Improving Indian Cities – Get started with some basic steps

Urban development is a key aspect of India growth story but successive governments have failed to take concrete steps. In the past 15 years, we can think of only one high impact Urban development policy: JN-NURM. I live in Bangalore and have seen how effectively the local bus transportation agency (BMTC) used these funds to build bus depots and also increase their fleet of buses. I’m sure other cities have also had similar positive impact from JN-NURM.

JN-JURM actually demonstrates how Central government can influence local authorities in bringing about a change to people living in Urban areas. Unfortunately, neither the UPA government did anything more nor the current NDA government is planning to do more for the Urban population.

Here are some suggestions on how the Central government can bring about visible, quantifiable, positive and faster impact to Urban citizens:

Focus on roads

Quality and capacity of roads are biggest problems today in all the cities. Central government should create a policy where roads are classified into different categories.

  • Category A (Cement roads, minimum 2 lanes on either side, footpaths, underground facility for utilities).
  • Category B (Cement roads, 1 lane on either side).
  • Category C (Normal road). Provide x% of funding to Municipal authorities to build any category road.

Create a central monitoring agency that will help track all such projects and ensures there is not pilferage of funds at local level.

Imagine the outcome of such an initiative – Cities will get better roads, local authorities will be more receptive since financial burden is taken care. Maintenance cost on roads will come down since they are made of concrete and built to last for decades.

Crowd sourcing of development projects

Citizens should be allowed to contribute y% of their income tax to some of the selected list of development projects. These projects could be anywhere in the State that they live in, including their immediate vicinity. This will increase accountability by an order of magnitude since a Citizen who contributed to a specific project can directly question authorities for delays or corrupt practices. Also, you will soon start seeing pockets of areas in a city/town that get good infrastructure and this will slowly spread to rest of the city.

Fix our garbage cities

Garbage Management and Water Supply are 2 other major problems in our cities today. Central research institutes should come up with concrete plans on how these challenges can be handled. Local governments do not have access to such deep technical resources to handle their problems. Central government should step in an advisory role.

Swachh Bharat is a great initiative but is completely hollow with no one knowing how the campaign will get converted into policies on the ground. Make waste management a principal tenet of Swachh Bharat movement.

Make cities competitive

Most importantly, create an Infrastructure Rating Agency. This will be an independent body (similar to TRAI, SEBI etc), that rates our cities among various parameters like quality of roads, water supply, pollution levels, ease of transport, electricity supply, healthcare etc. They will publish a 3-month report. This will create a great sense of competition among different local governments to showcase measurable improvements in quality of life. It will also help people understand how a particular is working to improve their lives – with some hard, quantifiable facts.

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