The developmental pedals of a country or state or even a city depends upon its people’s democratic exercise of the bundle of fundamentals or the desire to fulfil their objectives in life and work. When the matters pertaining to the progress of a region are left entirely to the government or state machinery, it leads to dismay and destruction of everything they do in the name of development. One does not require a Ph.D. to realise this grave reality.
We have a written Constitution premised on ‘We, the People of India’. But in times of crisis, the people’s representatives often turn out to be undemocratic; deviating from the constitutional provisions and eventually failing to live upto the aspirations of the people who elected them.
It was not hard to discuss and compare Indian cities with the best cities around the world until two decades ago. Though in theory, there were ultra comparative narratives printed on the walls of the academic domain, the underlying truth was far removed from those narratives which are even now the anathema of the public policy-making domain. The fundamental flaw, which has become institutionalised over the years, is the non-availability of comprehensive data about the affairs of cities’ development and status of citizens’ services listed in the constitutional amendments, which was enacted nearly three decades ago.
Over the years, the institutionalisation of delivery mechanisms in cities or urban growth centres were treated as a slave to the State and Union governments. Both the State and Union Governments were time and again deprived of the administration of Cities and its governance systems by not devolving the powers of administrative and financial autonomy which are essential for for the local governments to directly deal with people.
On the other hand, the finance commissions were directly providing financial allocations to local governments without even taking cognizance of the evaluation done by The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) and its recommendations to change in the structural governance system and services deliveries.
Practically, if a city aims to thrive on all aspects of development it needs to put a few fundamentals into order to support the dynamic role perpetually to play a thriving growth and development of the city. The basics are 1. Availability of comprehensive data on the City in the public domain 2. Collaboration with public or private research/academic institutions to analyse data 3. Effective implementation of city administration’s own professionally commissioned reports and committees recommendations 4. City’s governance systems have to upgrade to the latest information and communication technology tools to enhance its efficiency and transparency; and 5. a proper grievance redressal system to address the concerns of city residents
These aspects are no way idealistic but basic and an essential transformative way to help cities grow organically instead of vaguely serving the vested interest groups such as real estate agencies, ruled and ruling elite political class, unfair trade, and business networks, etc. These groups operate hand in glove with the city’s bureaucracy mainly to dilute the city governance systems perpetually and to degrade it over a period of time.
Public policies in cities need to provide an enabling environment and a level-playing field to promote and nurture its common identities with a strong governance system in place and to protect the interests of all. However, a tiny city like Erode in the western part of Tamil Nadu indicates anything but this in the sense of good governance. Recently, there was news that the district administration of Erode has invited suggestions from the public to improve its road traffic systems, although the district administration has a very limited role in the growth and development of city administration and reforms.
The GIZ supported project (2018) on “Land Use Planning and Management Project (LUPM)” for the State of Tamil Nadu- Coimbatore Regional Plan – 2038 Volume 2 Erode Sub Region emphasis that “Erode is also a part of the upcoming Coimbatore-Salem Industrial Corridor, where Erode plays an important part in the Manufacturing and Business Investment Region II as a strategic location for energy industries and logistic services and in Agri-Business Investment Region.”
Erode District Administration announced a research project has been given to the National Transportation Planning and Research Center (NATPAC), Government of Kerala. The project would be funded by a local NGO in public interest. Any best-equipped institution with a track record can be given the opportunity to study and provide solutions to city traffic challenges with scientific data and analysis of logical conclusions.
However, given the capacity of the state and the city concerned, it is important to raise a few pertinent questions. Why is the project not funded by Erode City Corporation or Erode District Administration themselves? Why was the project given to NATPAC of Kerala Government instead of Tamil Nadu Government’s Institute of Road Transport ( in 1976), which has domain experts in the field of road traffic issues.
On the face of it, one can presume that the IRT was not effectively supporting cities in the State facing road congestions. Further, urban development agencies in the state such as the Tamil Nadu Urban Infrastructure Financial Services Limited (TNUIFSL) or The Institute of Road and Transport Technology (IRTT), an engineering college established in 1984 by the state government, are also not given opportunity to do the project. The IRTT is based out of Erode District and is part of Erode City but found to be irrelevant to the realities of cities. These essentially indicate that these agencies are not in collaboration with city or district administrations in order to reduce road traffic challenges in the state.
Further, it is well-known that during the last two decades, several Expert Reports were commissioned on the affairs of Erode city development including on reducing the road traffic congestions, funded by both the Erode City Corporation and Erode District Administration. However, these recommendations failed to be implemented.
In the last decade, many vision documents were developed for the transformation of Erode city with an eye on urban development but had little focus on learning from those reports, case studies and its recommendations. Indeed, it is strange that, in government systems, nowadays it has become a trend to study reports on a few burning issues but with no intention to implement them in letter and spirit, forget updating the vision document at least once every five years. Hence the current research project would be a waste of resources, time, and efforts.
For instance, one of the main objectives of the Erode City Corporation funded “Erode Comprehensive Mobility Plan” report, submitted in June, 2014 by CDM Smith India Pvt. Ltd, was “to identify feasible short term, medium-term and long term traffic management measures and transport infrastructure needs to facilitate the safe and efficient movement of people for the present and future.” The report gave very comprehensive and practical recommendations to the city administration to take up measures through institutionalised framework to address the road traffic congestions in the city from a term perspective. The report had studied the population settlement pattern and current and future mobility aspects besides the land use pattern for various purposes. It proposed innovative transport strategies with a slew of projects which are the small, medium and big size for the efficient operation of the transport system of Erode City: 1.Public Transport Improvement Plan, 2.Non- Motorized facility Improvement Plan, 3.Network Development Plan, 4. Goods Vehicle Management Plan, and 5. Mobility Management Plan to support economic activity and reinforce social cohesion. But to date, most of its recommendations are not implemented by the city administration. One of the main recommendations was to remove rampant encroachments on all the five major roads in the city. The continuity is something deeply deterrent in the city governance system in Erode city, let alone the aspirations of people.
Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research.
Chandrasekaran Balakrishnan is Research Fellow (Urban Eco-system and Skill Development) with CPPR. His areas of research interest are economics of education, vocational education and skills development, economic reforms, liberal vision for India, water management, regional development, and city development. Chandrasekaran has an MA in Economics (University of Madras) and an MPhil in Social Sciences (Devi Ahilya Vishwavidyalaya University, Indore).