Empower urban local bodies: Experts

Devolution of power to municipal corporations, separate cadre for corporations, process re-engineering and participatory planning hold the key to urban development challenges

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Prasanna Mohanty | November 2, 2012



Cities are engines of growth. But, with a very few exceptions, the urban centres overflow with garbage, lack sound public transportation and a reliable power and drinkable water supply. To make things worse, the municipal corporations, which govern cities, not only have huge dearth of skilled human resource and thus lagging in adoption of new processes and technology, but also starve for administrative mandate to manage their affairs. This is in complete contrast to the relative devolution of power to the panchayats- which now have a greater say in local governance.

Answering to these challenges marring the corporations across the country, a panel of experts prescribed "empowerment" of mayors and the corporations, bridging the gap of skilled human resource in urban local bodies (ULBs) and adoption of participatory planning and citizen centric processes.

The panel was quite critical of the poor state of affairs in most of the ULBs. "There is a huge 'soft infrastructure deficit' across all the ULBs. Many of them don't even have the know-how of designing city development plan and projects," union minister for urban development, Kamal Nath, who was among the members of the expert panel which deliberated on these issues during an urban governance award ceremony organised by NGO Janaagraha in national capital on Wednesday.

Recalling the poor status of a local infrastructure project, which he went to inaugurate in his constituency four years back he said, “We shouldn't use the term 'deficit'. It indicates availability of infrastructure with just a little gap. However, in reality, most of the ULBs don't have an infrastructure, at all."

Appreciating the state of Punjab for having a separate cadre for municipal corporation, Nath said, "Even if you train officials in ULBs, they get transferred to some other department, making the training pointless. So, there is need for setting up a separate cadre for corporations. We are including this as conditionality under JNNURM 2.0. For any new ULBs to get recognition and funding, states have to have a separate cadre."

The panel included Sam Pitroda, advisor to prime minister on public information, infrastructure and innovations  (PIII), Arun Maira, member, planning commission, M Ramachandran, former secretary, urban development, S Ramadorai, vice chairman, Tata Consultancy Services and Sanjeev Bikhchandani, executive vice chairman, Info Edge (India) Limited.

Commenting on the use of information systems for resolving issues surrounding ULBs, Pitroda said, "Internet is changing things around you fast. You can't rely on old systems. We need a public information infrastructure to do so. We need broadband pipes in each corner of the country.  The government is aware of it. It is working to build the information infrastructure. Now we need national platforms for GIS, cyber security, procurement, UID, among others. This will help ULBs in better planning and in services delivery."

Ramadorai said, "Just digitsing existing processes will not lead anywhere. We have to re-engineer and we need to train people accordingly.  Even in TCS, when we take a strategic decision, we need to plan for training of the thousands of people working with us. So getting the processes right and skilling people is the key."

"We need to relook at the architecture and design of our processes," said Maira. This requires change. However, "the will to change is not visible in the government machinery."

Ramachandran said that capacity building of local bodies is quite important. "Even if you have e-governance in ULBs, you will not have people who can understand technology," he said.

Sanjeev stressed on the need for greater collaboration between the public and private sector.

During the award ceremony, Coimbatore municipal corporation received the championship award for using information and communication technology for greater citizen convenience.

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