Urban Governance and Planning
General Studies 1
- Urbanization, their problems and their remedies.
General Studies 2
- Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States, issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure, devolution of powers and finances up to local levels and challenges therein.
Urban Governance Issues and Problems
The rapid growth that India is seeing is visible in urban sprawl that is visible. This is reflective on the state of infrastructure, pressure on land, water and all basic necessities. Poor planning and lack of coordination between multiple agencies is leading to all the confusion and the subsequent issues.
It has now become a truism that Indian cities are poorly planned and governed. Plans do not have complete coverage of our cities since they are constantly violated and a significant section of the urban population lives outside “planned” neighbourhoods. Nevertheless, the state religiously performs the ritual of master planning every 10 or 20 years.
Note: The article takes Bengaluru as a case study to make a general analysis of the problems.
- Bengaluru is now in the midst of drawing up its master plan that will guide the city’s development till 2031.
- The planning process initiated by the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) has come under severe criticism from civil society groups.
- In public consultations held by the BDA last month, citizens were critical of the planning process and even questioned the legitimacy of the BDA to plan for the city.
The dissensions brewing in Bengaluru are symptomatic of the larger crises in the institutional framework for urban planning and governance in India.
- India’s urban planning system is seen as an undemocratic, non-participative and top-down exercise in which bureaucrats, aided by foreign consultants, draw up static master plans that will actually have limited influence in regulating urban development.
- Hence, it is worthwhile to examine the institutional infirmities that plague India’s current planning system and explore whether there are any alternatives.
Urban planning and local democracy:
One of the fundamental issues with our planning process is the incongruence between urban planning and local democracy.
- Even though the 74th Constitutional Amendment sought to empower urban local governments to enable them to function as “institutions of self-government”, they still have limited influence over how the city is planned.
- Urban planning, regulation of land use, and planning for economic and social development are functions listed under the 12th Schedule of the Constitution and hence States are expected to devolve these tasks to the Municipal Corporation.
- For metropolitan cities with a population of over 10 lakh, the 74th Amendment mandates the creation of Metropolitan Planning Committees (MPCs) which will integrate the plans prepared by local bodies within the metropolitan area.
- For every city with a population of over three lakh, the Constitution also mandates the setting up of Ward Committees to carry out municipal functions within the ward.
However, more than two decades after the passing of the 74th Amendment, we find that these institutional frameworks for decentralised governance are yet to take full shape in most cities.
- The legislations governing urban planning have not been significantly altered to ensure that these institutions are made an integral part of the planning process.
- Though the Union government in 1996 issued a Model Regional and Town Planning and Development Law, which requires Municipal Corporations to prepare local plans and the MPC the regional plans, most States have failed to incorporate these provisions in their planning legislations.
- So, under the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act, the Local Planning Authority responsible for preparing the master plan of Bengaluru continues to be the BDA and not the Municipal Corporation or the MPC.
- Also, the legislation does not mandate that plans be prepared on the basis of public participation and merely asks for public comments on the plan after it is already prepared. Similar provisions govern other cities in India.
Hence, planning continues to be a top-down bureaucratic exercise, disconnected from the institutions of local democracy provided under the Constitution.
- An urban planning system, which is in line with the spirit of the 74th Amendment, would require that instead of development authorities — agencies only answerable to the State government — planning processes should be exercised at the legitimate units of urban local governance-Ward Committees, Municipal Corporations and MPCs.
- Such a multi-scale planning framework can help planning become an iterative process through which the needs and aspirations of various localities are incorporated into the plan for the metropolitan region.
Colonial legacy of town planning
One other key concern with India’s current urban planning regime is that it is still based on the outmoded practice of static, land use-based master plans.
- The Town and Country Planning Acts of various States are principally based on a 1947 British legislation which has actually been significantly modified in the U.K.
- Under this planning regime, master plans are principally restricted to zoning which segregates areas into various categories: residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural, etc.
- Our planning legislations do not require the master plan to design the transport, water and energy networks of the city. Even when master plans are comprehensive and integrate various sectors into the plan, these elements of the plan are not statutorily binding.
- What makes these sectoral plans even more difficult to implement is the fact that these functions are typically under the jurisdiction of multiple parastatal agencies.
Considering the institutional infirmities of the current planning regime, it is important to explore alternative approaches to urban planning.
- In an environment where municipal functions are carried out by multiple agencies, it is important to develop new institutional mechanisms for the inter-sectoral coordination and implementation of plans.
- We should also consider moving beyond static land use-based master plans and adopt a planning process which is more dynamic and responsive to the needs of the people.
- Instead of freezing plans for 10 or 20 years, there should be mechanisms providing for the periodic review of plans. An inflexible urban planning system which is ostensibly based on rationalistic and scientific criteria, and therefore “apolitical”, is prone to be more exclusionary.
Hence, we should explore new frameworks for urban planning that respect the spirit of local democracy envisaged under the 74th Amendment, integrate multiple sectors within the plan, provide for multi-scale planning processes, and view the plan as a dynamic, living document
Connecting the dots:
- Urbanisation is a natural consequence of development in any developing and emerging nation. What are challenges of urbanisation and associated problems in urban local governance in India? How does the constitution ease or complicate the process?
TOPIC: General Studies 2
- Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.
- Indian Constitution? historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure
State Funding of elections
The fundamental of a vibrant democracy is periodic elections. Elections to be meaningful should be conducted free and fair with a level playing field to all in the fray. The Representation of People’s Act 1950 and 1951 aim to achieve the same through the Election Commission, a constitutional body. The problem in recent days has been use of immense money power in elections and hence disturbing the balance.
Three different views:
Left oriented view:
Taking a positing in favour of state funding of elections:
- When we think of politics and money we tend to focus on how to control black money in politics which in turn finds expression in fixing expenditure limits on candidates and political parties. We need to shift our focus to how to infuse white money in politics.
- And instead of being obsessed with a ceiling on expenditure incurred by candidates and political parties, we should spend our energy on seeking a floor-level fund for everyone who is a serious contender in the electoral arena, if we want to ensure a level playing field.
- Since we have failed to develop healthy traditions of political funding, we need to think of some shortcuts.
- State funding of elections is part of a possible solution, though state funding by itself will not do away with the nexus of black money and electoral politics.
Infusing white money
- A political party/ candidate which/ who enjoys political support should not be thrown out of the political arena simply because of lack of funds.
- Any scheme of state funding of elections should be designed in such a way that it infuses a substantial amount of white money into politics in ways that are transparent and flexible.
- A proposal for instance (as picturised by Yogendra Yadav):
- At the end of every election, every candidate should be reimbursed at the rate of ?100 for each vote secured by that candidate in the elections.
- The money may be divided equally between the candidate and her party, to be deposited in a special bank account for this purpose.
- There could be a minimum qualifying cut-off of, say, 1% of valid votes polled, so as to deter non-serious candidates.
- There could also be a ceiling on reimbursement, say, twice the maximum permissible expenditure for a candidate in a constituency, so that a candidate and her party do not get more than what they need.
- The candidates should be allowed to adjust any permissible item of their election expenses against this amount.
- A party should be free to use their share on any expense already incurred on elections or any expense on political activity till the next election.
Would it cost a bomb? Over a five-year period, across one round of parliamentary and Assembly elections, it would cost around ?5,000 crore.
- That is about 0.05% of the Central government’s Budget for five years. What about black money? Yes, it won’t disappear. But the dependence of political leaders and parties on black money will reduce.
Why pay more money to already cash-rich political parties for whom this may mean nothing?
- Because if the party workers know that the party has access to some legitimate funds, they would be able to make demands on their party.
- It would increase internal democracy and reduce the clout of moneybags within these big parties.
It would be something that improves the quality of our democracy is the best value for money and will go a long way in ensuring a clean democracy.
Right oriented view
State funding of elections is that vision that cannot fructify but refuses to fade away.
- Indian political parties, unlike western democracies, are not mere platforms to put some people into elective public office but are like standing armies that need continuous nourishment.
- They provide a calling card to millions who otherwise may not have a worthwhile identity or independent standing in the social and economic milieu — the syndrome of whole-timers, pracharaks and party apparatchiks, respectively.
Thus there are two aspects to the financing of the democratic process:
- The financing of elections from the panchayat level to Parliament
- The funding of political parties that is not election-specific but is an exercise in perpetuity for reasons enunciated above.
Candidates for various levels of elections are funded by myriad sources:
- friends, individuals who believe in the cause or ideology a candidate/ political party espouses, non-governmental organisations, corporates, NRIs, foreign governments and even criminal syndicates seeking patronage and protection.
- Any substantive initiative aimed at bringing transparency, accountability and cleanliness to the vexed question of political financing needs to address these aspects concurrently.
Under the existing legal dispensation,
- Election candidates are obligated only to reveal their spending and keep it theoretically within limits prescribed by the Election Commission, a ceiling routinely violated with impunity by every candidate in every election.
- They are under no obligation to disclose how much money they have collected and where it has come from.
- This needs to change. All candidates must reveal the sources of their electoral funding statutorily. In addition to the expense statement, a daily collection statement detailing the identity of the donors with their PAN card, Aadhaar card number, and full financial details must be filed with the expenditure observer overseeing every election.
Insofar as political parties are concerned,
- The Supreme Court must take suo motu cognisance of the recent Association of Democratic Reforms report that documented that 69% of the income of political parties between 2004-05 and 2014-15 came from unknown sources.
- This is happening because of a deliberately inserted exemption: Section 13 (A) subsection (b) of the Income Tax Act, 1961 that exempts political parties from even keeping a record of the source of donations below ?20,000.
- Read in conjunction with Section 29 (C) of the Representation of the People Act 1951, it provides the legal architecture and immunity for the opacity manifest in political and electoral financing processes.
- It is a bit of chicanery if not insidiousness that it was a previous National Democratic Alliance government that in 2003 had raised the limit of anonymous donations from ?10,000 to ?20,000, and now the Finance Minister says in his Budget speech that it would be brought down to ?2,000.
- This is nothing but mere eyewash since the law mandates that no records of donations below this threshold need to be maintained.
- Therefore, any and every political party will now claim that a substantive bulk of their donations has come from donors who have contributed ?2,000 or less.
This exemption needs to be quashed by the Supreme Court because Parliament will never legislate to remove this insidious loophole. Collective vested interests would ensure its continuity. The identity of every donor to every political party irrespective of the amount donated must be in the public domain so that the Election Commission, Income Tax Department and other electoral oversight initiatives can verify their bona fides. These and a myriad other reforms are the way forward.
Conceptually, state funding of elections is based on the presumption that there would be then no private funding.
- The Election Commission simply does not have the wherewithal to ensure that. Moreover, elections are a democratic participatory process.
- If as an elector you are passionate about a candidate/ political party, isn’t it logical to put your money where your heart or mouth is?
- State funding of elections is therefore antithetical to democracy itself
Centre oriented view:
To check corruption in elections, it is necessary to consider public funding of political parties — though certainly not of elections.
- It is important to understand the distinction between state funding of elections and state funding of political parties, and why the later is a saner remedy.
- It is impossible to keep tabs on money spent in elections. That’s why it has consistently opposed state funding of elections.
- The issue here is one of black money and not white money. We cannot monitor how black money is put to use in bribing voters, in paid news, and other forms of transgressions, though we have been able to have some measure of success.
Funding parties post-election
- To give an example, for Vidhan Sabha elections, there is a ceiling of ?28 lakh but we all know how that is breached just as we are aware of how money is spent in contesting these elections.
- We also know that politics cannot be run without money. So, I suggest that it is easier to monitor the funding of political parties which is a far more realistic goal than seeking state funding of elections.
- Political parties can be funded post-election based on their actual performance. We could arrive at some calculations based on the performance. We could, for instance, agree that for every vote obtained, ?100 be given.
- Since the number of votes polled cannot be fudged, reimbursement based on polled votes would be accurate.
- As we know, the number of votes polled for each candidate, the actual votes cast, cannot be contested at all.
- So, if a candidate gets one vote, I will say, you take ?100 and you will have no cause for complaints as the amount is based on your performance.
- No serious candidate, regardless of the number of votes cast in his favour, will bear a grudge.
In the last general election, 55 crore votes were cast. So, at the rate of ?100 per vote it comes to around ?5,500 crore. Is this adequate?
- This roughly corresponds to the amount raised by all political parties together in five years. This money can be distributed among the parties based on their poll performance and must be paid by cheque.
- No extortion. No bribes. No quid pro quo. Also, all private donations will be totally banned if we follow this system. And the party accounts will be subject to audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General.
As for the question, why the public pay should for political parties, one easy answer is if you want honesty and transparency in governance, this is a small price to pay.
- Hypothetically, a thousand crores of public money is peanuts compared to the end result of ensuring transparency in elections.
If that is not acceptable,
- We should create a national election fund to which corporates and others can be asked to donate.
- Business houses can make donations to the parties they are beholden to and the funds will be disbursed according to your performance.
- Don’t tax the public then and let only corporate houses make their payments to the national election fund.
A study, ‘Political Finance Regulations around the World’, by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, Stockholm (2012), in 180 countries shows 71 nations have the facility of giving state funds based on votes obtained.
This includes 86% countries in Europe, 71% Africa, 63% of the Americas and 58% of Asia. If it works well in so many countries, there is no reason why it cannot be implemented in India.
The need for electoral reforms is less emphasised. But the reforms should be designed in the right spirit and aim to bring change at the ground level. The reforms in the current budget are less transparent than the transparency they seek to bring about.
Connecting the dots:
- State funding of elections is an idea that is in vogue from 2 decades now. Critically discuss the relevance of the concept in Indian context.
The bumps ahead
Story of a controversial ordinance
Costs of denial
Let justice flow
The Pollution in the House
A fiscal-consolidation budget that falls short on reforms
Using municipal bonds to bolster city finances
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