Monday, October 31, 2005

Civic bodies that work

Civic bodies that work
Business Standard

In the past week, both Chennai and Bangalore were affected by severe and incessant rain, but the way the two cities coped with the emergency provided a study in contrast. Chennai was up in less than a day, while Bangalore was struggling far longer.

Even more revealingly, it was some of the outer suburbs of Chennai, coming within the ambit of local panchayats, which took much longer to recover. Chennai has in place a “mayor in council” system with the mayor, along with the councillors, being directly elected every five years.

The mayor and his team run the civic administration pretty much the way a state or Union ministry does. They control finances, wield executive authority and shoulder responsibility.

In contrast, Bangalore’s civic operations are run by a municipal commissioner, but its finances are controlled by the state government and a plethora of councillors’ committees. When things go wrong, the responsibility usually falls on the shoulders of the state government, which is known to ultimately control things.

Also, in Bangalore the mayor is changed every year and is usually a political lightweight who is barely known to the citizenry. Incidentally, Mumbai’s civic administration, whose incompetence was so badly exposed a couple of months ago when the city almost drowned under incessant rain, has a civic structure which is like Bangalore’s and unlike Chennai’s.

The clear lesson from all this is that, if you want to have a civic administration that delivers and is able to cope with calamities, it is necessary in the first place to have a proper governance structure.

The latest spells of rain have at last made the Karnataka government wake up to the need to restructure the civic administration of Bangalore.

The state cabinet has debated and will hopefully take a decision soon to merge the seven satellite city corporations with the main Bangalore Mahanagara Palike so that a single authority supervises what has become a single, undifferentiated urban mass.

This wisdom has come rather late in the day. When, just a fortnight earlier, the Infosys chairman N R Narayana Murthy and the head of a local NGO, Janagraha (Ramesh Ramanathan), made a presentation on restructuring the civic administration to the Janata Dal (Secular) chief H D Deve Gowda and the chief minister, Dharam Singh, the former didn’t like it one bit.

He has since variously said that you cannot change systems in a day and accused Mr Murthy of not knowing the realities prevailing in the countryside.

To his credit, Mr Dharam Singh found the exercise informative but it is doubtful if he can do much on his own when his major coalition partner is not interested in serious change.

Constitutional amendments have succeeded in transferring a lot of powers to panchayats, and Karnataka is a leader in this, but the record of delegation of powers to urban bodies has been more varied.

Quite simply, state-level politicians have to give up the privilege of the state government exercising de facto control over urban bodies wherever they still do.

Otherwise, civic administrations like those in Bangalore and Mumbai will continue to make a mess of things. Bangalore currently presents a pathetic sight, with petty contractors, beholden to councillors, using antediluvian technology to execute civic works that do not deliver.

For things to improve, having one authority instead of many will have to be the first of many reforming steps. Decentralisation, delegation of powers and regional planning will have to follow.

1 Comments:

At Friday, November 18, 2005 at 3:35:00 PM GMT+5:30, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cricket Match

Tomorrow is a nice day to protest with good poster's against the governments apathy towards infrastructure. We can use the stadium to stage the portest with good hard hitting poster's against governement which will really effective. I am sure it will reach the whole of India. Hope fully should generate good momentum to overcome the inertia generated by the two huge slobs of this state, I guess its not worth mentioning their names also

 

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