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Set right our city blights

india Updated: Jun 01, 2009 23:35 IST
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According to the 2001 Census, the urban population in the country is about 27 per cent. A simple assumption is that this percentage will be reflected in the composition of the Lok Sabha. But this is not the case.

Parliamentary constituencies comprise about 6 to 7 Assembly constituencies. At times, the population of some of these constituencies may be predominantly urban; in others it is mixed. Since the administrative boundaries followed in the Census differ from those used by the Delimitation Commission, an elaborate exercise relates the data of the two. Fortunately, the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) has done this.

If 75 per cent of a constituency population is taken as the cutoff, CSDS estimates that 57 seats in the new Lok Sabha are urban. However, if we apply 51 per cent cutoff, and if the population increase for 2001-2009 is also considered, the number will be closer to 90 seats. This is about 18 per cent of the Lok Sabha strength. It’s still less than what the proportion of the urban population in the country warrants. But it’s at least 20 more than the previous Lok Sabha. Making a reliable comparison of the figures isn’t easy because the urban component in each constituency will have to be worked out in relation to the administrative units followed in the 1971 Census.

Of these 90 seats, at least 36 will be from the metropolitan agglomerations of Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Kolkata. This isn’t an insignificant number. These cities are also considered as engines of the economy. They aspire to be active participants in the globalised economy seeking competing shares in investments, services, jobs, trade and communications. Yet, it is known that none of these urban regions have been able to get their acts together, except, perhaps, Delhi because it is a city state.

In deciding the strategies for growth, in devising plans for their realisation, in accessing and allocating resources for projects or in identifying institutions for implementation and accountability, all metropolitans present a confusing and fragmented picture. The ground realities may not be identical, but there is much commonality in the issues of governance.

The MPs from metros should think about whether the existing union-state-municipal structure is adequate for mega city governance. They should also consider how best the MP-MLA nexus can serve metropolitan interests. In addition to the 36 MPs, there are nearly 200 MLAs from the Assembly constituencies which are segments of the respective Lok Sabha seats. Together, they constitute a significant political entity.

An issue of urgency that determines the daily functioning of urban India is mobility. In an interesting and novel initiative the NGO Janaagraha, under its ‘One Billion Voters Campaign’, has tried to profile 623 candidates who contested from the metros. Their responses to the common issues of corruption, terrorism and electoral reforms may not evoke much interest. But almost all of them identified communications within the city, the problems of traffic and the priority for public transport as important issues to be dealt with. Some Delhi candidates went to the extent of proposing limits on private vehicle ownership.

Such responses are a reflection of the public seeking an expansion of the Metro, bus facilities and improvement in the circulation network. Lack of poor mobility and congestion in urban India is a distinct policy failure. Successive governments have either not cared or failed to reconcile the contrary claims of the automobile and private car lobby, fuel conservation and public transport. Again, Delhi is an exception partly because it’s a city state and also, funds are not a constraint, thanks to the Common Wealth Games or other events.

But even in Delhi, serious discussions about metropolitan mobility, financing, taxation, fuel and regulatory policies and integrating multi model options are being considered seriously, only now. The situation is different in other metros. The National Urban Transport Policy can provide an overall outline but much of the action will have to be taken by the State and Central governments as well as city-level bodies acting in concert. Can the urban MPs rise to the task with their skills of advocacy and persuasion?

There are other issues of healthcare, poverty, deprivation of basic services and safety, which the urban MPs need to consider. Will these serious issues confronting urban areas be responded to better in government policies and programmes? Can and will the urban MPs help shape them?

Most of the urban MPs have grown up in the cities. Very few are from outside, imported into the City for a political purpose. If the MP from the city has any disability, it will not be lack of knowledge but lack of effort. It remains to be seen how the ‘more urban’ 15th Lok Sabha performs as compared to its predecessors.

K C Sivaramakrishnan is a former Secretary, Urban Development and Chairman, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi