New Delhi: The recent fire accidents in congested retail zones of Mumbai and Bengaluru, and growing traffic congestion are only some of the examples of threats posed by unplanned urbanization. Not surprisingly, the municipal administrators are blamed for all such incidents.

Bengaluru-based think tank Janaagraha recently undertook a survey among city administrators of 21 of India’s largest cities spread across eight states.

Here are the key takeaways from the ‘VOICE of City Governments’ survey, a precursor to Janaagraha’s annual urban governance rankings.

1. City administrators across the 21 cities identified solid waste management as the biggest challenge, with 80% of the survey respondents identifying municipal waste disposal as a key concern. Apart from waste management, the top 5 list of challenges were water supply, sanitation, pollution and affordable housing. Mobility did not figure high on the radar, neither did health, education, safety and security.

2. An overwhelming number of city administrators agreed that fixing the issues India’s cities face requires a “systems" approach and not just ad-hoc, short-term fixes which are unsustainable in the long run. However, with an average municipal staff vacancy of 38%, cities seem to have little leeway to go for systemic fixes and often get bogged down by daily firefighting.

3. Major issues that impeded progress were inadequate urban planning, followed by lack of skilled staff. Civic apathy was also cited as a factor that prevented city governments from delivering high-quality services and infrastructure.

4. Somewhat surprisingly, reforms that encourage citizen participation in governance are looked at favourably by most city leaders, with over 80% agreeing that participatory budgets and ward committees/area sabhas will help India’s cities. Also, a significant portion of the respondents did not view empowering mayors as a beneficial reform.

5. An overwhelming 95% of the respondents recommended devolving more taxation powers to urban local bodies. Instead of just increasing state and central government grants, the ability to be self-reliant was seen as the key to improvement.

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