[op-ed snap] A change in approach to make our cities liveable

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Mains Paper 1: Social issues | Urbanization , their problems and remedies

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: AMRUT, Smart Cities Mission, Swachh Bharat Mission, HRIDAY and Housing For All, etc.

Mains level: The newscard comprehensively discusses some issues related to Urbanisation in India. And it also talks about some possible solutions for improving the condition of Indian cities.


News

Context

  1. Our cities are in a mess and the quality of life they offer is either worsening, or improving painfully slowly, depending on where you live

Special attention for sustainable urbanisation

  1. In the last three years, we have seen historically unprecedented amounts of money being set aside for municipalities through
    (1) 14th Finance Commission grants and
    (2) the five central schemes of AMRUT (Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation), Smart Cities Mission, Swachh Bharat Mission, HRIDAY (Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana) and Housing For All

The Annual Survey of India’s City-Systems (ASICS)

  1. The results of the Annual Survey of India’s City-Systems (ASICS) 2017 report, the fifth edition since 2013, dispels the notion that doing more of the same will transform our cities
  2. ASICS 2017 is an objective, facts-based study of the quality of governance in our cities and it shows an average improvement in the governance score of cities from 3.4 out of 10 in 2015 to just 3.9 out of 10 in 2017
  3. The scores of 23 cities across 20 states covered by ASICS 2017 are in the range of 3.0-5.1, with 12 of the 23 scoring less than 4 on 10
  4. ASICS evaluated these 23 cities on four city systems:
    (1) urban planning and design;
    (2) urban capacities and resources (mainly finance and staffing);
    (3) empowered and legitimate political representation; and
    (4) transparency, accountability and participation
  5. The overarching finding is that governance systems in our cities are broken
  6. The unequivocal message from ASICS 2017 (as also its previous editions) is that as a country we need to invest significantly in strengthening the municipality as an institution

What should be done?

  1. Chief ministers need to put in place city blueprints which have five components
  2. First, quantitative goals for a five-year period
  3. e.g. number of kilometres of walkable footpaths in the city or number of households for whom piped water supply would be extended
  4. Second, detailed activity road maps with quarterly milestones (comprising both reforms and projects),
  5. on how the quantitative goals are proposed to be achieved and how simultaneously institutional strengthening would happen
  6. Third, single owners at the city level to be appointed in whom accountability can be vested for sectors such as mobility, water supply, sanitation, housing, safety, etc.
    (rather than having multiple agencies handle parts of the same quality of life area)
  7. Fourth, performance dashboards which are published quarterly and show progress against quantitative goals and activity milestones
  8. Fifth, an institutional structure that overcomes the significant challenge of fragmentation of governance in a city across the municipality, the development authority, the water board, state departments such as traffic police, etc

The way forward

  1. City blueprints are not a pipe dream but are politically feasible
  2. Countries such as Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia and the Philippines have accomplished much in their cities through such means, led by state- and city-level political leaders
  3. We need a broad coalition of stakeholders to adopt a positive narrative on institution-building and better city systems along with the narrative on outcomes
Urban Transformation – Smart Cities, AMRUT, etc.
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