The quality of life in India’s cities has changed to a great extent over the years, but it has certainly not improved. As per the 2011 census, 31 per cent of Indians live in urban areas, but satellite imagery indicates that the actual figure could be double of that. It is a well known fact that hundreds of thousands of people transit to the cities every day to pursue their livelihoods and thereby stretch resources by an immeasurable quantum.
An urban agglomeration like the tri-city of Chandigarh, Panchkula and Mohali presents possibly the most livable scenario in the country, but even here the signs are that over-population is impacting lives adversely. The municipal administrations are unable to quite handle the dynamics of the demanding mass of people who live in their jurisdictions.
Here are some ways through which the city governance mechanisms in India can elevate life-quality indices in times to come-
1. Human resources mobilisation: Several municipal bodies in the towns of India are gasping for collective breath and unable to cope with requirements related to sanitation, roads, water supply, sewerage, maintenance etc. Typically, a Junior Engineer is the be-all-and-end-all of the local systemic regime that handles these needs. Human resources are stretched and staff is overworked. The remedy lies in quickly recruiting retired persons and young professionals directly at local levels while videographing selection processes to ensure fair play.
2. Innovative plans for revenue generation: Each fund-starved civic body needs to innovate in order to garner revenue for developmental works. State governments can never bear the brunt of the follies committed by shoddily managed municipalities that have eroded their capital resources. Corrupt practices relating to repair of roads and parks have also led to this situation. Civic bodies therefore have to come up with charming schemes to convert lease hold properties to free hold, to grant ownership rights to tenants and other such ways, which would bring in the ‘moolah’, thereby easing the pressure dramatically. Allowing entertainment and eatery businesses to come up at select locations, with proper planning, is another way to do so.
3. Greening our cities and towns: Once the human and financial resources are more easily available, urban areas can be spruced up, cleaned up and greened up in a much better manner. There are several neglected patches of land which belong to the local body but which are pathetic to look at, filthy and stinking. By allowing corporate and institutional organizations to spruce up and maintain these areas each urban area would have much more greenery on offer and residents would breathe easier, literally! Even top ranking green cities like South Delhi, and also Chandigarh, can do with more plantation and a larger expanse of well planned green cover in order to combat the polluting influence of the burgeoning number of vehicles and old factory units in the vicinity. The effect of the annual smog nightmare in north India can also be assuaged to an extent by mass scale greening of urban areas and peripheries.
4. Mass Rapid Transport: Enough has been said and written about the need for availability of quick access, affordable and efficient mass rapid transport systems on the pattern of Singapore wherein people hardly ever use their own cars, and solely depend on a seamless combination of buses, underground trains, taxis and the like. Our cities are still grappling with the process of setting up such facilities and one shudders to think what would happen if they are further delayed. New Delhi would probably have collapsed by now had the metro not come up!
5. Other measures: In a column of this size and scope one cannot go into micro level details of what is needed to make our cities more livable, but a few other ideas include: Shifting electric cables underground to declutter colonies, regulating vendors by giving them licences and designated spaces, segregating waste at the doorstep and setting up solid waste management facilities all over the country, outsourcing collection of property taxes, providing single window and technology enabled services to residents. The list is long but achievable, and as the saying goes, “What is a city, but the people…” So let us also make sure that the real stake holders, the residents, are consulted on every significant decision that is taken with respect to the city they live in.