Municipalities or urban local bodies play a vital role in determining the health or condition of our cities and the way the things are managed. Urbanisation to move on the decided path will largely depend upon the efficiency of our urban local bodies. No doubt urbanisation throws up lot of opportunities but how well they could be exploited largely depends upon the efficiency and capabilities of our ULBs. In order to achieve the objectives of urban oriented programmes launched by the government, governance structure of the ULBs have to be improved.
The focus on municipalities is critical because they are the key agents for improving living conditions in cities. The 74th Constitutional Amendment has accorded municipalities as third-tier government authority in cities, with the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) acting as the governance structure’s closest link. The functioning of municipalities directly impacts the development outcomes of urban spaces.
In this regard, recently conducted Municipal Performance Index highlights some very interesting facts about our urban local bodies. It extends a granular assessment of the local government bodies and, in the process, also creates scope for increasing transparency and promoting grassroots democracy.
Focus mainly on registration & issuing permits
In India ULB reforms are mostly focused on ensuring ease in acquiring and registering licenses and permits and most of the ULBs score high on this front. The presence of fast-track approval systems, ease in online registrations, and establishing a standard streamlined process for application and clearance of permits are some of the initiatives that have led to successful results. These reforms ultimately speed up procedures, prevent backlog, reduce costs, and offer transparency.
Health & education out of the purview of ULBs
Interestingly, education and healthcare do not fall under the purview of many ULBs and that may be the reason why many cities were late and unprepared to meet the challenge posed by Coronavirus challenge last year. Meanwhile, its also true that most of the ULBs don’t have the resources to manage these important services.
Technology is the weak point
The Technology vertical has the lowest national average score at 24.02. This has several implications for achieving good governance goals through active citizen engagement and public information in urban local bodies. Technology plays a crucial role in sustaining smart cities and improving their residents’ quality of life. The overall performance for technology remains weak across all regions. It should be noted that successful development outcomes cannot take place without facilitating reforms that enable technological progress. Initiatives that sanction internet connectivity, propagate digital literacy and deploy e-Governance are therefore crucial.
The UN e-Government Index, 2020, which measures online services, telecommunication connectivity, and human capacity, places India at the 100th rank out of 193 countries. India’s position slipped four points since the 2018 survey, where India had leapt 22 places to rank 96. Digital access is particularly vital for India, with 560 million internet subscribers in 2018 and an average mobile data consumption of 8.3 gigabits (GB) per month.
Plans are there but…..
Planning helps in identifying the existing gaps in the available physical and social infrastructure, and can enable strategies to bridge those existing gaps. Most of the municipalities in India have their urban/master plans updated in India which goes on to show that urban local bodies have undertaken efforts to not only analyse the prevalent gaps in urban governance and infrastructure, but also initiating efforts to resolves the emerging gaps with growing urban needs. However, according to some urban planners, “its not the planning or updating the plans that’s the issue but often tinkering with them to suit the lobbyists that makes the whole system of planning useless.” They point out that plans are often influenced by the interest groups (mainly developers) and ignore the larger perspective of common good.
Master plans based on GIS
Urban policies such as AMRUT seek to incorporate technology in the realm of urban planning, has provisions of including modern tools such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) that can drive planning support systems, decision-making frameworks by incorporating a combination of computer and information technology, urban growth models, and computer-based visualization techniques to support community-based planning. However, study shows that 65 municipalities that do not have their city master plans based on GIS.
Weak land titling laws
Plan implementation largely depends upon presence of land titling and land pooling laws and single-window clearance system. Most of the ULBs scored low on land titling and land pooling laws but many of them have single-window clearance system. Less than 50% of the ULBs surveyed incentivise the green buildings which shows that the concept is yet to catch up at the ground level.
To conclude it may told that urban India’s expansion holds great promise for India’s growth, but it also brings persisting challenges for government bodies and policymakers alike. The government needs to prioritise its actions and programmes to ensure their effectiveness and also, they hit bullseye. Unless we set the house of ULBs right, any number of government programmes will only be a waste of public money.