Chairman and managing director of Hindustan Construction Company, Ajit Gulabchand pitched for the creation of independent and accountable city administration across the country to address rapidly growing urbanisation.
Addresing the World Economic Forum (WEF) session on Derisking Indian Cities, Gulabchand said the cities should be allowed to manage themselves, be it big or small.
“Without this, we are not going to get urbanisation or sufficient urbanisation. Accountability of city administration is very important. Indian Parliament is passing a law on how cities should mange vendors, its not their job, the cities themselves should be deciding on this,” he added.
Gulabchand stressed on a rental housing policy for cities. We are going to urbanise rapidly.
“Except very rich, most of the people in Mumbai live in rented houses. We have to have rental houses policy. If you don’t allow cities to be build in planned manner and not allow them to work independently, slums is the only answer,” he said.
Priya Hiranandani Vandrevala, co-founder and chairman of Hirco Group stressed on empowering of city administration.
“You have to elect representatives in the cities, which have power. In India, city executives have no real power,” she said.
Vice-chairman and managing director of IDFC, Rajiv Lall pointed out there were some examples of successful new models of service delivery in cities and energetic leadership at state level and city enterprise can combine to do this.
Arbind Singh, Executive director of Nidan engaged in social entrepreneurship, identified solution points.
“In September, a Bill has been introduced in Lok Sabha for street vendors. That would reduce chaos in the cities. Positive steps of these kinds should be taken. The challenge is everything will come back to governance. There is no talk of how urban poor will get houses. We lack understanding of the urban poverty,” said Singh.
Priya Hiranandani-Vandrevala took it forward by mentioning the UK model.
“Policy is supportive and finances are available for affordable housing. People get subsidy for rental housing,” she said.
James Stewart, chairman, global infrastructure, KPMG, UK, said that 50 billion pounds had been raised in UK to provide affordable housing at a very low rate.
He extended the solutions ambit by mentioning that mayors of the cities in the developed world had substantial powers including tax raising powers and managing cities.
Gulabchand related it to the Indian context. “The mayors don’t need to report to the chief ministers. In other federal structures, mayors are fairly independent people. The whole idea is let the city develop the way the people want,” he stressed.
Singh brought out the prevailing corruption in selection of mayors in India. “In the election of mayors, indirect election involves lots of money power. We need direct election of mayors,” he said.
The panel agreed that the powers enjoyed by mayor of London was a good example.
Gulabchand advocated for a separate civil service cadre for city management.
Lall took the deliberation to an optimistic scenario indicated by the 2011 census. “The urban area in India is likely to grow in a manner that these changes will be possible,” he said.
Stewart agreed with Lall and said that in next decade forces of politics would drive better governance in cities. “Many of the municipal people don’t know how to raise money. Direct election of Mayor will bring in accountability,” he said.
Gulabchand added further, “The political forces will allow the powers but you need to have leadership for this. Police is not accountable to the city in this country. We have to create the thought leaders and structure, persuade people to bring in legislation to ensure this. Once we get that, we will get a model to act upon. Public-private partnership, NGOs and involvement of civil society is a must,” he said, adding that most political parties at the state level had made cities their colonies.
The resource generation model for the cities also attracted interesting suggestions from the panelists.
Stewart suggested that unlocking the value of land was important as land monetisation has driven growth in big cities. For new cities, the city should get hold of the land.
Hiranandani Vandrevala, however, mentioned that in India, all land holding was fragmented and to try and do that here, would be relatively hard.
Stewart clarified, “You can’t grab all the land. The other way is to have some kind of property tax and cities securitise the property tax for getting funding”.
Gulabchand said that India’s case was different from the city development in the developed world as the whole process had happened over a long period of time.
“In India, it is going to happen within a very short time. So we need to have sound policies. Migration and needs are the issues to be addressed. At the same time, you have to look at funding. You have to find those solutions quickly and we need some leadership there,” he added.