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Winnowing Urban Governance

New Forms of Urban Governance in India: Shifts, Models, Networks and Contestations edited by I S A Baud and J de Wit (New Delhi: Sage), 2008.

BOOK REVIEW

Winnowing Urban Governance

Susan George

Metropolitan Region Development Authority, MMRDA). The fact that these agencies are not elected bodies but answerable to line departments brings to the fore a key concern in decentralised governance – to

I
ndia’s fast-growing cities epitomise the global trend of urbanisation being concentrated around the cities and towns of the south. Naturally, managing such growth poses significant challenges for urban governments. This volume, comprising 12 case-studies of urban governance in India’s mega-cities, offers several insights into why urban governance remains a pressing problem for policymakers and how the promise of decentralised governance is still to be realised. The book is o rganised into three sections – “Models and Instruments of Urban D e centra lis ation”, “Multi-Stakeholder A rrangements in Public Services” and “Contestations and Urban Governance”. In addition to contributions by scholars of urban governance in India, the collection is enriched by the perspectives offered by practitioners and activists. All the case studies belong to the pre-Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission era.

Over the last couple of decades, the concept of governance has gained prominence, primarily because of the felt need for governments to involve non-state actors in the delivery of citizen-centric services, hitherto the domain of governments. The book is replete with definitions of “governance”, all of which emphasise m ulti-stakeholder engagement and decentralised decision-making. However, the contours of the engagement, the roles played by different actors and how they are able to secure their interests vary according to context. Not surprisingly, the jury is still out on whether this ceding of governing space to non-state actors, the private sector, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), community-based organisations, etc, has in fact achieved the objective of bringing governments closer to citizens.

Decentralised Governance

The 73rd and 74th Constitution Amendment Acts (CAAs) marked a significant shift in the policy framework of rural and urban governance, respectively. The book provides

New Forms of Urban Governance in India: Shifts, Models, Networks and Contestations

edited by I S A Baud and J de Wit (New Delhi: Sage), 2008; pp 420, Rs 850.

a timely assessment of the working of institutionalised processes of decentralised governance ushered in by their enactment. While there is no doubt that the political space has been “shared” through statutory provisions, the actual performance of local bodies, whether r ural or urban, is to a large extent, influen ced by the enabling factors such as devolution of funds and functionaries, capacity-building of elected representatives, etc, which are as critical to decentralisation as the constitutional mandate. Therefore, the role of the state governments in strengthening the local bodies has to complement and supplement any central directive. However, as case study after case study throws up, the working of urban local bodies (ULBs) in the major metro polises falls short of effective decentralisation. Barring the oft-cited notable exceptions of Kerala and West Bengal (and here too it cannot be said that decentralised governance has been a complete success) it would appear that genuine empowerment of local bodies by state governments is still a work-in-progress.

ULB Functioning

The case studies in Part 1 of the book are set against this backdrop of political empowerment of ULBs through the 74th CAA and the practical realities of their functioning. Pinto’s “Spotlight on Mumbai” traces the evolution of urban governance in the megapolis beginning from colonial administrative arrangements to present-day division of duties among various agencies, namely, the corporation, the all- powerful municipal commissioner, the committees and various parastatals. The latter are responsible for key functions like housing (Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority, MHADA), water supply and sanitation (Maharashtra Water Supply and Sewerage Board) and regional planning (Mumbai what extent are elected representatives enabled to perform functions assigned to them statutorily, in this case, subjects in the Twelfth Schedule and to what extent are functionaries actually accountable to elected representatives. Pinto’s evaluation of the working of the 74th CAA in Mumbai points to the ineffectual role of wards committees (which were meant to foster greater citizen participation) on account of budgetary constraints and lack of citizen awareness. Nevertheless, the increasing number of partnerships of the corporation with NGOs leads Pinto to conclude that d ecentralised governance is the way f orward.

Wards committee (WC) performance across ULBs in different states is also the subject of J de Wit, Nainan and Palnitkar’s enquiry. Here too the findings are not particularly encouraging. Even where the WCs have been established by state legislation, they are not provided adequate funds for undertaking development works or are constituted for large populations, thereby impacting the level of citizen participation and consequently, accountability. This finding is largely seconded by Ghosh and Mitra’s study of wards committees in West Bengal, though they have also highlighted the importance of selection of WC members as a factor in WC performance.

The role of NGOs in urban governance is the subject of Nainan and Baud’s study, also located in Mumbai. Their research reveals that more NGOs are engaged in service delivery than in advocacy and that relations between them and elected representatives tend to be contentious. NGOs, at least at first, were kept out of the WCs, and hence, their impact on policymaking was limited to state and city levels, or exerted through the judicial activism route. N etworking among them is also not as e ffective, further limiting their potential to influence policy.

Multi-Stakeholder Arrangements

Part 2 of the book comprises case studies of experiments in service delivery involving a variety of stakeholders. Multi-stakeholder arrangements (MSA) have gained a certain measure of acceptability within the policy

Economic & Political Weekly

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june 5, 2010 vol xlv no 23

BOOK REVIEW

framework of service delivery given the government’s increasing t endency to shift from direct provision of services to a regulatory, monitoring and standardssetting role. For local governments, the impetus for entering into MSA is provided by increased fiscal decentralisation. The main argument advanced in support of MSA is the perceived efficiency resulting from such arrangements though a question mark lingers over the accountability of non-state actors, particularly the private sector.

The MSA for developing underground sewerage systems in two municipalities in Chennai studied by Baud and Dhanalakshmi show that there is no prescribed formula for their success. Even within the same metropolitan area, the two ULBs had varying success in service delivery. While factors such as coordination between line agencies, participation of civil society, i nclu siveness of the project and accountability of actors influence the outcomes of MSA, in the long term, monitoring by citizens becomes vital for the sustainability of such projects. Similar conclusions can be drawn from Redkar’s study of solid waste management initiatives in Mumbai. Here community involvement in waste collection, segregation and recycling initiatives under the Advanced Locality Management and Slum Adoption Programmes not only enhanced the extent and quality of citizen participation in service delivery, but also resulted in tangible improvement in the functioning of ward offices.

Case Studies

The optimism reflected in the above study is somewhat tempered in A Bhide’s analysis of partnerships under the slum rehabilitation scheme (SRS) in Mumbai. In the three SRS projects examined in this casestudy, the interests of slum-dwellers who were the intended beneficiaries were not always secured, primarily because some “partners” were more equal than others. The author highlights the changing role of the state as a market facilitator, which has worked in favour of the private sector, in this instance, the developer lobby, to the detriment of the urban poor.

L Kennedy’s study of urban governance in Hyderabad, post-74th CAA is set against the backdrop of the larger discourse on governance reform emphasised by the Telugu Desam Party regime and offers a synoptic view of most of the major issues covered by the preceding case studies. Central to this discourse was the shrinking role of the public sector and a stated preference for privatisation as a means to increased efficiency in areas such as solid waste management. Public-private partnerships involving prominent corporate actors came into their own during this period, while the ULBs which ought to have led the drive for urban governance reform were hamstrung by the absence of any genuine devolution.

Elitist Vision of Planning

Though both the above studies focus on service delivery outcomes under different partnership models, the underlying thread is one of contestation among various actors within the urban governance space. This, fittingly, is the subject of the third section of the book and also provides an appropriate framework for discussing the case studies relating to the national capital.

Delhi’s trajectory in urban governance has been shaped by its unique political and administrative “advantages” vis-à-vis other mega-cities. Though the weight exerted by the central government is a defining factor, policy formulation is the outcome of negotiation between central, state and local governments. Milbert’s study of land policies and housing in Delhi documents vividly the monopolistic control of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and its failure to provide adequate h ousing stock to economically weaker sections.

Consequently, the rise of slumlords, brokers, political networkers and other interest groups and lobbies increased the level of contestation over urban planning and governance. An additional factor shaping urban policies in Delhi is increased judicial activism, which is the subject of V D upont and U Ramanathan’s study. The authors’ analysis of three landmark judgments dealing with resettlement of slum-dwellers leads them to conclude that judicial pronouncements have had the effect of emasculating the claims of the urban poor to housing while emphasising an “elitist” vision of planning in which slums have no place.

A similar elitist bias is noticed in the composition of the resident welfare

june 5, 2010

associations (RWAs) which represent statesponsored citizen participation as documented in N Sridharan’s essay on the changing role of the state in urban governance. Apart from Delhi, Sridharan has also examined decentralised urban governance in Kolkata and Kollam. The people’s planning movement in Kerala has positively impacted citizen participation in various development projects of the Kollam Municipal Corporation whereas ULBs in Kolkata continue to languish under the burden of inadequate devolution.

The concluding case study by A Adarkar on the development of Mumbai’s mill lands highlights the impact of bureaucratic regulation in transforming the socio- economic landscape of central Mumbai. The redevelopment of mill lands offered scope for inclusive urban renewal through an appropriate mix of commercial development and provision of affordable housing and open spaces. However, modifications in the development regulation made additional land available to mill-owners which has translated into the gentrification of a hitherto working-class neighbourhood and also given sound urban planning the go-by. Clearly, contestation within urban governance does not occur on a level playing field, as most of the case studies have brought out.

New Forms of Urban Governance in India is a useful addition to the extant scholarship on urban planning and development. The 12 case studies encapsulate a rigorous analysis of the successes and failures of the experiment with decentralised urban governance, namely, the 74th CAA. It is clear that the political consensus that en abled passage of this landmark legislation has not been followed through with similar political commitment to realise the potential of decentralisation. Local governments everywhere, with very few exceptions, have not been provided the wherewithal to carry out the responsibilities

o stensibly devolved to them. Till that happens, problems of managing frenetic urban growth will continue to multiply and concerns regarding inclusiveness remain unaddressed. To that extent, the book carries important lessons for policymakers to make the required course corrections.

Views expressed are personal.

Susan George (suegeorge@gmail.com) is c urrently with the Ministry of Panchayati Raj.

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