Basic civic services are not available to everyone, the quality and level of service remains poor, there is increasing confusion on city roads, slums are on the increase and a general sense of confusion prevails. This seems to be the city resident's standard comment on living conditions today. Populations of cities are rising, more are coming in because cities continue to attract people for jobs and because of increased economic activity. One standard question would be: What is the government doing about this?
Before we attempt to answer this, let us examine the key reasons why most of our 8,000 cities and towns are in what could generally be called an urban mess.
Over the years, not much attention was paid to strengthening the capacities of urban local bodies so that they could take up the ever-increasing challenges competently and professionally. As a result, municipal capacities continue to be weak, making them dependent on consultants for almost anything new and different, even regular maintenance.
Further, there are no clearly stated norms as to when a state will notify a rural village panchayat as an urban body, when a new local body is constituted what is the funding support it will get to meet infrastructure gaps and what sort of division of areas and work will follow among the elected body, parastatals and other entities working within city limits. In many states, the mayor or chairperson gets a limited term of one year, the commissioner has no defined tenure, there is no review of where the city stands with regard to service level benchmarks in basic service areas. Also, there is no clear accountability laid down for satisfactory delivery of basics services. There is also no watchdog. There is no agenda to take care of the steady urbanisation of our census towns, which continue to be villages. There are no proper avenues available for citizens to participate in and contribute to the process of city building.
Broadly, these are the basic reasons why our cities do not succeed in meeting the desired satisfaction levels of residents. The government needs to seriously take up the agenda of reforming city governance.