What is a ‘city system’? Explain how and why reforming municipal bodies is crucial to reforming city systems. 10 marks

Mentor’s comment-

  • In the introduction define what city-systems are.
  • In the body explain the importance of urban governance in the country. Discuss the urban issues, reforms and way forward in India with suitable examples. Explain that India has to improve its urban areas to achieve objectives of economic development. Discuss how and why reforming municipal bodies is crucial to reforming city systems.
  • Conclude with way forward.

City systems are the base or structure on which the quality of life of its residents depends. They include quality of laws, policies, institutions, and institutional processes that underpin urban governance.

Body:
Need for reforming municipal bodies for reforming city systems:
 Governance issues: India’s metropolitan cities have weak capacities in finance and staffing. Ex: Bengaluru’s average percentage of own revenue to total expenditure is 47.9%, Chennai 30.5%, Mumbai 36.1% and Kolkata at 48.4%.
 Limited powers of mayors: No big metropolitan cities with 10 million-plus population has a directly-elected Mayor. Mayors do not have full decision-making authority over critical functions of planning, housing, water, environment, fire and emergency services in most
cases. Ex: Metropolitan cities like Tokyo and Sydney are steered by a directly-elected leader.
 Lack of transparency, accountability and citizen participation: No metropolitan has functional ward committees and area sabhas.
 Powerless city councils and severe fragmentation of governance: Multiple civic bodies with frequent change of toothless mayors, commissioners. Local government has the least amount of capability, quality of delivery and poor processes that are being followed.
Most of the laws and policies that they are following are archaic.
 Total absence of systematic citizen participation and transparency: Only two cities have ward committees. An absence of citizen participation is worsened by poor transparency in finance and operations.
 Metropolitan regions are being created by default and not by design.
 Current urban centres are established without paying attention to the need to create a unified market, especially the labour market, which would forge strong economic linkages between the core city and the periphery.
 There are 53 urban agglomerations in India with a population of one million and above, but these agglomerations spread across various states. With different rules and regulations regarding land, transport across the states, this severely affects infrastructure development.
 In India the urban planning and spatial planning (integrated land use and transport) are not integrated, this leads to the significant deterioration in the quality of public services and ease of living.
 There is a range of institutions such as municipalities, and other parastatals such as state water and sewerage Boards, due to these overlapping functional jurisdictions, they find little coordination amongst them.
 It is reflected on “Smart City’ front, where over 90 ‘Smart Cities’ have identified 2,864 projects, but only 148 projects are completed and over 70% of the projects still remain at various stages of preparation.

Steps taken by the government:
 National urban policy framework 2018 seeks to rebuild Indian cities around clusters of human capital, instead of considering them simply as an agglomeration of land use. It also focuses on land policy reforms, granting urban local bodies the freedom to raise financing and enforce local land usage norms.

 Performance linked grants: The 14th Finance Commission stipulated a detailed procedure for the disbursal of the Performance Grant to ULBs based on various reforms in areas like accounting, auditing, reporting, etc.
 Municipal Bonds: NITI Aayog in its three-year Action Agenda document talks of utilizing Municipal Bond market. This would ensure low cost of borrowing which is required for municipality projects which typically have low viability, long gestation period and low to
moderate cost recovery
 Directly elected Mayor: A private member’s bill was introduced in the parliament to make provisions for direct election and empowerment of the office of mayor in country.
 Smart Cities Mission (SCM): To Provide smart solutions to improve city infrastructure and services. It focuses on Mobility and Energy efficiency, Electricity, Information and Communication Technology, Water Supply etc.
 Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT): During 2015-17, various basic reforms were undertaken under this scheme resulting in:
 Improved collection of user charges: 104 cities in 14 states collected more than 90% of user charges.
 Establishment of municipal cadres in 21 states.
 Improved service delivery: 256 cities started offering online citizen services.
 Others: 21 states established state finance commissions and 363 cities have completed credit rating.

Way forward
 Cities and their Foundation: There is a need to focus on building stronger foundations – not just focus on outcomes but also policies. There is an urgent need of giving the highest importance to ‘urban designing’ and not just planning. Cities need to be seen as a unit of empowerment at the systems level.
 Cities and Reforms: Reforms in the big cities have been painfully slow also due to political instability. Smaller cities under AMRUT are witnessing better transparency, accountability and participation. Finances need to not just be generated but also be managed and accounted for.
 City people and City government: Government needs to meaningfully engage with the citizens. They need to update the citizens and push the envelope on the issue of discussions being done at the systemic level.
 City and local body of governance: There is a need to strengthen local body’s capability and capacity to deliver. A discussion on autonomy and devolution of power is long pending. Mayors need to be empowered with decision, and be trusted for the same.
 Absence of participatory citizen platforms: Citizens need to be involved and sensitized. More awareness programs in public places, schools and colleges need to be conducted.

Conclusion
Urban local government institutions are constituted for the maintenance and planned development of urban areas. The objective is to ensure that suitable levels of infrastructure and services are available to the citizens. In many parts of India, the quality of life in urban areas is miserable and the citizens lead a difficult life. To overcome this problem, a series of reforms need to be initiated for reforming municipal bodies to strengthen the city systems.

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