Decentralised urban governance a far cry in most Indian cities, shows NGO Praja Foundation's urban governance index

An urban governance index released by NGO Praja Foundation on Tuesday has painted a bleak picture of local self-government in Indian cities.

No state has devolved all 18 functions mentioned in the Twelfth Schedule of the Constitution of India to civic bodies, the report found.

The Twelfth Schedule of the Constitution contains a list of subjects which are to be endowed to municipalities by state governments. These range from urban planning and land use, to urban poverty alleviation and promotion of culture.

Odisha ranks first in Praja Foundation's Urban Governance Index with a score of 56.86, followed by Maharashtra (55.15) and Chhattisgarh (49.68).

Meghalaya (14.82 percent), Manipur (14.63 percent) and Nagaland (13.37 percent) are the bottom three states, according to the index.

The index is an indicator of the level of decentralisation in urban governance, according to a press release by the NGO. It consists of four themes which are divided into 13 sub-themes and takes into account a total of 42 indicators. The four themes include empowered local elected representatives and legislative structure; empowered city administration; empowered citizens and fiscal empowerment.

The study is based on interviews with elected representatives in civic bodies, city administrators and civil society organisations.

Speaking to Firstpost, director of Praja Foundation Milind Mhaske said, "There are multiple reasons why this sort of decentralisation does not take place in most places. One factor is, of course, the lack of political will. But there are also other factors at play, such as political rivalries. In a context where the state government and the civic bodies belong to different political parties, various agencies may not be willing to let the others become more powerful."

Mhaske added, "Merely devolving functions to urban local bodies is not enough. Along with that, state governments also must devolve functionaries and funds to civic bodies. In order to implement projects well, urban local bodies would need adequate staff strength, mechanisms for planning, incubation, etc. All of these need to be provided to them. Wherever it is relevant, the private sector can also be roped in for planning and development."

The lack of decentralisation, as seen from the index released on Tuesday, has a major effect on the ability of urban local bodies to execute appropriate policies for public welfare. This becomes especially important in times of unprecedented crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier this year, a report of a national consultation on urban governance by Praja Foundation had highlighted this issue. The report said that out of 21 cities, only four have control over public health, only one city has control over planning for economic and social development, and only five cities have control over slum improvement and upgradation.

The article in Firstpost by the organisation had cited a positive example of Kerala, where the Kudumbashree programme for poverty eradication and women empowerment has been implemented through a three-tier community framework. It also cited the people's plan initiative in Kerala, which involved establishing ward sabhas, where citizen representatives, activists and local elected representatives conducted meetings in each ward. The objective of the meetings was to discuss local development issues and solutions. This "strengthened the community participation and awareness among citizens," the article noted.



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