ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Power Equations in Urban Governance

Governing India's Metropolises edited by Joel Ruet and Stephanie Tawa Lama-Rewal (Routledge), 2009; pp 340, Rs 695.

Recent decades have witnessed a sea change in urban governance in the country. The ad-hoc measures of economic liberalisation initiated in the country since the 1980s followed by decentralisation measures adopted at all tiers of the government in the aftermath of the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act (CAA) have resulted in gradual withdrawal of the State and increasing private sector participation not only in capital investment but also in operation and maintenance of urban services. The institutional vacuum thus created has been filled by the non-governmental organisations (NGOs), community-based organisations (CBOs) and neighbourhood associations. Despite empowerment of the ward committees, institutionalised through the 74th CAA, to usher in decentralised governance, the real change is noted in terms of growing middle-class activism through the neighbourhood associations in general and resident welfare associations (RWAs) in particular. The municipal responsibility of provision of services has been increasingly taken over by the RWAs. Unlike the ward committees, these associations cover not more than 50% of the total population in the large cities. Unfortunately, the informal settlements where the bulk of the urban poor live do not have similar power equations with the local authorities and are unable to get their grievances redressed through the same kind of activism which has led to accentuation of intra-city disparity in the access to basic amenities.

Decentralisation policies adopted by the government have ushered in a new form of urban governance. The responsibility of resource mobilisation for infrastructural projects has been passed on to the urban local bodies (ULBs). Large ULBs, with a strong economic base, particularly those located in the developed states, have an advantage in this regard. Further, since the 1990s, attempts have been made both by the central as well as state governments to make a few large cities more attractive for international and domestic investments. It has become important to “sanitise” the cities, improve the quality of services, at least in select localities and improve the law and order situation for creating a congenial living environment for the entrepreneurial and executive class. Macro policies adopted at the state and city levels have helped in pushing out the slums and squatters from the better-off areas of the city. This has accelerated the process of segmentation and accentuated intra-city disparity. It is unfortunate that these concerns have generally gone unaddressed in the present-day literature.

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