keep pace with the city’s changing face.

Secondly, the issue of disaggregated management of cities. For instance, there are many different departments running a city, both from a planning perspective and for the provision of government services. This hampers the way city infrastructure and land usage get rolled out and increases the challenges for citizens in their interactions with the city administration.

What is the consequence?

A combination of the above results in large informality in how people live.

Lack of quality housing: Around 50% of a city’s population occupies 10% of the land and according to government data for 2016-17, 26-37 million families in urban India reside in informal housing. These areas are also more susceptible to natural disasters and crises

Poor access to state services: like water, sanitation, and health.

How implementing the 74th amendment act in letter and spirit can solve the issue?

It envisaged city planning, land-use regulation, and city services to be managed by local governments in a holistic way.

Most importantly, it set out the basis for local empowered governments and active citizen participation. However, its roll-out is still slow in most cities.

What needs to be done to truly empower our city governments?

According to Praja’s Urban Governance Index, an empowered city government is the first step towards building equitable and sustainable cities.  It can be done by focusing on the following areas,

Empowered city-elected representatives: by investing in building capacity of the elected representatives. Municipal councilors are critical in this journey, given their structured participation in city processes and a better understanding of available resources and citizen needs.

Empowered city administration: Technology should be used to enable a data-based dialogue between local governments and the citizenry. It can be turned into a city data hub that is easily accessible to citizens and municipal employees for grievance redressal, or for sharing information on government services

Empowered citizens: citizens’ understanding of a city’s working and their ability to be a part of local governance needs to be enhanced. For example, Organizations like Mahila Housing Trust are attempting to innovatively do this at scale in places like Delhi and Gujarat.

Source: This post is based on the article “India urgently requires resilient and empowered cities” published in Live mint on 24th Dec 2021.

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