ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Continuing Tale of Deficiency

India’s Cities without Ownership

The 74th Constitution Amendment Act envisaged urban local bodies as “institutions of self-government” with empowered mayors; however, this is scarcely followed. The lack of a single point of authority with clear ownership is derailing our cities as this institutional arrangement does not allow for a single point of accountability. The challenges around creating empowered and legitimate city leaders in India are examined and a way forward is charted out.

Cities are one of the most complex systems developed by humankind. Managing a city requires a meticulous city-systems approach. A city-systems approach, simply put, is about identifying cities as a complex network of several interconnected subsystems that help govern it and drive quality-of-life outcomes. The approach1 looks at four core components of governance in cities: spatial planning; municipal capacities (both human and financial); political leadership; and transparency, accountability and participation. It helps diagnose as well as solve urban governance issues sustainably.

Of this, the most touted, but one that has seen the least action, is the component of political leadership. It is a widely-known fact that Indian cities have weak leaders to steer them forward. While we use salutations such as “worshipful” to address the mayor, in reality, our mayors are just glorified figureheads and our urban local bodies (ULBs) merely serve as glorified service providers. While the 74th Constitution Amendment Act (CAA) envisaged ULBs as “institutions of self-government” with empowered mayors, this is scarcely followed. The lack of a single point of authority with clear ownership is derailing our cities as this institutional arrangement does not allow for a single point of accountability.

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