On 1st June, it will be 25 years since Presidential assent was granted to the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act, also known as Nagarpalika Act. It gave constitutional status to democratically elected urban local bodies. Over 4,000 constitutional institutions of urban local self-governance with people's representatives exist in the country today.
Despite a constitutional mandate, governance of urban habitats by these elected local bodies has not measurably improved the conditions in India's cities. Traffic congestion, water crisis, poor sanitation, increasing crime and unaffordable housing characterise urban living in India today.
As pressures to undertake urban infrastructure development grows, national and state governments announce and promote short-term solutions of creating urban development and finance corporations and Smart City Special Purpose Vehicles. Such 'parallel' bodies, administered by appointed officials, further weaken institutional capacities and mandates of elected urban local bodies.
"The future of 'happy' cities requires that elected urban local bodies must be empowered and their institutional and human capacities sufficiently strengthened. Such an 'upstream investment' is critical in a strong urbanising India," says Dr Tandon.
"It is not enough to improve ease of doing business at the national level; similar ease is necessary at city level to improve delivery of basic services and to attract fresh investment in order to upgrade urban infrastructure across the country."
Practical and imperative steps to empower elected city governments must be taken by all state governments. New national programmes like Smart City & AMRUT need to be leveraged to undertake urgent, methodical efforts towards empowerment and development of elected institutions of urban governance.