February 23, 2020

Will the 74th CAA get resuscitated?

Tikender Singh Panwar

SOME of the studies done on decentralised urban governance have shown that the cities, barring a few states like Kerala and West Bengal, where the Mayor in Council governed the city governance, in majority of the states, the cities are considered mere adjuncts of the state governments.

Twenty-five years have passed since the 74th constitutional amendment was brought out. There are 18 functions that were supposed to have been transferred to the city governments under the 12th Schedule of the Constitution. Some of them include; regulation of land use and construction of buildings, city planning including town planning, urban poverty alleviation, water supply, fire services, public health and solid waste management, slum improvement, urban forestry, roads and bridges, registration of births and deaths etc.

There have been several reviews of the 25 years of implementation of the 74th amendment in the country, and almost all have pointed out, at the little transfer of these subjects to the city governments. A task force formed during the UPA-2, led by K C Sivaramakrishnan (former secretary ministry of urban development) of which I was also a member, did a detailed review of the transferred functions and pointed out at the gross weaknesses that exist at empowering the cities. Since urban development is a state subject, the states according to their priorities have created their urban development models.

In a recent study done by a group of urban experts linked to the NIUA, in 15 cities, of three states in North India, it was found out that only two functions are universally transferred to the cities. The first one is solid waste management and the other is the registration of birth and death. The remaining functions are either under the parastatals of the state government or even under private.

The BJP government under Modi since 2014 has launched various schemes of urban development. Instead of strengthening the process of democratic decentralisation, by strengthening the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act, Modi has further diminished the scope of democratisation of decision making in the cities. The BJP, which wanted quick results in the cities, which politically is important for it, worked on a project oriented trajectory of urban development, without looking city as a holistic unit. Instead of taking a city development with its overall features that includes city planning, participation of the people, empowering them and brining in the organic relationship between the city and the citizens, the BJP worked on a business model formula to bring in an alternate to the impending problems of city development. This was also necessary for the BJP because the overall paradigm of urban development in Indian cities is “privatisation of material wealth”- mainly through monetisation of land, and with that a parallel was drawn by the BJP for “privatisation of governance” in the cities.

Modi 1.0 with much fanfare announced the 100 smart cities project in the country. These smart cities were supposed to be the lighthouses for urban development in India. The premise of smart cites was that the cities were considered as business avenues and were asked to compete against each other to attract capital for its development. The smart city plans were made, which were based on primarily project development approach. The area-based development, which is the quintessence of smart city plan, is not even one per cent of the city’s geographical area, which was considered for development. None of the cities, except for one or two, opted for green field projects and more are for redevelopment and retrofitting. The result after a period of four years shows that the smart city plan has not brought the desired results.

The shift has also come into the governance structures under the smart city plan. The institution of governance in the city is transformed from “city managers” to “city entrepreneurs.” The smart city is governed by a special purpose vehicle (SPV), which is not under the control of the elected council of the city, rather is run by a bunch of non-elected, bureaucrats and in some cases, even by officials of multilateral agencies. The governance of cities, instead of being in the hands of elected, is now in the hands of private company-the SPV. As rightly pointed out, SPV’s formation in the cities is virtually like writing an obituary of the 74th Constitutional Amendment.

Can such models of governance and city development sustain? The answer is no. Such alien structures of governance alienate the people from the whole process of city development. This model cannot sustain. In many of the city councils, which were run by BJP, raised a bogie of demands, one amongst them being to get rid of the SPV model of governance. The city councils are more and more feeling asphyxiated with these structures and raising their voices in different forums of city government’s both nationally and internationally.

It will be interesting to note how the Modi 2.0 which was keen to implement the NUPF(National Urban Policy Framework) is now silent on its implementation. The best that can, as of now be said about urban development is that there is chaos and the Modi 2.0 is contemplating urban 2.0 for Indian cities. We will have to wait and find out what is there for the urban India. But, for the moment the 74th Constitutional Amendment is virtually in the intensive care unit of urban development department with very less chance of resuscitation.