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

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Analysing Disparities in Access to Urban Basic Services under Decentralised Governance

Evidence from West Bengal

Analysing Disparities in Access to Urban Basic Services under Decentralised Governance

Given West Bengal’s fairly elaborate and unique arrangements for urban decentralisation, this paper, using primary data, examines the availability and quality of three urban basic services—water supply, drainage facilities and garbage collection facilities—in the state. The study finds that a large proportion of respondents has inadequate or almost no access to these services in the surveyed municipalities. Inequality in access to all the three services existed both among and within the municipalities. The lack of voice and capacity of the councillors belonging to the marginalised groups has reduced their influence in local governance matters, which is reflected in the comparatively lower coverage of urban services in their respective wards.

India is urbanising fast but there are stark inequalities in many urban areas with large proportion of the population lacking access to quality basic services (Mitra and Nagar 2018; Kundu and Banerjee 2018; HPEC 2011). So, it is crucial to improve urban service delivery for reaping the potential of cities as key drivers of economic growth. It is now well known that governance factors are just as important for urban service delivery as financial health and technical capacity (Jones et al 2014, Heller 2012; Fung and Wright 2003). Among the various policy experiments exercised by India, decentralisation, introduced by the 74th constitutional amendment act in 1992, aims to facilitate functional and financial empowerment of the municipal governments for increasing the efficiency of service provision and facilitating peoples’ participation in urban governance.

Decentralisation is assumed to improve the delivery of urban basic services by devolving resources and decision-making powers to the local governments and thereby making the local governments more accountable to their citizens (Faguet, 2014; Bardhan 2002; Oates 1999). However, based on both theoretical arguments and empirical findings, many scholars have expre­ssed concern over the claims of decentralisation in infusing greater efficiency and inclusiveness in cities of developing countries. In particular, it has been observed that factors like “elite capture,” “practice of clientelism,” “central–local relations,” “technical capacities of the local governments,” “citizens’ capacity to actively participate in the deliberative forums,” etc, play crucial roles in determining the effect of decentralisation on the delivery of basic services (Jones et al 2014; Ghosh and Kamath 2012; Litvack et al 1998).

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Updated On : 10th Jul, 2020

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