Challenges of Urban Governance in India

How is “Urban” Elucidated in India?

Challenges of Urban Governance in India
Challenges of Urban Governance in India

In our previous article – “An Introduction to Urban Governance”, we had discussed about the basis of Urban of Urban Governance, why it matters and components of urban governance. Today, here in this article, we are going to analyse Urban Governance in Indian Context. But before we move on with the present scenario of Urban Governance in our country, it is imperative to understand how India defines “Urban”.

How is “Urban” Elucidated in India?

In India, the elucidation of “Urban” is relatively complex. It was also given the tag of being unique by the UN ‘Demographic Yearbook 2005’. Here in India, urban areas are classified under three categories based on the manner of governance.

The first group comprises of all the urban regions established under central or state law. These urban regions consist of predefined framework of urban governance commonly known as “statutory towns” (STs). They are usually governed and administered by Urban local bodies. The STs are further split into three sub-categories based on the laws under which they were instituted – the Municipal Corporations, Municipalities and Nagar Panchayats. Municipal Corporations are established for big cities having population of more than 1lakh people, while Municipalities are established for smaller urban settlements or towns having population between 25000 and 100000, whereas Nagar Panchayats cover transitional areas having population between 11000 and 25000. However, if a state chooses to proclaim a region as “Industrial Township” in accordance with state law, then that region shall be excluded from the purview of municipalities.

The second group of urban regions comprises of all the “census towns” (CTs) established or rather certified by the by the Registrar General of India (RGI) in accordance with result derived from population census exercise. Villages having a minimum population size of 5000 people, a population density of not less than 400 people/sq. km and a non-farm workforce whereatleast 3/4thare male workers are included under the category of Census Towns. However, CTs are governed in accordance with villages and are considered to be a part of village panchayats. They enjoy the constitutional status in accordance with the 73rd amendment of the Indian Constitution.

The third group of urban regions are known as “out growths” (OGs) which are neither CTs nor STs. They comprises of all or partial settlements lying alongside STs but not within the statutory limits. Here, instead of considering the size of population, density of population or the economic activities of the region like CTs, what is examined is weather or not the region enjoys urban infrastructure & amenities. The OGs are also governed as rural regions.

Presently, India is in the race of being the fastest growing economyin the world. The rate of growth highly depends on the nature and pace of urbanisation. The combination of growing middle classesand rising aspirations coupled with inadequate planning against inevitable increase in urbanisation is creating an environment that is financially, environmentally and socially unsuitable. One major challenge faced by India’s policy makers and planners is in finding out a suitable framework to radically enhance the standard of life for the inhabitants of cities in a manner that would allow future growth to accommodate and ensure a superior living environment & synergetic development of the rural areas. There are many obstacles in the path to superior urban governance in our country. For instance, a federal framework which has not authorised its 3rd tier despite the constitution being amended in 1992, resulted to a gap in the institutional framework for urban governance and planning, and a political environment which is excessively biased towards the rural sectors. Subsequently, instances of floods, flyover collapse, potted roads, case of rapes and molestation in the metropolitan cities have underlined the inadequacy of urban governance. Unless effective institutional reforms are implemented for addressing these challenges, urbanisation would never be able to provide the support for achieving the twin objectives of enhancing the standard of life of the country’s rapidly increasing urban population and revolutionizing the cities to carry out the responsibilities of being the driver of growth in the country’s developmental stage.

In the following section we would analyse what ails the country’s urban governance. It emphasises on institutional defragmentation, whereby various organisations often play overlapping roles, are administered by bureaucrats who are not answerable to the common people, and the absence of a lone individual answerable to the polity.

Reasons behind Urban Paralysis

In India, though in pen and papers mayors are held responsible for cities, in reality it is the Chief Minister who actually controls with armies of bureaucrats by his side, hence the mayor is left with a very little to do. If we look into the world’s major cities such as London, Paris, Shanghai& New York, we will find that mayors have immense powers to govern & administer them. This necessitates analysing the causes behind urban paralysis in India. Below are the reasons underpinning this phenomenon.

Firstly, urban areas are very small for the politicians to determine their fate in general elections. Subsequently, this lacks the incentives of successive union governments to kingpin reforms on urban governance.

For instance, out of 1.2 billion populations in 2011, urban sector accounted for only 377 million. Thus, number of elected representatives from urban sectors in parliament was roughly around 177 which was just 1/3rd of the total 543 seats in the general election of 2014.

Secondly, urban dwellers hardly get a chance to represent themselves in the sanctums while making decisions. This is due to delimitation – the fact that number of seats allotted in LokSabha for each state and the no. of seats already existing in theLegislative Assemblies was determined in accordance with the Census of 1971. As specified under 84th and 87th Constitutional Amendments, this allotment cannot be altered before the census of 2026. Urban sectors have become the victims of such insufficient representations which ultimately hinder the focus and funds required by them.

Thirdly, the political classes get attracted over the economic power of the cities. This intensifies their tendency to press on with wresting control over the cities.

As business thrives in cities, trade flourishes, employments are generated and more innovation comes up, controlling the cities gives political parties the leverage which can be traded for raising funds for fighting elections in the rural sectors. Additionally, the state counterparts of the political parties provide them arbitrage with infrastructure projects such as expressways, glossy airports, and sanction for skyscrapers that gratifies the richness in cities.

Fourthly,there isinsufficient human resource capacity spanning the intelligentsia, the political class, the bureaucracy as well as the private sector. A severe shortage of talent was underscored as the primary reason behind sluggish reform pace by the former Planning Commission. This results in inadequate metropolitan plan and governance. The Indian Constitution offers considerable discretion to the state governments while determining metropolitan areas’ administrative boundaries but these were not established in accordance with creating a unified market that would forge strong economic connectivity between the core city and the periphery of the region. The district planning committees (DPCs) and metropolitan planning committees (MPCs) are required to prepare developmental plans for their respective regions but even there they were proven incompetitive as regional planning agencies.

Urban Reform Programmes

Outlined below are some Urban Reform Programmes that has the capability of transforming Urban India and improve the standard of life for its citizens. However, for achieving the fruitful outcomes, they must be implemented in effectively & efficiently.

  • Reform of 74th Constitutional Amendment for empowering city administrations, strengthening the metropolitan framework of government and instituting a system which is directly under the control of mayor.
  • Secure the governance at the states and in the Centre so as to minimize fragmentation and lubricate alignment of functions.
  • Establishing an office for mayor that would politically relevant to develop a culture of meritocracy and performance.
  • Institute world-class organisations for catalysing capacity at scale.
  • Create a National Urban Finance Corporation of India for funding projects on urban infrastructure.
  • Developing the regulatory architecture necessary to provide effective & efficient urban services.
  • Reforming the civil services, and establishing executive agencies to dig out inefficiencies.
  • Revitalizing the responsibility of the State Finance Commissions to supplement municipal finances.
  • Implementing state-specific statutes on transport& land usefor overriding legislative vacuum.
  • Deepen citizen participation in cities for driving changes across localities.
  • Bolstering the base of taxation and developing the mechanisms for devolution of funds for Urban Local Bodies from state.


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