The election of a large number of first time councilors in the recently concluded corporation elections in Delhi and rejection of many sitting councilors by their parties and people brings to fore the issue of urban governance in India. Why do parties and people reject their candidates and representatives respectively? Nonperformance is one issue but there could be issues like not living up to the changing requirements of their job or apathy to learn and adapt. We are in the midst of an urban revolution where the face of cities is rapidly changing due to large scale migration and a greater need for quality urban infrastructure.
Urban governance is not just about building more roads, bridges, hospitals, schools, parks and shopping malls. It is an interface between citizens and his surrounding that may include infrastructure and services provided by the public utilities and its people. Properly guided elected representatives and a bureaucracy ahead of times can make such interface smooth, qualitative and humane with their approach to problem solving.
An elected representative is an untrained professional chosen by his and his party’s popularity not necessarily merit. However various roles a representative plays require administrative abilities and a good understanding of the system which most of them lack due to their poor educational background and an absence of a missionary zeal. Those who have these qualities surely make a mark. Experience enriches but a donkey will never run like a horse even if he is running his 100th race. A fresh talented young engineer might grasp the details of the system within a few years and a dumb person will reach his retirement age and will never learn the basics. Lack of understanding of urban environment by a new elected representative and multiplicity of authorities might lead to confusion. So initiation of right doctrines and education for young political activists become important as urban governance is becoming demanding.
Elected representatives don’t work in isolation. They are dependent on bureaucracy for their day to day work. While the system remains the same for everyone, an upright, proactive officer by his leadership can surely bring a change in the department under his/her jurisdiction. On the other hand, a corrupt and lazy officer would even worsen the existing system. So laggards and inefficient officer should be shown the door and able and honest officers be brought in at important positions. Things have reached such a passé at places that even able officers complain of interference and hurdles in decision making. Who suffers?
There are numerous examples where upright officers and proactive elected representatives can help. Not a single flat built by DDA 20 years ago in Delhi can be found in its original form now as most have collapsed due to use of poor material and thus rebuilt by the occupant. Even today governments have numerous schemes to build houses for poor and corruption runs deep. Similar is the state of corruption in government maintained parks even now in Delhi. Can such malaise remain unchecked if we have honest officers and alert MLAs, MPs? Who if not elected representatives will act as watchdogs?
Who will look after the public infrastructure that has been created by investing billions of rupees? A corporator or an MLA’s job is not just about getting funds sanctioned for projects but also its proper utilization and maintenance. However, elected representatives are either not fully aware of the issues or are kept in the dark by bureaucrats. And bureaucrats by nature are tied to the system and are afraid to break the tradition.
Similarly it is not a police commissioners’ job if a bus conductor misbehaves with a female college student but it speaks volumes about the state of affairs in a city: There is no fear of the law. Who comes to the rescue of a hapless woman being excessively charged by an autowala? A common man will never understand the logic of a traffic police team standing at a place where it stands in Delhi? When everyone else becomes deaf and dumb, is it not the duty of political activists to take up issues that matter in an urban environment? Urban governance is not a rocket science but made up of solving minor day to day problems of the citizenry. The elected representatives have to be fully trained and a bureaucracy far ahead of time, if India wants to meet the challenge posed by urban explosion.