The Chairman and Managing Director of Hindustan Construction Company, Ajit Gulabchand, pitched for creation of independent and accountable city administrations across the country to address the needs of rapidly growing urbanisation.
Addressing the World Economic Forum (WEF) session on ‘Derisking Indian Cities’, Gulabchand said cities should be allowed to manage themselves. “Without this, we are not going to get urbanisation or sufficient urbanisation. Accountability of a city’s administration is very important. The Indian Parliament is passing a law on how cities should mange vendors, but it’s not their job, the cities themselves should be deciding on this.”
Gulabchand also stressed the need for a rental housing policy for cities. “We are going to urbanise rapidly. Except for the very rich, most people in Mumbai live in rented houses. We have to have a rental housing policy. If you don't allow cities to be built in a planned manner, slums are the only answer,” he said.
Priya Hiranandani-Vandrevala, co-founder and Chair of the Hirco Group, stressed the need to empower of city administrations. “You have to elect representatives in the cities who have power. In India, city executives have no real power,” she said.
The Vice-Chairman and Managing Director of IDFC, Rajiv Lall, pointed out that there were some examples of successful new models of service delivery in cities, and energetic leadership at state level and city enterprise can combine to do this.
Arbind Singh, Executive Director of Nidan — which is engaged in social entrepreneurship — identified some solutions: “In September, a Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha for street vendors. That will reduce chaos in the cities. Positive steps of these kinds should be taken. The challenge is that everything will come back to governance. There is no talk of how the urban poor will get houses. We lack understanding of urban poverty.”
Hiranandani-Vandrevala took the discussion forward by mentioning the UK model: “Policy is supportive and finances are available for affordable housing. People get a subsidy for rental housing,” she said.
James Stewart, Chairman, Global Infrastructure, KPMG, UK, said that 50 billion pounds had been raised in the UK to provide affordable housing at a very low rate. He extended the solutions ambit by mentioning that mayors of cities in the developed world had substantial powers, including the power to raise taxes and manage cities.
Gulabchand related it to the Indian context. “Mayors don’t need to report to chief ministers. In other federal structures, mayors are fairly independent people. The whole idea is to let the city develop the way the people want,” he stressed.
Singh brought out the prevailing corruption in the selection of mayors in India. “In the election of mayors, an indirect election involves lots of money power. We need direct elections of mayors,” he said.
The panel agreed that the powers enjoyed by the mayor of London were a good example. Gulabchand advocated a separate civil service cadre for city management.
Lall took the deliberations in an optimistic direction, as indicated by the 2011 census. “The urban area in India is likely to grow in such a manner that these changes will be possible,” he said.
Stewart agreed with Lall and said that in the next decade politics would drive better governance in cities. “Many municipal people do not know how to raise money. Direct elections of mayors will bring in accountability,” he said. Gulabchand added further, “We have to create the thought leaders and structure, and persuade people to bring in legislation to ensure this. Once we get that, we will get a model to act upon.”