Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Tale of Cities

First thing first, hi everyone. It's been a long time since i had posted my last article. Well i was on a vacation. You know we writers need a break time and again. :).

India is the second fastest growing nation in the world. A developing nation with the potential of being a global influence. Last year in the midst of the worst recession seen by the living generations, India posted a GDP growth rate of 6.7%. Analyst claim that the situation to be such that even if the world economy shrunk by 20%, India would remain buoyant. this certainly is the moment of being a proud Indian.

There still lies few major obstacles in our country's dream of achieving DEVELOPED status. We say that next ten years is what it would take but do we really believe it. We have low literacy percent, our human development index is lower Cuba (which by the way has 99% literacy) and our infrastructure is not worth being proud of. Where we lack the most is urban development programs and the will to pursue them.

Urban developements have historically been not the safest political bets and hence never received the attention they require. Indian cities historically were never developed for the people but for the requirement of the rulers. First the mughals and then British developed cities according to their needs. Britishers brought education to create a cheap working class for the East India Company and railways for faster transport of goods when lobbied by the english traders.

During British rules the cities were divided between India and its imperial heart- Civil Lines of the cities were reserved for British officers and affluent businessmen. British urban planning had little role in the cities beyond distancing the rulers from their festering country. This marginalization of Indians in the city, which included prominent Indian leaders like Vallabhbhai Patel, Nehru, Subash Chandra Bose, etc that made them doubt the nature of urban development in the future.

By settling in and loosening their ties in a city setting, the British led Indians to associate India's urban identity with the colonial one. Gandhi went as far to say, 'I regard the growth of cities as an evil thing.....certainly unfortunate for India.'Cities hence became inextricably linked with a past our leaders longed to forget.

So it was that immediately after independence, the government marginalized cities and they became constitutional orphans. Taxes were split among the state and the centre while the city government were cut off. The urban bodies went under state list and were stripped of their independence. So much so that the Indian city mayors went into obscurity. If we were to name our city mayor and money were running on the correct answer, most of India's urban residents (including me) would loose money every time.

The winds are changing now. Our cities have gained new political relevance with our economic growth. Many of this is coming together in a shift towards a more clear-eyed policy approach for urban renewal- the JNNURM. We have interested politicians from left to right, who think of urban renewal. But how are these policies helping.

Government keeps increasing the money allocated to such policies. the local city bodies are flushed with money from JNNURM but it is like pushing water through a very leaky pipe, by the time it reaches the tap it is already drained off. What we need, and no one can argue wit it, is a efficient distribution system. Local bodies should be empowered with reponsibilites and rights.

Right now though, as state governments remain one of the big bottlenecks to urban development, we are tackling our urban problems through center funded schemes, and a combination of NGO and civil activism. But while the emerging ecosystems of NGOs and voluntary organizations are filling in some gaps, it is difficult to imagine a coordinated, large-scale and well-funded effort akin to a working city government.

Behind this article their lies an appeal from me as well as the urban India for a real, tangible shift in city's place within Indian landscape. The day needs turning and the sun should rise on the city-the place where, many of us are beginning to realize, our biggest success will take shape.

Let India, still not live in its villages

1 comment:

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