Sunday, October 24, 2004

Ravindra advocates Metropolitan Govt.

How about a metropolitan govt?
By A. Ravindra
Times of India

The deteriorating civic conditions in Bangalore and the apparent helplessness of the powers-that-be have given rise to the question — “Are the local authorities capable of coping with the problems or do we need central intervention?” In other words, should large metropolitan cities be governed directly by the central government?

Interestingly, Paris at one time used to be substantially governed by the federal government of France through its agent. When Jacques Chirac was the mayor of Paris in the 70s, he got elected as Prime Minister of France but continued to function as mayor. It must have certainly helped him to shower benefits on his beloved city.

Let us look at the merits and demerits of centrally governed cities. The biggest benefit likely to flow will be the resources to develop infrastructure. Delhi has gained enormously from central investments. Secondly, there will be a single head at the top of the city’s administration — a Lt. Governor or an administrator under whom the various civic agencies will function. This is expected to result in better planning and coordination. Thirdly, the Centre, with a vast pool of manpower, can deploy professional managers and technical personnel to manage the city.

Now, what are the demerits? Central rule goes against the very principle of local government. Even according to the theory of fiscal federalism, functions whose benefits are confined to municipal areas should be assigned to municipalities. Secondly, the Centre can impose persons of its choice who are not familiar with the local conditions and language and will, therefore, be far removed from the people. Thirdly and importantly, the proposal is undemocratic and dilutes the principle of accountability to the people. City governance will tend to become more bureaucratic in nature; the administration becoming answerable to the powers in distant in Delhi. In any case, the Constitution, after the 74th amendment, does not provide for even state rule, let alone central regime, as all urban areas are mandated to be governed by elected local bodies.

It is important to realise that governance of cities, particularly mega ones, has become complicated and is no more confined to provision of basic services. It calls for more than municipal vision; it involves planning for economic development, building infrastructure and mobilising resources to match the requirements of city growth in a global context.

The National Commission on Urbanisation had recommended that all metropolitan cities in the country be treated as national priority cities. What we need on priority now are institutional reforms which reconcile the compulsions of decentralisation with the requirements of efficient management of cities.

What are the options? The reforms suggested often pertain mostly to the city corporation. But we must bear in mind that Bangalore metropolis is not just the corporation area but includes eight other municipal councils, and essential services such as water, power and public transport are provided by statutory authorities other than the corporation. So, what is required is an authority which has jurisdiction over the entire metropolitan area and can take a broader view of the city’s growth. In other words, what we need is a metropolitan government.

Briefly, the specific proposal is: set up a Greater Bangalore Metropolitan Council (GBMC) with chief minister as chairman and heads of civic bodies (the BCC and municipal councils) and service agencies such as BDA, BWSSB, BMTC, etc, as also the representatives of central government in the ministry of urban development, as members. The council should also include representatives of civil society, the industry and academia. A senior officer of the rank of additional chief secretary should be the commissioner or secretary of the GBMC.

The GBMC’s functions: overall development of the metropolitan region including its economy, city/regional planning, capital budgeting, including sanction of large-scale infrastructure projects, coordination and monitoring. Each of the local authorities will continue to perform its assigned functions, while inter-agency issues will be resolved by the GBMC. There should actually be greater decentralisation to the city corporation and other agencies, making them more effective and accountable. The state government’s role should be confined to policy making. The ward committees should be strengthened to enable effective public participation.

As the GBMC will be a large body, it should have an executive committee to facilitate implementation of the council’s decisions and render advice on key issues. The council should be assisted by qualified and experienced professionals who can function as a multi-disciplinary team. It should be open to innovative ideas and must be able to deal with urban reform issues from time to time.

The institutional framework proposed will achieve three objectives: One, provide a much-needed apex body which will act as a planning, coordinating and monitoring authority for all operating urban agencies and activities in the entire Bangalore metropolitan area. Two, promote decentralisation and public participation in management of civic affairs. Three, involve both the state and central govts in city development. With the CM as chairman, the GBMC will have the necessary clout to decide and do things.

The writer is a former chief secretary of Karnataka


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