Every state needs an urban anchor - Hindustan Times
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Every state needs an urban anchor

ByHitesh Vaidya
Mar 14, 2023 09:11 PM IST

Every state needs a body like the National Institute of Urban Affairs to offer demand-driven technical skill improvement and participatory sectoral evaluations to forge a shared vision

After Independence, when India began formulating its short- and long-term planning and development goals, setting up proper systems for urbanisation was difficult. But Indian planners knew urbanisation was inevitable, and the way ahead was fraught with challenges. So, they agreed that cities would need cutting-edge technical assistance and capacity-building to create an enabling environment for their local governments to plan, implement, and manage urban challenges.

It was only in 1993 that the 73rd and 74th Amendments of the Constitution came into force, aiming to bring about a fundamental shift in urban governance (Shutterstock)
It was only in 1993 that the 73rd and 74th Amendments of the Constitution came into force, aiming to bring about a fundamental shift in urban governance (Shutterstock)

It was only in 1993 that the 73rd and 74th Amendments of the Constitution came into force, aiming to bring about a fundamental shift in urban governance.

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Article 243P(e) recognises a municipality as an institution of self-government. Article 243W proposes that the legislature of a state may, by law, endow “the Municipalities with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self-government and such law may contain provisions for the devolution of powers and responsibilities upon Municipalities.”

As India continues its growth trajectory, the quality of its urbanisation will become paramount to ensure that this growth is sustainable and equitable. The focus on urbanisation is also crucial, considering that urban centres are regarded as engines of growth, and India’s urban population contributes 65% to its Gross Domestic Product. However, if the urbanisation process is not managed well, it’s positive effects will start peeling off, resulting in an unsustainable urban ecosystem.

To meet India’s present and future urbanisation-linked needs, the Government of India has launched the smart city mission, the mission for urban rejuvenation, the Swachch Bharat Mission, the urban livelihood mission, and the housing for all mission. However, the successful implementation of these missions requires a reinforced focus on building capacities at all levels to learn new approaches and technologies, and bring sensitisation towards new roles, responsibilities and attitudes.

Various committees constituted for strengthening urban issues have stressed the need to improve urban local bodies’ institutional and individual capacities. Following recommendations have emerged from these reports on enhancing the capacities of urban local bodies:

Capacity-building should be unified under a single window capacity-building schemes

Focus on institutional as well as individual capacity building

Address the demand side constraints, and strengthen the supply side capacity- building by strengthening delivery institutions

Identify and develop regional hubs for capacity-building delivery

Promote think tanks and Centre of Excellence for providing inputs into urban policy development and analysis

Promote the formation of a municipal cadre at the state level to bring professionalisation in municipal services

Develop and disseminate knowledge on international and national good practices, including model documents, templates, and urban management guidelines, including web-based learning portals.

The Mckinsey Global Institute’s report (April 2010) India’s urban awakening: Building inclusive cities, sustaining economic growth also emphasised the need for capacity building by pointing out that: “While the JNNURM has had some success in building physical capacity, it needs to invest more in financial and human capacity. Many states and cities have been unable to leverage available funds or implement reforms because of a lack of local capacity and technical expertise”.

Cities require ways and mechanisms to address capacity challenges, ranging from knowledge products, expert consulting services, hands-on training over a long term, and peer-to-peer learning opportunities and sharing knowledge. However, the sheer volume and need to build local capacities and promote organisations and individuals through focused training, technical assistance and employment of skilled professionals is daunting.

In her budget speech, the finance minister revealed the emerging ‘Economic Geography of Urban India’ relating to the overall level of development led by the concentration of economic activities, industries, infrastructure, and investments. She called for placing cities and towns at the centre of India’s development trajectory. It was highlighted that high-quality public services in all cities and towns would help realise India’s full economic potential. The Government of India envisions India becoming a $5-trillion economy by 2024, and this requires reimagining institutional delivery structures.

This requires shifting from business as usual to a long-term, integrated approach toward economic growth and urbanisation. In the coming decades, the urban sector will play a critical role in the economy’s structural transformation and in sustaining the high economic growth rate. India’s response to urbanisation recognises the international benchmarks laid out in the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris climate agreement and the new urban agenda.

To navigate the challenges and identify policy moves that could be put into practice, making more resilient and future-proof cities requires an urban anchor in every state, which will not only bring urban issues to the centre stage but also pave the way for institutionalising good governance, which will lay the foundation for better-run cities and help usher in a sustainable urban future.

The importance of urban institutes

The most serious urban difficulty isn’t a lack of concepts or answers; instead, it’s how to aggregate, maintain, and apply them. State urban institutes are needed to bridge a gap in the flow of knowledge and awareness from top to bottom and vice-versa and to plug loopholes to ensure a steady trickle- effect of benefits from the top.

At the central level, the National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA) has established its credibility through its hands-on approach, demonstrating successful pilots, including innovative policies and priorities, which can sustainably address urban services and quality of life problems. The institute also made a difference by building capacity at the local level through training, knowledge sharing, and hand-holding efforts at the state and municipal levels.

It has stimulated a tremendous amount of dialogue among diverse stakeholders, permeating local, state, and central levels of government, educational institutions, the financial professions, and non-governmental organisations. This has provided an excellent opportunity to develop and continuously refine delivery models to address the challenges of India’s urban sector.

NIUA can act as a curator of a collaborative network of institutions by aggregating the capacity needs of the urban ecosystem and collectively forming the Grid for Urban Capacity at the national level. It will also reduce redundancy and duplication in the system by creating common platforms and shareable resources that all stakeholders can use. It will drive home the endless benefits of a relational approach and bring standardisation to the transactional infusion of knowledge or tools.

Such state-level institutes will support traversing the complex and ever-evolving urban universe through its projects and initiatives and directly support the missions, capacity building, and policy formulation placed within a state’s ethos; the coordination will be better, mature and more streamlined to ensure maximum benefits from a policy.

The dedicated state-level institutes will empower cities to achieve their potential by enabling the creation of capacity-building tools and systems that respond to each state’s needs and challenges. A top-down flow of knowledge needs to be complemented by a reverse flow of innovations and best practices, facilitated by a network of aggregating institutions.

How these institutions help

Why are these bodies needed?

First, they can facilitate cutting-edge research and analytics to effectively diagnose issues and push cities to become exemplary leaders in realising the sustainable development goals.

Second, they can develop demand-driven guidelines, assessment frameworks, standards and templates to enable cities to assess performance, identify priorities and realign strategies.

Third, they can leverage innovation and technology to ensure data-driven governance and service delivery that is resource-efficient and cost-effective.

Fourth, they can apply strategic and dynamic city planning frameworks and ecosystem based-integrated-approaches for efficient and accessible city services.

Fifth, these bodies can create capacity grids and knowledge networks for continuous and customised enhancement of individual and institutional capacities to make governance and financing more effective.

Sixth, they will incubate young talent in the urban sector to create future leaders and enable champions to drive sustainable urban development.

Last, they are well-equipped to foster strategic alliances and partnerships to ensure collaborative thinking, advocacy, and action. This close day-to-day, trust-building collaboration and working relationship at the state level will ultimately pave the way for institutionalising good governance and financial management reforms that are the foundation for better-run cities.

Bridging practice and policy

Lasting change in urban management requires a sustained effort over the long- term so that tangible results become widely institutionalised and fully embedded into the local system. Cities must be equipped with instruments, tools, and solutions essential for field authorities since they are more likely to be familiar with local conditions.

Every state needs a body like the NIUA to offer demand-driven technical skill improvement and participatory sectoral evaluations to forge a shared vision. This will foster a culture of introspection, course correction, and constructive rivalry among cities, making for healthy, robust urban centres to commit to nation-building --- the end goal.

Hitesh Vaidya is director, National Institute of Urban Affairs

The views expressed are personal

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