Learnings for Indian cities

One of the weakest report cards turned in by any sector in the last five years is the state of the urban economy. Some of the contributory reasons for the merciless attack on the brave-heart girl in the national capital were the terrible state of urban infrastructure development. The cities are neither working as centres for employment generation, nor as areas that can provide a better living conditions for the migrants. For young girls and boys from rural areas relocating to the Indian cities offers few location advantages. India is a rare example among the major developing country where the rate of migration from rural to urban areas is accordingly declining over the decades.

Yet shortage of funds is not the reason for this development gap. The assessment for the 12th Five Year Plan shows of the Rs 66,085 crore allocated for development of cities under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), only 62 per cent was spent in seven years till March 2012. If one cuts out the sum spent on buses as a sub-scheme for the 65 cities selected under the Mission, the actual sum spent is even less.

"Thus, despite some good examples in some cities, the overall progress in improving service delivery standards has been unsatisfactory. Another major shortcoming was the limited success in leveraging of JNNURM fund by locating non-budgetary financial resources including funds under PPP framework", the Plan document says.

The JNNURM shortcoming is through the same set of weakness that allowed the tragedy of December 16 to be played out. There are too many and poorly trained agencies that manage our cities, home now to about 370 million people. Most cities do not have viable municipal entities that can take on the responsibility to govern them with the funds that are being made. "Incomplete governance and financial reforms prevented emergence of the municipal entities as viable and financially sustainable entities. Lack of capacity has further emerged as a serious constraint', the same document adds. The IAS framework resists the development of a municipal cadre that can take on city administration while the cities degenerate.

Stung by these developments, despite the explosive expansion of cities the government is now thinking out of the box. These include setting up a municipal services regulator in each state; bring each city's services delivery under one authority, preferably the mayor and at the centre merging the ministries of urban development and that of housing and poverty alleviation. Can this December tragedy galvanise moves on some of these issues?

Subhomoy is a Deputy Editor based in New Delhi.

subhomoy.bhattacharjee@expressindia.com

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