Delhi, with a population of 18 million, figured in the sixth position – behind smaller cities like Bhubaneswar and Surat.(File photo)
Delhi, with a population of 18 million, figured in the sixth position – behind smaller cities like Bhubaneswar and Surat.(File photo)

Pune tops in urban governance, Delhi ranks sixth in 23-city survey

The study by a Bengaluru-based advocacy group painted a grim picture of India, finding a majority of its cities “grossly unprepared” to deliver a high quality of life in the long term.
By Moushumi Das Gupta | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAR 15, 2018 08:58 AM IST

Pune, Kolkata and Thiruvananthapuram top the country in terms of urban governance, a 23-city survey conducted by Bengaluru-based advocacy group Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy has found.

The study painted a grim picture of India, finding a majority of its cities “grossly underprepared” to deliver a high quality of life in the long term. Delhi and Mumbai figure in the sixth and ninth positions respectively in the fifth edition of the Annual Survey of India’s City Systems-2017 (ASICS-2017), behind smaller cities like Bhubaneshwar and Surat. Although the national capital has moved up in rankings as compared to 2016 (when it ranked ninth), it scored below five on two aspects of urban governance – urban capacities and resources of municipalities to undertake reform (4.2) as well as transparency, accountability and participation (3). The city, however, topped the chart in the urban planning and design category with a score of 5.1. Mumbai’s ranking fell from sixth in 2016 to ninth in 2017.

On a scale of 10, the 23 cities – many of which are part of the government’s flagship smart cities mission – scored between 3 and 5.1 on four key components of governance: urban planning and design; urban capacities and resources; empowered and legitimate political representation; transparency, and accountability and participation. This was far behind cities such as London, New York and Johannesburg, which topped global benchmarks with 8.8, 8.8 and 7.6 points respectively.

Indian cities also have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to becoming self-reliant. The cities assessed in the study were found to be generating only 39% of the funds they spend on an average, with Patna raising just 17% on its own. Only Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Pune generate over 50% of the amount they spend from their own revenue. The study found that in several cities, their own revenues did not even cover staff salaries. “Lack of adequate revenue sources of their own severely constrains the ability of our cities to invest in infrastructure and service delivery,” the report said.

Janaagraha CEO Srikanth Viswanathan said the objective of the survey was to measure the preparedness of cities to deliver high quality infrastructure and services in the long term by evaluating “city systems”. “On a scale of 10, 12 out of 23 cities have scored below four – indicating the precarious situation of our cities. The pace of reforms in India has been painfully slow. Recurring floods, garbage crises, air pollution, fire accidents, building collapses and dengue outbreaks are symptoms of this deeper governance crisis in our cities,” he said.

Among the medium cities (with a population of up to one million), Ranchi has broken into the top 10 with a score of 4.1. Bengaluru and Chandigarh (perceived as a planned city) figured at the bottom of the list. “Bengaluru is a poor outlier among mega-cities primarily on account of weak finances,” said Vivek Anandan Nair, associate manager and project lead of ASICS-2017.

The survey also found urban capacities across cities suffering from rampant staff vacancies, inadequate domain experience of senior municipal officers, and powerless mayors and councils. Commissioners were found to have only have 2.7 years of experience in urban management on an average. Average staff vacancy stood at 35%, with Guwahati bottoming out at 60%.

“The mayor and councils in our cities are toothless. They don’t have full decision-making authority over critical functions such as planning, housing, water, environment, fire and emergency services,” the report stated.

Only a few cities, such as Bhopal, Kanpur and Lucknow, have a directly elected mayor with five-year tenure while metros like Bengaluru and Delhi have an indirectly elected mayor with one-year tenure.

The survey went on to state that no city in India has effective policies to deter plan violations, a deficiency that leads to the mushrooming of slums and unauthorised colonies. While all its 23 cities scored zero on this parameter, London, New York and Johannesburg notched a perfect 10 out of 10.

Moreover, most of the country’s town and country planning acts date back to the previous century. It has one planner per four lakh citizens (as opposed to 48 in the United States and 148 in the United Kingdom) the study said, pointing out that poor urban planning can cost a country 3% of its GDP.

“Our study once again reiterates the need to fix city governance on a war footing. There will be no change unless the state government empowers municipalities. Lack of legislative imagination and political will has resulted in state governments not fixing city governance,” Viswanathan said.

The study ranked cities on the basis of four key components of governance – urban planning and design; urban capacities and resources; empowered and legitimate political representation; and transparency, accountability and participation. Scores were accorded in the 0-10 range.

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