Posted in Published Article, Urban India

When is a city truly ‘prosperous’?

Published in Times of India, Pune on 21 December 2018. Lost and found. Posted here for you.

A few years back, a visiting Minister of State who was in town to flag off the Marathon had commented that Pune appeared to be a ‘prosperous’ city. And I don’t think he was off the mark there. If you have lived here all your life you pick up the Pune zing of being ‘up and about’ and going about your business, with a goal and a schedule – whether the executive in his chauffeur-driven car, or the ‘bai’ (domestic) whizzing around her 6-7 jobs on her trusty two-wheeler.

If we are to go only by ‘economic’ prosperity, then according to GDP, Pune takes seventh place behind Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Chennai, and Hyderabad. Which is not bad at all, because it is not a State Capital like the others.  

So, what defines a city as prosperous, if not just GDP? According to the UN-Habitat:

  • First, a prosperous city contributes to economic growth through productivity, generating the income and employment that afford adequate living standards for the whole population.
  • Second, a prosperous city deploys the infrastructure, physical assets and amenities required to sustain both the population and the economy.
  • Third, prosperous cities provide social services like education, health, recreation, safety and security, required for improved living standards, enabling the population to maximize individual potential and lead fulfilling lives.
  • Fourth, a city is only prosperous to the extent that poverty and inequalities are minimal. No city can claim to be prosperous when large segments of the population live in abject poverty and deprivation (Mumbai, Kolkata please note!) This involves reducing the incidence of slums, homelessness and new forms of poverty.
  • Fifth, ensuring that the creation and (re)distribution of the benefits of prosperity do not destroy or degrade the environment; instead, the city’s natural assets are preserved for the sake of sustainable urbanization.

So, if Pune is to appear prosperous to outsiders and host a happy and contented population, it needs to look at the pressure points, which need immediate attention, correction and upgradation.

Pune and its satellite cities of Pimpri-Chinchwad, were blessed with excellent weather, an educated workforce and proximity to Mumbai and remain one of the most important civilian manufacturing hubs in India. As the city with the most prestigious defence and scientific establishments too, Pune offers the best work opportunities in both the public and private sectors and its citizens have prided themselves on a culture of high productivity. This culture made an easy transition to the burgeoning IT sector, as many majors set up hubs at the various software technology parks.

However, the city’s high productivity is under threat from FAILING INFRASTRUCTURE – be it the unreliable power supply, the mediocre telecom networks and connectivity, or the lack of efficient public transport which cost millions of workhours lost in traffic jams.

As regards sustaining everyday life, Pune is becoming more and more stressed in its WATER SUPPLY each passing year – chiefly due to a cumbersome sourcing mechanism, outdated treatment and distribution networks, and low capacity staff at the municipal level. The situation is made worse by an unregulated water tanker mafia and corruption which allows large-scale pilferage and diversion in the system.

In the area of social services like health, sanitation and education, Pune is relatively better off but the chief hurdle is the MULTIPLICITY OF AGENCIES in these sectors – local, State and Central Government. Perhaps Maharashtra needs to learn from Kerala which thoroughly decentralized education and health to the local level and achieved not just 100% literacy and universal health coverage, but a Human Development Index rank on par with developed countries.

As regards inequality and slums, Pune has long been an example to other cities with respect to providing basic services, high quality sanitation and total coverage in immunization of children in slums. Perhaps the need of the hour in Pune and elsewhere, is an INTEGRATED APPROACH to upgradation of slum housing (with the full participation of the residents) with new development control rules, emphasis on using recycled and indigenous materials, and providing public spaces for recreation and commercial activity in each settlement.

Coming to the environment, Pune is again blessed with a very SAVVY POPULACE and an active (or as the bureaucracy feels, overactive) environment lobby – the ecologically sound Ganpati Visarjan (Immersion Ritual at the end of the Ganesh festival) is an example of the Punekar’s mature awareness of his/her responsibilities.

What most citizens may not know is that Pune (along with other municipal corporations in Maharashtra) prepares an excellent annual ENVIRONMENT STATUS REPORT covering everything from air and water pollution, energy use, carbon footprints, forestation, housing to transport and waste management. The reports lay down the pressure points for the city and outline corrective measures. Sadly however, these insights are seldom if ever incorporated in either the city’s Development Plan, or the annual budget and the few incentive schemes offered to citizens – like a discount in Property Tax for installing rainwater harvesting systems – vanish in a haze of bureaucratic inertia.

So, if an Indian city like Pune truly wants to remain a prosperous city, the State and Centre need to devolve resources and develop capacities at the local level, and the local leadership need to galvanize their workforce, exercise tighter regulation to curb petty corruption, and plan for a sustainable future for the city, based on sound scientific principles, rooted in a fast changing, environmentally challenged world.


Quality of Life in an Indian Context


I am a trainer of Government Officials and Elected Representatives, specializing in the urban and municipal sector. I have also written extensively on Urban Governance, Poverty, Development, Social Accountability and Municipal Management in the Indian context, and wish to share these writings with you through this blog.

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