Published in Times of India, Pune on 6 June 2018. Lost and found. Posted here for you.
Citizens of Pune were quite pleased when they read a survey which made Pune the best governed city in India. Not so well known is the fact that it scored merely 5.1 out of 10, and all other Indian cities were below this midpoint. In comparison, London and New York scored 8.8!
Parameters such as urban capacities and resources, empowered and legitimate political representation, transparency, accountability, participation, urban planning and design were used to give marks.
Governance is one of those concepts that we all feel we understand. We also know that it is not merely ‘government’ but something more… We know that governance stretches beyond the political and bureaucratic framework and out into the various stakeholder groups in a city
Therefore, governance = government + citizen.
If this is the case, then the parameters of ‘good’ governance will also come in two categories: the first to measure the efficiency and effectiveness of the government machinery, and the second to measure how responsive, transparent, equitable and inclusive the citizen interface is.
Governance at all levels in a democracy is also expected to be participatory and accountable and to work on the basis of consensus orientation and the rule of law. These are the very criteria of good urban governance laid out by various UN bodies, and used in ranking cities across the world.
But is there any sense in comparing chalk and cheese?
Indian cities are hamstrung by laws which greatly curtail their autonomy and State Governments are in no hurry to devolve powers and resources to the local level despite 26 years of the 74 Constitutional Amendment. Our mayors continue to play a ceremonial role while real power vests almost exclusively with the Standing Committee and the bureaucracy. Compare this to western mayors who even control the local police, public health and education.
In other words, there isn’t much ‘governance’ a typical municipal body can deliver in India. No wonder then that the public perception of a local government is limited to water, sewerage, garbage and roads. Or as someone rather rudely expressed it: gutter, water, metre.
Even within this limited ambit, Pune could score higher than other cities just by enhancing its use of Information Technology in key administrative areas like granting building permissions, monitoring projects, redressing complaints and managing its finances. PMC has also undertaken several initiatives like municipal bonds for water supply schemes, supported by an elaborate techno-financial-legal policy framework, and this too has enhanced its ranking in terms of greater efficiency in governance.
While the efficiency of Urban Local Bodies has grown significantly in the last 10 years, the effectiveness of their actions is questionable. For example, we may be able to pay our Property Tax online in a jiffy, but is it possible to ever get a disputed assessment of your property tax looked at? Such efficiency without effectiveness is meaningless. The same is the case with access legislation, meant to enhance transparency. When the RTI became law in 2005, it met with great resistance in public bodies, but gradually, most government organisations have mastered the art of giving only the information asked for, often piecemeal and irrelevant, and good luck to the questioner if he wants to make any sense of it!
Most importantly, good governance should be both inclusive and equitable – and therein lies the rub. Just look at the social reality in India: With a mere 8% of India’s population holding a college degree, the knowledge divide in the country is enormous. And if you extend this further, it means that not only the entire senior bureaucracy and judiciary but an increasing number of Elected Representatives and almost all corporate businesses, mass media, NGOs and civil society groups are drawn from this 8%. As they between them take over 90% of the actions and decisions that profoundly affect the lives of the remaining 92%, how inclusive, equitable and participatory has our democracy really been?
Therefore, the inescapable conclusion is that merely making the government machinery more efficient will not hand us ‘good governance’ on a platter. It will have to flow from the ‘governed’ themselves, and how far they are enabled and empowered to expect and accept good governance…