On the face of it, it is urban mismanagement that’s causing all the water-logging, traffic jams, etc in Delhi, Gurgaon and other big cities of India. However, the criticism of the civic authorities has been very tempered and mellow, both in the media as well as by the general public, because there is an overall awareness that there is something behind it. People who lived in Delhi in the 1970s and 1980s still fondly recall how neat and clean the city was. People who lived in Bombay in the 1960s and 1970s have to wrack their brains to recall whether they saw in those days anything like what they have been seeing during each monsoon for the past 15 years. With urban India being in such a mess, one cannot feel very optimistic about the Smart City project.
Consider Bengaluru. The city holds about 38% of the population of Karnataka and accounts about 34% of gross state domestic product. But the question is how much the city contributes by way of municipal taxes. For the year 2014-15 the budgeted receipts of the city’s municipal corporation were Rs 5,978 crore and the revised ones were Rs 2,894 crore. As regards the expenditure the budgeted one for 2014-15 was Rs 6,096 crore while the revised one was Rs 2,927 crore. Simply insufficient for a city that has 6.1 million registered vehicles.
However much we celebrate the unshackling of our economy since the reforms began in 1991, it is not a coincidence that the urban decay began in the mid-1990s. In the normal circumstances any municipal corporation is supposed to provide some basic services such as regulating land use and constructing buildings, roads and bridges; supplying water both for domestic and industrial and commercial needs; creating amenities for public health, sanitation, and solid waste management, etc. With such a poor track record of revenue collection and weakening of grants from the state governments, we cannot expect much improvement in the future. Our urban failure is the other face of our prosperity.