Democratizing Urban Governance

Cities as places of aspiration for prosperity are likely to turn 60 % people into urban dwellers by 2030. While cities can offer opportunities to advance economic and social wellbeing, achieving this depends on an urban policy that provides decent employment and lifestyle for citizens while ensuring available resources are not overwhelmed by growth. At a time when rapid urbanisation is leading to congestion, lack of basic services, housing shortfalls, and deteriorating infrastructure, maintaining this balance becomes critical for developing countries, where UN says 95 % urban expansion will take place in coming decades. Thus, urban governance needs to be in sync with UN’s 2015 Sustainable Development Goal 11 (that calls for inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable cities) as well as with its 2016 New Urban Agenda (that centres on ending poverty in all forms and dimensions to ensure inclusive cities).

India is no exception to fast growing cities and related challenges. Population rise, rural poverty, and urban economic growth are promoting urbanisation at a pace that overwhelms capacity. Recognizing need for strong and democratic urban governance to meet these challenges, the 74th amendment to Indian Constitution was enacted in 1992. Yet, provisions for devolving municipal functions to Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) remain a work in progress.

In Odisha, where despite picking pace urbanization is relatively nascent, with 17 % people living in cities, there is still scope for timely intervention to ensure sustainable urban governance models. Government of Odisha (GoO) can take advantage of central schemes like Smart Cities Mission, Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, and Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) to improve urban infrastructure and of Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana to achieve housing for all by 2022. There is also progressive legislation by GoO such as Odisha Land Rights to Slum Dwellers Act 2017 (that safeguards slum dwellers in municipalities and Notified Area Councils against potential eviction or demolition by providing secure tenures, thereby also creating legal base to improve livability of slum dwellings) and Odisha Municipal Corporation (amendment) Act 2017 (that gives property rights over dwellings to citizens from economically backward sections in Odisha’s Municipal Corporations). These Acts and opportunities for pre-emptive urban planning can lead to sustainable lives for all city dwellers, especially poor citizens, in Odisha only if GoO and various stakeholders pool their effort and energy.

Discussion Points:

  • How can participatory governance of ULBs in Odisha be strengthened to ensure sustainable cities?
  • What best practices and successful models, of inclusive and sustainable urban governance, from other states and developing countries can be adapted for Odisha’s cities?
  • Have resources allocated to Odisha’s ULBs been adequate to ensure basic public services for all? What additional resources can be mobilized?
  • Specifically, regarding slum dwellers and the homeless in Odisha’s urban areas, what has been done to ensure access of these citizens to basic entitlements, rights, and services?
  • What has been done to ensure safer and responsive public spaces and services in Odisha cities for women? How can this be enhanced?
  • How can Odisha’s ULBs be made accountable for their level of responsiveness to Persons with Disability, the aged, and Third Gender so that these citizens too feel like stakeholders in their cities and towns?