DailyPost 2033

Urban local self-government with democratic representation and power, was supposed to be a tool of administration, enforcement and development. Headed by Mayors, it could have become the epitome of what democracy could achieve at the local level, that too in the medium and big urban centres of the country. There could not have been a better way of showcasing planned urban development or at least a methodical one. Smart cities provide different ways of going about it. Was it possible to create superstructure not supported by infrastructure, at least in most parts of most of the urban centres? Planned urban growth with ease of living was the promise out of which municipal corporations, were born, the jury is out after decades of their functioning.

What is the nature and maturity of city governance have they been able to provide? Has it in any way been different to the other forms of governance being provided, and the country cousins, local self-government in smaller towns etc. Given the nature of elections of these bodies and their nature of formation of the political governance mechanisms, ridden by politicking, lot needs to be desired. Unlike the west, we don’t have famed Mayors here, the administrative head, in full control of the city administration and being its face. Mayor as an institution remains relatively unknown in this country. COVID-19 was challenging times for these organisations too, and very rarely they came out with flying colours, Bangalore’s bed blocking scam is a case in point.

Do our municipal bodies have some special skills or expertise to run urban governance of a different kind, oriented to proactive implementation of rules, meticulous enforcement, maintenance of the huge infrastructure with growth and development of every type. Today we can safely say, it is an age of municipal chaos, and we are moving in the direction of urban misery. Parts of areas in a large number of cities have descended into it already. If we get into the encroachments in our cities, we would lose count or the other way round, it would be surprising to find pockets with no encroachments. How does this happen right under the eyes of the municipal administration is a million dollar question.

Few other pointers would not be out of place. These urban local self-governing bodies are flush with funds. BMC is the richest in India, and beats a large number of its foreign counterparts. Encroachments apart, what percentage of buildings stick to the approved plan. Exact figures are not available, given the reality on the ground, it would be a very high percentage. Then the unauthorised constructions, counting them today in any urban center would be a waste of time, the magnitude being so huge. On the infra side, potholes on Bangalore roads are always in the news. Judicial intervention and few deaths have made no difference. Pace of infra projects indicates timelines only on paper. Areas dug up on utilities are endless, large parts dug up at times gives the look of excavated sites. Leaving aside the other details of urban misery, one solid downpour, and our cities stop even looking like cities, horror we have learned to live with.

Sanjay Sahay

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