Local Governance and Public Policy

Session Report
Srinitya Kuchimanchi

With a specific focus on social, legal and policy issues, a Two Month Online Immersive Legal Awareness & Action Research Certificate Training Course and Internship Program, the  LPPYF (Law and Public Policy Youth Fellowship) was conducted by IMPRI, Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, from June 12 to August 11, 2023. Covering numerous issues ranging from international provisions, constitutional laws, SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) to gender justice and international human rights, it sought to equip fellows with both the theoretical insights and the technical capabilities required to implement the former with a field research project to enhance their learnings.  

On the 18th day, the third and final discussion was first contextualized by Dr. Vibhuti Patel who introduced the theme and the speaker, namely ‘Local Governance and Public Policy’  taken up by Shri Tikender Singh Pawar, Senior Fellow, IMPRI and Former Deputy mayor Shimla. 

Firstly, the session endeavored to take a look at the historical evolution of urbanization and its implications for modern cities. He began by emphasizing that cities have not always conformed to the structured model we see today. Historically, the concept of a single ruler governing cities was non-existent in many instances. Instead, settlements were often small and managed directly by the citizens themselves.

He then introduced the Fellows to the insightful ideas of Henri Lefebvre and the notion of the “Right to the City.” These concepts espouse that the idea of someone ruling and citizens following a coded set of laws and inscriptions was not universally applicable throughout history.

Continuing upon the historical perspective by delving into the legacies of colonialism, noting that remnants such as cantonments and civil lines still influence urban landscapes today. He pointed out the stark duality that existed in colonial India between military establishments and civil establishments, as well as between the urban elite and the impoverished. Unfortunately, this urban duality did not vanish at India’s independence in 1947.

Post-Colonial Urban Development (1947)

Transitioning to the post-colonial era, the session then highlighted the essential features of urban development in India. He mentioned the Nehruvian model, a period characterized by self-reliance and a vision of industrial planning, exemplified by the Bombay Plan.

He further spoke about the impact of massive migration following partition, with a staggering 73 lakh registered refugees. Cities like Delhi had to adapt rapidly to accommodate this influx, resulting in the emergence of refugee colonies. During this period, 14 towns were constructed, but it is important to note that only 4,70,000 refugees were accommodated. This period also saw rapid urbanization, with a 41% increase in the urban population from 1941 to 1951 and a 26% increase from 1951 to 1961.

He also touched upon the formation of new states and capitals, emphasizing how demographic, economic, and administrative factors contributed to urban growth. By 1971, 112 towns had been established, signifying the tremendous urban expansion.

He then provided insights into the growth of heavy industries, exemplified by Bokaro, during the Nehruvian period, which was marked by state-led development. Discussing the planning aspect, he  pointed out the influence of five-year plans, which were instrumental in shaping urban development. He highlighted the formation of the Ministry of Urban Affairs and the establishment of the School of Planning and Architecture as significant steps in fostering urban planning expertise as well as the growth of large cities and the process of metropolization, which played a pivotal role in the urban landscape.

He noted that there was a degree of focus on inclusive development during this period, a crucial factor in ensuring that urbanization was not at the expense of vulnerable segments of society.

Essential Features of Post-Colonial Cities

Shri Tikender Singh provided insights into the essential features characterizing post-colonial Indian cities. He emphasized that the state played a central role in planning and development. Manufacturing served as the driving force, but over time, there was a global shift from industrial to service-oriented economies, reflecting neoliberal trends.

The shift from core urban areas to peri-urban regions, suburbs, and sprawling urban landscapes was another notable feature. Approximately 40% of the population found themselves residing in slums, underlining the challenges of rapid urbanization. The Nehruvian model, however, faced challenges in urban areas. Cities began to expand to meet the increasing demands of the growing population, and there was a merger of smaller towns. In the decade from 1991 to 2001, a staggering 221 towns merged, highlighting the shifting dynamics of urbanization.

He then discussed the transformative period beyond 1991 when India opened up its economy to attract global capital. There was a notable shift from manufacturing to IT-based industries. Municipalities had to adapt to these changes, and their roles evolved accordingly. The 74th amendment, introduced after 40 years of independence, granted cities greater autonomy in managing their affairs, signifying a significant shift in governance structures.During this period, the urban landscape saw a shift from a focus on holistic development to a more project-oriented approach, reflecting the changing dynamics of urbanization.

Global expertise in planning and design became influential, leading to the introduction of designs and typologies that might not necessarily meet the needs of Indian cities. This period also witnessed the introduction of materials like glass that were not originally tailored to the specific requirements of Indian cities. Providing insights into the sources of investment in urban areas, he noted that 60% of investment came from public sources, primarily in core areas like Delhi. Private domestic sources contributed 24%, while Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) accounted for only 16%, and that too was concentrated in major cities like Bangalore. The World Bank estimated that the all-India average for FDI was around 2%, underscoring the regional disparities in investment.

Challenges and the Way Forward in Public Policy

The session concluded with Pawar highlighting the multifaceted challenges faced by urban areas in contemporary India. These challenges included the imperative for participatory urban governance, addressing the growing trend of extreme informalisation in the workforce, centralization of resources in cities, and the low asset-holding capacity of the common citizen.

He ended the session by emphasizing the importance of grappling with climate change and dealing with issues of segregation and gentrification, which were taking place in many urban areas. Finally, he stressed the significance of setting service delivery benchmarks and focusing on local economies to ensure that urbanization is not just rapid but also equitable, efficient, and responsive to the needs of all citizens.

Acknowledgement: Srinitya Kuchimanchi is a research intern at IMPRI.

Read more event reports of IMPRI here.

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