Urban affairs need more focused approach : Building strong and resilient cities :PM Modi need to be honoured and awarded for his Swachchta drive and bringing awareness in the country.
Photo: Waste management facility at Green Park New Delhi.
Note: please read the recommendations / Conclusion at the end of post.
One of the biggest contribution of PM Modi personally was the great drive towards Swachchta abhiyan ( Cleanliness drive) across the country. Thanks god the country was woken up if not fully at least partially to this dirty , hygienic menace spread across all over the country. As a result we saw garbage collection houses at many a places ( at least in metros like Delhi) along with proper municipal corporations vehicles coming to the lanes and houses for taking household waste . This was sort of turning point in the history of the nation to conduct cleanliness drive at such a large level and creating awareness. No amount of words will be sufficient to appreciate PM Modi’s personal attention to this project. We are of the opinion that top international organisations like United Nations and other agencies must acknowledge this contribution of PM Modi, though Bills gates foundation has awarded him. But what about CII, FICCI, ASSOCHAM , Rotary club etc ? They must also come forward and honour the PM but also get involved with these initiatives.
However despite the excellent push by the Prime Minister the country lags in urban infrastructure, facilities and cleanliness by and large. Take the garbage collection houses in Delhi itself. We have attached photograph of one such waste collection facility ( see attached). This facility is from Green Park and can be made as a benchwork for all other facilities. Though we have done a thorough check up of these facility from inside but nonetheless took the time to see it from close quarters. And we are satisfied with the overall structure, design and cleanliness. We hope that the Urban affairs ministry, Niti Aayoga , Ministry of Sc and Tech. and other agencies will take initiatives in this regard.
The state of municipal corporations is worse in the country and if we are not exaggerating then are responsible for the sorry state of urban affairs in the country.
India has been among the fastest growing economies in the world for more than two decades. The rapid growth has been driven dominantly by non-agricultural sectors, particularly services, in economic clusters, many of which have come up in “rural” areas. An estimated 180 million rural people live next to India’s 70 largest urban centres, a number that will increase to about 210 million by 2030 pointing to the future course of urbanisation in India. As India is expected to continue to record high growth rates, the pace of urbanisation will gather momentum. The United Nations projections suggest that India’s urban population will increase from about 461 million in 2018 to 877 million in 2050, with India contributing the largest share of global urban population growth from 2018 to 2050. 
Broadly speaking, officials will need to address two types of challenges that can cause hardship to cities. These include chronic stresses from an increased rate of urbanisation and acute, unexpected shocks from extreme climate conditions and other related events.
Examples of ‘chronic stresses’ that can affect major cities include:
• Energy poverty due to insufficient insulation in older buildings
• Noise pollution from transport systems and motorways
• Unhealthy living, working and studying conditions in buildings with poor air quality
• Increased demand for energy leading to higher costs on citizens Examples of ‘acute shocks’ that can affect major cities include:
• Earthquakes or volcanic eruptions
• Attacks from terrorists and cyber criminals (targeting the public or city infrastructure)
• Floods and severe storms
• Outbreaks of disease or viral infections like COVID-19, SARS, or MERS . 
It is important that we move from a weak city infrastructure to a strong and resilient city. A resilient city mitigates chronic stresses and is well-prepared for future shocks by absorbing and recovering from these challenges.
However the challenges are far and many. And the country will need a total transformation in this regard.
The Municipal corporations in the country are of two types. One without money and some with abundant. However both types lack leadership and honesty to provide good facilities and change landscape. There is no accountability let alone financial prudence and discipline.
The XV Finance commission rightly says, “However, we must not dwell only on the present. We must look ahead. From that perspective, it is clear that we must invest now in building greater agility – greater ability to move and think quickly and easily, in a world that is characterised by increasingly rapid change. “.  .
The commission has the mandate for , ” determining the distribution between Union and States of the net proceeds of taxes, but also reviewing and commenting on the design of fiscal principles for various grants that are typically provided alongside revenue shares. We were, in particular, asked to consider performance-based incentives to support and motivate the efforts of State and/or local governments – the “appropriate level of government”– in a variety of policy areas”.
The commission notes that , ” A key lesson from the third tier of government in other federations is to build resilient and locally-sourced revenues to meet rising urbanisation needs (especially on account of health and education), anchor local government finances on a sound footing and limit moral hazard. Consistent with these lessons, and among other steps, this Commission has recommended multiple performance criteria on transfers to the third tier to grow the property tax and institutionalise the public availability of their audited balance sheets “.
- There are huge challenges facing us going ahead. With the tardy and randomness that prevails in th engagement of our cities and in particular municipal corporations, we are doomed if proper actions and planning is not done. It is good to see that the finance commission has taken a note on the affairs of municipal corporations and therefore the government both at the central and state level have to move fast in this regard.
- Besides fiscal management one can pay attention to smaller things. The swachata abhiyan is a case in point. The ministry of urban affairs under Hardeep Singh along with Niti Aayoga have to come up with uniformity and standards for certain things that can be implemented across the nation.
- Big metro city need to be brought under central rule for better transparency, uniformity and national security.
- Medium and small corporations have to be brought under greater scrutiny and fiscal prudence with a certain lawlessness prevailing over there.
- The challenges are from better air quality, citizen facilities, hygienic conditions , resilient cities to cope after natural disasters, water, electricity , waste management etc etc which all need strong cohesive initiatives.
- New programs can be launched with greater thrust on natural living with more plantations, less traffic, more cycling paths, beautification etc. We have the examples of Cities like Spain, Paris, and many others who are taking steps in this direction.
- Niti Aayoga /ministry of urban affairs/ DST must launch programs for training municipal corporation leaders and people across the nation . Atleast 2 /3 people of integrity and honesty must be identified from each city who have popular local backing, who then can be trained for taking initiatives
- Local and national organisations must get involved in these efforts either voluntarily or through govt supported action plans. The Sangh can play a big role here. It can organise meet and bring all corporations under one umbrella to discuss and plan resilient and strong cities.
- Places of religious and other tourist spots need special attention. While these municipal corporations collect huge money from tourists the services and facilities provided are pathetic. There has to be separate initiatives to bring these places under one roof and have uniform plan and action. Ministry of culture and tourism must be involved here and be proactive.
- The world organisations as well as local organizations like CII, FICCI etc must take a cue and get involved in these efforts. We recommend a prize for PM Narendra Modi for his contribution in this regard. Unfortunately no one has come up with this idea so far.
Dr Asheesh Shah
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