Education

More than casinos of globalisation

D. MURALI | Updated on September 11, 2011

BL10_BOOKPROFIT



In the five years or so since the advent of the NURM (National Urban Renewal Mission), it is possible that its basic objectives have become blurred in the pursuit of projects and the dispensation of money, states K. C. Sivaramakrishnan in Re-visioning Indian Cities: The Urban Renewal Mission ( > www.sagepublications.com). He cites the Prime Minister's caution in 2005, regarding city development getting limited to a narrow-focused project approach. “He emphasised that the Mission was a ‘city-based programme,' and the ‘need was to enable cities to look outward and serve as a bridge between domestic economy and global economy. He decried the tendency in many states to ‘regard cities as wards of the state governments'…”

Fretting that the Mission has remained a project rather than a policy response, the author reminds us that in India's past, cities were not mute witnesses to change; and that there were many instances where municipal intervention helped to shape the outcome and further public interest. “But today, far from being the bridge between domestic and global economy, the citizen is reduced to being a silent spectator when his city itself has become the casino of globalisation. Helping him and his city to re-engage in city governance and reshape its destiny needs much vision, from both the state and the central governments.”



DUBIOUS SCHEME

The author is also critical of the MPLAD (Local Area Development) scheme, launched in 1993. “According to the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, it was meant to provide a mechanism for MPs ‘to recommend works of development nature for the creation of durable community infrastructure based on locally felt needs.'… Till 2008-09, a total of Rs 19,425 crore have been released and as many as 4,85,106 works have been sanctioned.”

Bemoaning that the ‘dubious' scheme has been replicated at the state level with schemes for the MLAs (and in some cities, for the councillors as well), the author highlights how, in the process, public funds which should usually be made available for schemes, considered by representative bodies as a whole at different levels, have now become the privilege of individual choice and judgment.

PEARL INITIATIVE

A chapter titled ‘Reinforcements for the reforms agenda' begins by discussing PEARL, the Peer Experience and Reflective Learning Programme, which aims to create networks between the Jawaharlal Nehru NURM cities for cross-learning and knowledge-sharing on urban reforms and city governance. PEARL has identified, for sharing and learning, areas such as accounting, property tax, municipal finance management, e-governance, citizens' call centre, skill development, and procurement procedures.

At the time of writing, a visit to >http://jnnurm.nic.in shows PEARL information dating to even 2007. A site with exciting PEARL content, however, is >www.indiaurbanportal.in, where, for instance, you find ‘news & events' listing a round-table meeting on ‘Climate change and urban development,' a national workshop on ‘Practitioners' experience exchange on Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) in solid waste management,' and a workshop on ‘Slum upgradation: Financing of incremental housing.'

Acknowledging the popularity of PEARL, the author notes that the more complex aspects of the reforms agenda, such as public participation, the effective disclosure regime, feedback, establishment and functioning of platforms for decentralisation, such as Wards Committees and Area Sabhas, have received less attention.



DISCLOSURE PRACTICES

A healthy development is that of the disclosure regime in matters of municipal governance, as an extension of Right to Information. Most of the state laws widely divide the information to be disclosed in two parts, one learns. Part A has details regarding the committees, minutes of meetings, officer directory and so on; and Part B deals with audited financial statements, levels of service provided by the municipality, annual budget and expenditure, details regarding subsidy programmes, including information on allocations and beneficiaries.

Studying the different state laws, the author finds: problems in the terminology used and the frequency stipulated; variation in the manner of publishing — ranging from newspapers, the Internet, notice-boards; and non-uniformity in the choice of information disclosed at the ward level, as distinct from the city level.

GOVERNANCE STRUCTURE

A frequent question is regarding the governance structure of our mega cities, considering the need to make it multi-jurisdictional and intergovernmental. The book cites examples from around the globe: China, where Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin function as city provinces; Bangkok, which is a governorate; London, with a two-tier arrangement; and Seoul. As for the idea of making the mega cities union territories, we have the example of Delhi and Chandigarh; but gaining acceptance to such a move is not easy, the author reminds, making a reference to the furore caused by the suggestion to convert Mumbai into a union territory, when the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat were established.

Another question taken up by the author is regarding new towns for old, or fleeing the city, because of apprehensions on if our existing cities and towns can ever cope with the challenging demand of globalisation and the vastly changing patterns of the economy, rising incomes and aspirations. He traces how, in the four decades after Independence, India built nearly 200 new towns, big and small. “They have ranged from creations in greenfields like Durgapur, Bokaro, Rourkela or Ranchi. We have also had Bhubaneswar, Gandhinagar and Chandigarh. Recently, the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) are holding out promise of such new towns. Gurgaon and Noida, or for that matter, Panchkula and Mohali, or even Kolkata's Rajarhat, are held as examples of brand new towns for the future.”

Yet, as Sivaramakrishnan points out, the sum total of the population of all these new towns put together does not even amount to 5 per cent of the incremental urban growth. Adding that, at best, partial success comes to those new towns which are extensions of existing cities or agglomerations like Navi Mumbai, he avers that the collection of upper-income or middle-income apartment complexes, touted with all the fanfare of an El Dorado in the making, will only be gated communities, which will eventually succumb to the pressures of connectivity and poor services. “A few among these new towns may serve as good examples of spatial planning, but overall, a greenfield new town strategy as an alternative, to accommodate urban growth on the scale needed, may not be feasible. .”

Educative material for urban planners, and professionals engaged in making cities robust.

Published on September 10, 2011

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