By Mayank Jain:
The cities we live in, are congregations of people, structures, animals and everything else merging into a canvass which is a living system. Cities are vital to progress with the opportunities they offer and they are also crucial for personal well being with the connectivity they provide to the rest of the world. Indian urbanization has been going on for years now but as a report on Indian cities highlights- in some cases, it has only begun.
Annual Survey of India’s City-Systems by Janaagraha has concluded that quality of life in Indian cities is poor. The survey did have all the usual suspects as with 21 major cities across 18 Indian states including Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Raipur, Ranchi, Surat and Thiruvananthapuram etc. The results are startling since these are our model cities which are a blueprint for the upcoming cities but they have fared poorly on many important parameters which calls for a re-look at the way we treat our cities.
The survey has put the crown on Kolkata as the best Indian city for ‘quality of life’ which might surprise a few since Bangalore and Delhi find no place in the table until much later. The parameters of judgement were structural systems in place that oversee governance, transparency, resources and planning etc. Thiruvananthapuram made a surprise appearance at a close second position after Kolkata as the best Indian city.
Kolkata has scored highly on a lot of parameters which include its robust electorate that never fails to go out and vote. On the other hand, Thiruvananthapuram has been able to make a cut because it is the only city with a local ombudsman to oversee affairs. Moreover, Chandigarh threw a shocker as it is the city with a reputation of being a planned city that’s aesthetically pleasing too but it was last among the cities due to poor legal frameworks.
The top 5 also included Delhi, Bhopal and Patna which again signal the arrival of new age cities quietly when the bigger ones were busy tackling their ‘big city issues’. However, the reason to worry is that our counterparts namely, New York and London have scored much higher than the best of Indian cities. More than double, in some cases. New York has scored a whopping 9.3 while London is close to perfect with 9.6 on a 10 point scale. Kolkata, at the top of the table, has scored highest among Indian cities with an average score of 4.
Analyzing these stark differences in scores of Indian cities will reveal a draft of guidelines for the cities of future. Cities are the vehicles of civilization and touch points of globalization today and they need to have proper systems in place. Apart from basic amenities and transportation, Indian cities should focus on more passive but equally important things like transparency and quality of governance.
The survey highlights these shortcomings more than once. 17 out of 21 Indian cities scored zero on Open Data while London and New York bagged a perfect ten on the parameter. This is the time for us to focus on transparency of data from the files that are hushed away in the weight of red tape and corruption. Another reason to worry is the fact that mayors of big cities like Delhi, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Mumbai don’t have a five year term and they are not directly elected either, thus rendering the governance more stagnant.
Over the years, we have followed the industrialization model which works with the hypothesis that industries will bring economic prosperity and that will be enough to uplift our standards of living, but we often ignore the quality of life. Community participation in decision making, proper waste management, social and cultural centers are vital for the survival of these cities and with the new government in place, it is imperative to hold our hopes and see if they pay any attention to the plight of citizens and their cities alike.
The whole report can be summed up for the country in this age old adage: “Failing to plan is planning to fail”.