It’s the election time in India and as usual political parties are resorting to political one-upmanship through their manifestos. Since Indian economy is basically a rural economy where majority of people live, manifestos, all these years were concentrating on appeasement of rural population. However, since last few elections this trend is slowly changing with political parties turning their attention slightly towards urban vote bank. That may be because political parties too are becoming aware of rapid phase of our urbanisation in recent years.
This year too manifestos of national parties like BJP, Congress and CPM have devoted some portion of their documents towards improvement of cities. All the parties are promising (in different ways) what they offer to improve the plight of common man living in cities. Potable water, slum development, urban transportation planning, housing, etc. – everything has been promised by the parties. A look at these manifestos leads one to doubt whether we are living in a 70 year old democratic country or a newly born state which secured freedom after many years of struggle. Even after seven decades of independence if political parties are fighting among themselves to provide basic amenities to the citizens, then there is nothing to inspire us to believe that tomorrow will be better than today.
In fact, these manifestos are nothing but list of our failures in last seven decades. If this is the state of affairs in our cities (in fact applies to whole nation) does one need to give any significance to a manifesto which claims to convert smart cities into ‘liveable cities’ or similar meaningless promises? Just by changing the mission headlines ground realities cannot be changed.
The common man in the city is so busy in earning his livelihood that he doesn’t bother about the term of the Mayor. Most of us even don’t know who the mayor of the city is because its position mainly ornamental in nature. No single city in India have been transformed due to the efforts of these Mayors.
Some parties have promised proper implementation of the 74th Constitutional Amendment and thereby more devolution of powers to local elected bodies. But why political parties need to re-promise to implement a decision which was taken 25 years ago? If the situation was not ripe to implement it 25 years ago what has transformed to think that it can be implemented now?
Some parties’ manifestos have promised framing of an Urban Policy for new India. But the problem with our country is not dearth of policies but their implementation. An urban policy is not going to change the face of Indian cities most of which have already reached bursting point. What we lack is the vision and not the mission. Our policy makers have failed to visualise our needs much in advance and the result of that failure is visible in our cities today.
But the reality is no one reads what these political parties promise in their manifestos because they are just cut and paste job. They are meant only for the media people who try to garner as many TRP as possible in the name of evaluation of election manifestos. For most of them whether cities are smart or liveable doesn’t make any difference because most of MPs/MLAs end up creating some ‘selfie points’.
Apart from facing acute shortage of basic amenities like potable water, electricity, housing, etc. today our cities have added few more problems. Today our cities have become victims of global warming. Every year we are losing many human lives and property due to natural calamities. In most of the cities air quality level has become unsuitable for breathing. Footpaths are used by hawkers and footpath dwellers. Roads are used to park vehicles and dispose of debris and whatever space available is dug up by the local authorities in the name of development works. In short, we are living in a city which is noisy and polluted and without basic facilities. Most of the manifestos have brought out these deficiencies and we will be seeing the same list in 2024 too, may be with some twisted words.