[op-ed snap] Cities at crossroads: Federalism for the city

Mains Paper 1 : Urbanization, Their Problems & Remedies |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Problems with urbanization and ways to improve it


CONTEXT

It is time to reflect on what should be the priorities in fixing our cities. The scale of the challenge is massive whether we look at the availability of clean drinking water, unpolluted air, quality of public transport, traffic management and parking, integrated planning of transport and land use, law and order, management and safe disposal of solid waste that is generated, treatment of waste water and effluents, and affordable housing.

Importance of Cities

  • Rapid economic growth in any country is associated with a decline in the share of agriculture and an increase in the shares of manufacturing and services in its GDP, and this involves greater urbanisation.
  • Going forward, as we try to achieve rapid growth which is necessary to provide growing employment opportunities for our young work-force, we need to position our cities as drivers of the structural transformation of the Indian economy.
  • UN projections suggest that India’s urban population will increase from 461 million in 2018 to 877 million in 2050, with India contributing the largest share of global urban population growth from 2018 to 2050.
  • State governments have the principal responsibility for urban development. But in order to deliver, they can and should ensure that city governments are sufficiently empowered to get the job done.
  • This requires strengthening the finances of these governments, building their capacity to take on the new challenges that urbanisation brings, and providing an enabling environment through legislative and administrative support.

No  transformative action on devolution

  • The 74th Constitutional Amendment of 1992 gives the state governments the power to transfer a set of 18 legitimate municipal functions to the municipal governments and also devolve finances to them to enable them to perform these functions and organise the delivery of the public services.
  • Town planning — the golden goose — was not typically transferred.
  • Also, action on devolution of funds to urban local governments has been unpredictable and hopelessly inadequate.
  • The Government of India must work towards amending the Constitution to undo the injustice that has been meted out to local governments.

 

Past efforts in strengthening the foundation

  • In the past decade or so, the Centre has come to recognise that urbanisation is set to accelerate with India’s rapid growth.
  • First, the UPA government launched the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) and Rajiv Awas Yojana as centrally sponsored schemes.
  • The NDA government followed up with a number of their own urban development missions like Swachh Bharat, AMRUT, Smart Cities Mission, and Housing for All.

State’s Role

  • An important point to note is that the national missions could deliver only where the state governments were pro-active in bringing about the change.
  • Only a few state governments have been able to come forward to realise the potential offered by the national missions.
  • The missions played an additional role in igniting a competitive spirit among the state governments in the delivery of public services.

Way Forward

  • A simple solution would be for the Government of India to introduce an incentive grant system whereby states which devolve funds to some desired degree get to top up the financial grant from the Centre.
  • This should be limited to second-tier cities, which are crucial to a new urbanisation thrust.
  • Metropolitan cities need such grants much less, since states can help them raise resources by empowering them to unlock land value. They are also better placed to develop PPPs with viable revenue models to attract private funds.

Conclusion

Essentially, co-operative federalism needs to go deeper, below the state level. There are no shortcuts to improving the state of our cities. The state governments need to decentralise, devolve and empower the cities. We, as responsible citizens, need to engage with the government to find collective solutions while at the same time, holding the government accountable.

Urban Transformation – Smart Cities, AMRUT, etc.
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