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K C Sivaramakrishnan: Megacity governance

The current hierarchical model is neither sacred nor eternal

K C Sivaramakrishnan  |  New Delhi 

The current hierarchical model is neither sacred nor eternal.

Today there are 35 cities or agglomerations whose total population, according to the 2001 Census, exceeds 100 million, which is about 37 per cent of India’s total urban population of 285 million. By 2011, the number of such cities will increase at least by another ten.

For the present, let us just consider a few of them such as Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai. None of these are a single municipality. The Mumbai Metropolitan region covers seven municipal corporations, 13 municipal councils, 17 urban centres and several hundred urbanising villages spread over four districts. Kolkata has over 60 municipal and non-municipal entities. Hyderabad, even after the recent amalgamation of 12 municipalities, is still a region of many jurisdictions. The Bangalore region covers the recently expanded city, 11 other municipalities and numerous panchayats. So it is with Chennai.

Appellations like the urbs prima, cosmopolitan city or maximum city are all based on a large city’s highly diverse economic, linguistic, cultural and occupational variety. Nevertheless these different factors are linked together as a significant economic and geographical entity whose efficient performance is critical for the country’s progress. Unfortunately, the tendency has been to regard a metropolitan city as no different to an ordinary municipality in political and administrative terms. State governments dominate the scene, subordinating the city’s functional domain in every possible manner and continue to be dismissive of a city’s leadership. The textile mills land case is an instance where the Bombay city’s plea for breathing space was subordinated by the state’s incursion into the city’s planning domain. The municipal boundaries of Bangalore and Hyderabad were expanded nearly two years ago but elections to the corporations are yet to be held. Even the cardinal dictum of the Constitution regarding elected local government is thus flouted. The tenure of the Mayor in Mumbai continues to be two-and-a-half years; in Delhi the Mayor is a one-year wonder.

In Chennai, after the 74th Constitution Amendment, a comprehensive local bodies Bill was discussed extensively in the Assembly and its Select Committee and duly enacted. Under its provisions, Chennai was to have a directly elected Mayor for a term of five years. Karunanidhi’s son M K Stalin successfully contested the elections and became Mayor twice in 1996 and again in 2001. But as Tamil Nadu moved from DMK to AIADMK, the state leadership thought it necessary to cut down a directly elected mayor of its capital city to size. The 1996 Comprehensive Act was set aside and an ancient 1919 Act was revived under which a mayor was not entitled to reelection. Another law stipulated that Stalin had to choose between being the Mayor and a member of the Tamil Nadu Assembly. He chose the latter. About five years ago political fortunes overturned again and DMK returned to power. Stalin is now Tamil Nadu’s minister for local government. But even he has not found it necessary to go back to the system of directly elected mayor with power and accountability.

Models are not lacking from elsewhere. If large cities are sought to be put under one administrative jurisdiction, there are the city provinces of China such as Shanghai or Beijing, or the Bangkok metropolitan area. If a two-tier arrangement is desired with one level of government for the metropolitan region and another for cities or boroughs within, we have the London metropolitan area, Seoul, Greater Toronto, Istanbul or several places in Europe, as examples. The US has also lived with a combination of multiple city jurisdictions and several special functional districts. None of these entities are authoritarian and each has a participative and accountability mechanism involving the stakeholders. Multiplicity is not a problem in itself if functions and responsibilities are reasonably well demarcated and the arrangements for co-ordination endure over a period of time.

Twenty years ago the Correa Commission declared that the cities of Kolkata, Bombay, Delhi and Madras are “so large and so vitally important to the country that their health, prosperity and efficient functioning are of national concern.” The Commission recommended that these cities be regarded as National Cities.

When the 74th Amendment to the Constitution came into effect, it carried a provision for a Metropolitan Planning Committee (MPC) with two-thirds of its membership comprising the elected members of the Municipalities and Chairpersons of the Panchayats in a metropolitan area. It has constitutionally defined terms of reference to undertake “coordinated spatial planning of the area, integrated development of infrastructure, sharing of water and other natural resources and environmental conservation”. So far only in Kolkata, the committee has been set up. Even there it was delayed for five years, and only after parts of the patchwork quilt of multiple municipalities in the area changed hands from CPI(M) to Trinamool.

The Maharashtra government has given repeated assurances before the Bombay High Court over the past four years that an MPC would be set up. This is yet to happen. In Hyderabad in December 2007 an MPC was set up with composition as stipulated in the Constitution but its mandate was minimal. A few months later in June 2008, the Greater Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority was set up, with the chief minister at its head, consisting predominantly of officials. The Hyderabad MPC has legitimacy but no mandate. The Hyderabad MDA is a super body with a significant mandate but singularly lacks political participation and, therefore, legitimacy and accountability. In Bangalore the Kasturirangan Committee made a comprehensive set of recommendations for the enlarged Bangalore Municipal Corporation with a directly elected mayor at its head and a participatively structured regional development authority for the Bangalore metropolitan region. The report languishes.

In the Indian context, the chief minister of a state, however skilled and competent he or she may be, cannot double up as the mayor of its principal city. This has been amply proved by S M Krishna’s tryst with Bangalore, and Chandrababu Naidu’s with Hyderabad. By definition, the metropolis is a collection of polities which cannot function at the whim and fancy of a provincial government. Sheila Dixit’s charm and charisma have ensured her electoral success. In reality she is not a chief minister as in other states, but the mayor of a metropolis — though she may not like to be called that.

The structure of a metropolitan government should be strong enough to comprehend and deal with the varied tasks at the metropolitan level. At the same time it has to be sensitive to its citizens’ needs, which are more manifest at the local level. The need to balance the micro with the macro is a major challenge but well within the realm of possibilities.

It is equally important that the economic destiny of a city, its social cohesion and its political mandate are not subordinated frequently to some turf battles waged elsewhere in the state, be it for Telengana, Rayalaseema, Vidharba or Dakshin Kannada.

A ‘city state’ is a tempting idea but without adequate understanding of what it involves, and careful efforts to mobilise public and political consensus, it will remain a far cry. Metropolitan cities in India also desire to be world-class, whatever that means: Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad or Kolkata are all convinced that they are globally relevant. That will have to be matched with global responsibilities and performance. Mumbai cannot be a Shanghai, even a third or a fourth duplicate, if it cannot take care of its daily needs and the lives of its own people.

The Union-state-municipality as a hierarchical model is neither sacred nor eternal. There is an urgent need to think “out of the box” on a very different structure of governance for India’s metro cities to what exists now.

The author is Former Secretary, Urban Development, Government of India, and Chairman, Centre for Policy Research

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First Published: Sun, March 08 2009. 00:14 IST