Urban local bodies need more teeth

Kochi corporation

Times of India, 14th September 2015

KOCHI: The Centre had asked state governments to strengthen urban schemes before they launched smart cities, Amrut and housing for all by 2022 projects. Union urban development minister Venkaiah Naidu said that without the devolution of powers and necessary funding, urban local bodies cannot implement schemes successfully.

“The task of strengthening urban local bodies has not been accomplished. Local bodies have limited powers as they require approvals and sanctions from the state and Centre,” said a town planner of Greater Cochin Development Authority.

Experts pointed out that citizen-centric urban planning, which ensures the participation of citizens at the lowest-level of decision making, was missing. “Local bodies do not have the services of professional town planners. These institutions do not get the services of finance and asset management experts,” said S Gopakumar, president, Better Cochin Response Group.

They added that the lack of accountability and transparency in administrative procedures and fund management, failure in implementing e-governance system, inefficiency of staff and unnecessary intervention by employee unions are some major obstacles.

It is pointed out that Centre’s consultants – who can draft projects for local bodies – often they fail to assimilate and analyze financial, political, socio-cultural and geographic conditions of a city. “The central government guidelines overlook ground realities in a city like Kochi. What is suitable in north India might not work here,” Gopakumar said.

The entire onus of constructing infrastructure is being given to Kochi Metro Rail Ltd (KMRL). “KMRL was formed only for Metro, whereas the local body is full of elected representatives. If the mayor is unhappy about some development within corporation limits, can he ask KMRL for explanation? You have to empower the mayor and the corporation. Give adequate pay and grant some freedom to develop finances and retain capable officials. You will also get good councillors,” said Dhanu Raj, chairman of Kochi-based Centre for public policy research.

Residents also want a say in project implementation. “Most of the time, people don’t know what is happening in the local body. We are clueless about funds and utilization. There should be transparency and all data regarding projects should be made available in the public domain,” said president of Ernakulam District Residents’ Association Apex Council R Rangadasa Prabhu, adding that a social audit is must for each project.

“Project deadline has to be set and kept. A committee of representatives from civil society can monitor the progress. The committee should have experts as members and politicians should be excluded,” he said.

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