Pune is India’s best governed city, says annual survey by Bengaluru non-profit

STATE OF CITY SYSTEMS

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Kasba Seth, Pune. Wikipedia

The growth in the nation’s cities has been maddeningly slow. And it has not even been much, according to the fifth edition of Janaagraha’s Annual Survey of India’s City-Systems (ASICS) 2017. There has been some improvement in the quality of governance in 23 cities. Yet, this has come about at a frustrating snail’s pace.

Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy (Janaagraha), a Bengaluru-based non-profit, has surveyed the quality of governance in 23 major cities in 20 states. The survey was based on 89 questions.

Pune was the Number 1 grosser, scoring between 3.0 and 5.1 on 10 and topping the charts for the first time. It was followed by Kolkata, Thiruvananthapuram, Bhubaneswar and Surat, with scores in the range of 4.6 to 4.5.

The dubious distinction of the bottom ‘firsts’ were occupied by Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Dehradun, Patna and Chennai, with scores of 3.0 to 3.3 on 10.

Interestingly, the top position was wrested by Pune from Thiruvananthapuram.

The fourth position was taken by Bhubaneswar. It crawled up the list by six positions to the fourth rank, from the tenth in 2016.

The fifth position was taken by Surat, which jumped 12 ranks over 2016. It improved its ranking mainly due to better revenue generation, improved capital expenditure per capita by the city and execution of AMRUT reforms, which included appointing an internal auditor as well as credit rating, according to Vivek Anandan Nair, Associate Manager and project lead on ASICS 2017.

Two cities that were added to the survey this year included Guwahati and Visakhapatnam. They had surprisingly low scores of 3.8 and 3.4 respectively.

The ASICS report also pitted these cities against the global hotspots: Johannesburg with 7.6, London with 8.8 and New York also with 8.8.

Reasons for the ranking

There are many reasons for the fall in the ranking of many cities. An important one has been found to be the delay in conducting council elections. For instance, at Visakhapatnam and Chennai, the delay in council elections pulled down the scores. This delay also had a cascading effect on other related factors, such as the creation of ward committees and gender representation in the council.

Most of the cities surveyed showed a score in the range of 3 to 5.1, while 12 cities out of 23 went below 4 on 10. The signals show that Indian cities are completely under-prepared to focus on giving citizens a high quality of life or anything that is sustainable. The critical flashpoints of the cities remain frequent floods, garbage crises, fire accidents, building collapses, air pollution and dengue outbreaks — all symptoms that point towards deeper and more systemic misgovernance.

Measures

The ASICS survey quizzed 26 cities, throwing 89 questions with 150 parameters and 3,200 points of investigation. It also based its analysis on 50 laws as well as 100 reports of budgets, audited annual accounts and reports.

On the whole, the cities in India have consistently scored low over the last three editions of ASICS. The average scores have not improved much, beyond 3.4 to 3.9. Hence, slow progress is indicated in fixing city-systems and a poor state of public service delivery. Attention thus needs to be given to sharper city-systems along with institutional reforms.

Interestingly, ASICS does not measure quality of infrastructure and services such as roads, traffic, garbage, water, housing, sanitation or air pollution. Instead, as Anil Nair, Deputy Head, Advocacy and Reforms at Janaagraha points out, it assesses the preparedness of cities to deliver high quality infrastructure and services in the long term by evaluating “city-systems.” 

Thus, the base for the survey rests on the “City-Systems” framework that identifies the root of urban challenges. It includes four components – Urban Planning & Design, Urban Capacities & Resources, Empowered & Legitimate Political Representation and Transparency, Accountability & Participation. In simpler terms, these encompass

  • spatial planning and design standards
  • municipal finance
  • staffing
  • political leadership at the city level
  • transparency
  • citizen participation

The report examined some transformative reforms for governance. The quality of governance is based on the quality of laws, policies, institutions and institutional processes, on which, it believes, the good quality of lives are built up.

Five issues

What are the five issues that can be addressed in order to improve the quality and sustainability of modern life? According to the report,

  1. There is no modern, contemporary framework to assess the spatial planning of cities and design standards for public utilities, including roads, footpaths, bus stops and other underground utilities such as water and sewerage networks.
  2. The finances seem to be poor. In terms of sustainability and accountability of cities, they fall far below the expected standards.
  3. The management of human resources is also weak. The number and competencies, skills, organisation, design and performance management of the staff are very poor.
  4. Weak mayors and city councils, as well as “severe fragmentation of governance” have afflicted all municipalities, parastatal agencies and state departments.
  5. There are no platforms at all to invite citizens’ participation. There is also complete lack of transparency in finances and operations of cities.

Upon examining the report, a number of issues become clear. The primary objective of the ASICS report is evidently to help the leaders in our cities locate the main issues that affect urban governance. Once these are identified, they can be used to initiate reforms that would upgrade our cities.

The complete ASICS Report 2017 can be read below: