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Cities need expertise and better governance

Published: Mar. 29, 2023
Updated: Apr. 28, 2023

Our cover story this month is an example of small but important efforts that can be taken to improve Indian cities. Urban spaces, long mired in neglect, cannot be transformed overnight. This is especially so in the face of the diversity that exists in India with rich and poor jostling for control.

Nevertheless, beginnings have to be made. The more conversations the better. The green maps which landscape architects Geeta Wahi Dua and Brijender Singh Dua, a husband-wife team, have come up with show the scope of what is possible with some dedicated research and fresh thinking.

If rapidly urbanizing India is not discovering the solutions it needs, one reason is that enough competent people aren’t involved in urban management. Municipalities require more engineers, architects and technocrats so that they get the cutting-edge innovations that will keep pace with their problems.

An important way forward is also to raise the status of local urban governance and elected councillors and mayors. Currently they count for little or nothing. As municipal decision-makers are given more recognition and authority so also will cities improve.

There isn’t a single Indian city which can count among the best in the world. Interestingly, this wasn’t always so. Urban spaces in India were actually better managed in the past with systems that worked. They were envisioned in keeping with their local topography and ecology and were therefore fundamentally more sustainable. Many a big city now in decline was at one time equipped to meet its needs. Cities had character, too, which they derived from their buildings and open spaces alike.

But long years of neglect and the failure to equip cities afresh to meet the demands being made on them have brought about a seemingly irredeemable situation of chaos and collapse. A modern and competitive India should have cities it can be proud of.

Our lead interview this month with Nikhil Dey seeks to provide a bottom-up view of the rural jobs programme. Is the government right in cutting funds for the project? Dey’s contention is that though envisaged and successfully implemented to provide a guarantee of jobs to the rural poor, the programme is being made dysfunctional, bit by bit. The recent budget cut is just one more blow.

We have a detailed story on the division of the Mhadei’s waters which is mired in inter-state politics between Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra. But should we be looking only at the politics, or the much larger ecological issues involved which have national importance? Sharing of rivers deserves national attention for environmentally efficient solutions.


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