Clean cities ranking, comic relief

The Centre’s “Swachh Survekshan-2016” report on Monday, ranking our cities in terms of cleanliness, comes as kind of a comic relief in the midst of a serious crisis of urban governance in the country.

Part of the Narendra Modi government’s much-hyped Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, this exercise by the Union Urban Development Ministry ranks 51 cities with million-plus population and 22 state capitals on various cleanliness parameters. So we have Mysuru city adjudged the country’s cleanest city, Chandigarh the second cleanest, Tiruchirapalli the third cleanest and so on. Mysuru city has the distinction of being the country’s cleanest city for the second year in succession. While this is a feel-good recognition for the city, a large number of Mysureans would actually be wondering if their city qualified to be the cleanest one in the country, how bad the state of affairs must be in other cities!

The fact is that our cities and towns cry for attention. Many of them risk decaying rapidly. The system of constitutionally mandated elected urban local governments notwithstanding, urban governance is in a shambles.  Rampant corruption and misgovernance coupled with lack of adequate financial resources have created a huge mismatch between the rapid pace of urbanisation and the slow pace of physical infrastructure creation, be it new dwelling units, water, electricity, public transport, and provisions for sanitation. There is no meaningful attempt to address this crisis-like situation, as authorities at different levels merely indulge in blame games. Union Urban Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu wants us to believe that the annual ranking of the cities injects an element of competition among city administrations to excel. However, in the last one year since the annual ranking exercise was launched, there is hardly any evidence of this even with a lure of some financial incentives for the better performers.

What is badly required is some serious review of the system of urban governance. A few years ago, Delhi experimented by splitting the Municipal Corporation of Delhi into three separate entities, on the assumption that urban governance had suffered as the city expanded in a big way. But now it is felt that the experiment is a disaster. The real issue under the existing scheme of division of power, the elected urban local bodies in our cities lack functional autonomy and financial resources. There are too many service-providing agencies outside the control of the urban local bodies. Unless these fundamental issues are addressed at the national level, quality urban governance will remain a mirage and our cities will become large, polluted urban slums.

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