The Challenges of Urbanisation and City Governance

Published: 23rd September 2015 06:21 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd September 2015 06:21 AM   |  A+A-

Urbanisation is taking place at a tremendous pace in several States, but many cities are struggling to cope with it. With an influx of people invading cities in the hope of better lives and opportunities there is a huge strain on available resources like housing, water, sanitation, health and hygiene.

 The bulk of the responsibility for handling problems of an ever-expanding city falls on the city administration. Problems are manifold starting from incidence of crime, issues of safety, security, traffic management and garbage disposal. Cities have elected bodies, municipalities or corporations that pass local regulatory laws for constructing buildings, payment of property, water and sewerage tax. Local administration is also responsible for community health, hygiene and maintenance of roads.  

R Natraj.jpgThe practice of local self governance in towns and cities was in existence in India from the time of British rule. It was in erstwhile Madras in 1687 that the first municipal corporation was formed, and similar governing bodies followed in Calcutta and Bombay in 1726. The democratic form of municipal governance was introduced in 1882 by the then Viceroy Lord Ripon. 

The definition of urban area for the 2011 census was reckoned as those areas that satisfied the following criteria:

a) A minimum population of 5,000

b) At least 75 per cent of the working population of males engaged in non-agricultural pursuits

c) A density of population of at least 400 persons per sq km.

Strategic urban planning to ensure   effective, democratic, transparent and accountable local governance forms the basis of municipal administration. More importantly, it has to provide responsive policy guidance to strengthen the legal, fiscal, economic and service delivery systems. Greater citizen participation in the governance of local bodies is crucial.

A three-tier municipal administration has been implemented through the 74th amendment to the Constitution. They are to work as instruments of development and planning and have to handle funds for local activities.

Municipal corporation is the topmost urban local government of towns or cities with a population above three lakh. Corporation enjoys more autonomy and the manner of its administration is an acid test for the quality of administration in the rest of the state. Members of the corporation council are elected by voters in the respective wards and the mayor, who is the head of the city corporation, is directly elected by the cities’ residents. They hold office for a term of five years.

The councillors, who represent the ward, have a limited area to look into. If they work sincerely the region's main concerns namely garbage disposal, hygiene, road repairs can be  resolved to a great extent, but sadly this is not the case in reality. Citizens are also to blame as we seldom exercise our right nor do we question laxity. How many of us know the name of our ward representatives? Once there is public awareness the quality of service will improve.

Homelessness is an issue in cities as many vagabonds come to the city in search of jobs. The National Human Rights Commission has stated that the right to shelter is an important human right, and most cities have built night shelters for the homeless. Beggars, child labour, human trafficking, slum dwellers are important concerns that the city administration has to deal with.

The mayor is assisted by a team of officials headed by a commissioner who implements the tasks on the ground. He also represents the city on ceremonial occasions and is considered the first citizen of the city.

Rudolph Giuliani was the mayor of New York City when the Twin Towers in the city were destroyed by terrorists on Sept 11, 2011. How he provided leadership during that calamity is a lesson in crisis management and good governance. It was largely possible due to the cooperation extended by the people of New York.

Unfortunately our cities are poorly managed with garbage piled at every corner. People are indifferent, which gives a poor image of the city to visitors. People of a city have the primary responsibility to actively participate in pointing out the lacuna in delivery of services and rise to the occasion, which is the only way to make the administration accountable!

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