Small is beautiful

The Indian Institute of Public Administration is holding a seminar on the reconstitution of the municipal area into two or more cities. If implemented, that would end the experiment of consolidating all the cities in the area into one single BBMP. I’m speaking at the event later this morning … here’s the gist of what I plan to say.

In December 2005, when the government pushed through the creation of BBMP, Subbu Vincent and I wrote an editorial, titled "The sum of broken parts" arguing that this was a bad move. I predicted then that we would be forced to abandon this experiment, but I didn’t realise how soon that would come. Within two years, the Urban Development minister declared that the city is unmanageably large, and the BBMP commissioner mooted the idea of breaking up BBMP again.

Unmanageably large? But in 2005, the government thought the different cities in the region (1 BMP, 7 CMCs, 1 TMC and some hundred-odd villages) were unmanageably scattered, and needed to be brought together so that they could be effectively managed! Have we changed our minds on that?

Let’s assume, even, that we have – and that’s a good thing, if we can recognise mistakes and reverse them. Are we now willing to say that in the future, we will not create monstrously large city jurisdictions, and we will instead promote the management of the urban agglomerate through many local bodies? Or are we simply trying to undo our mistake without making any commitment not to repeat it?

Why is this important? Look at the numbers. Today, 5.2 million people live inside the Outer Ring Road, another 3.5 outside it but within BBMP, and about 700,000 more in the greater metro region including the smaller towns around BLR. But in the future, most of the growth will be in the outlying areas. By 2020, the population outside the ring road in BBMP will be larger than within it, and in areas beyond BBMP, the percentage growth rate is even faster.

We need an approach to municipalisation which is repeatable properly in the future, because the problem of sprawl is not going to disappear anytime soon. Having a solution now is important, but committing to the logic of that solution is even more important.

There are two things in particular to think about, beyond this. On the positive side, if the area is broken up into many cities (like Delhi has done recently) then it becomes immediately clear that ‘planning’ has to be done by someone other than the municipality, since there are many of those. If that happens, local bodies can concentrate of service delivery, where regional planning is taken up by a focused organisation (probably BMRDA).

On the negative side, is the worry that politicians will use the reconstitution of the city as an excuse to delay local elections again. Remember what happened the last time? In the name of creating BBMP, we went through nearly 3 years without a local government. There is every risk of that happening again.

On the whole, smaller municipal areas make sense, and that’s why cities all over the world have adopted this approach. What you and I think of as London is actually 28 cities clustered together – they manage civic affairs while the Mayor (Boris Johnson) is a kind of planning mayor, not an executive mayor. His job is to resolve the complexities arising out of having to manage large areas with multiple jurisdictions – in social, as well as economic terms.

One more thing. Any reconstitution of the city can only work if the citizens are made more integral to it. The main reason for the failure of BBMP is that we’re still trying to run the city as though the public doesn’t matter at all, and naturally this illogic encounters problems on the ground. It is important to understand and accept that a metropolis of 10 million people GAINS in governance from the participation of every single citizen.


  1. Karthik Skandakumar says:

    While the move is welcome from an administration point of view, we should ensure that law enforcement doesn’t take a beating. I’m thinking with reference to escape route of Delhi-Noida police citing jurisdictional blocks.

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