Cities and self rule

Mayor of London, Mr Ken Livingstone, made headlines when he visited Mumbai and Delhi recently. Amongst the things he said, here is one that I thought stood out. “London mayor Ken Livingstone said on Wednesday that … when it comes to the development of a city like Mumbai, he said he was not sure if his counterpart here can do much to change people’s lives with limited executive powers.”

Thats a quote from TOI Mumbai Nov 22 2007. Truth hurts, but Mr Livingstone was almost right when he said that:

“… unfortunately the mayor of Mumbai did not have any power regarding important matters affecting the city. Almost all the powers are with the state government.”

Look at how this works for Bangalore. The party city voted for didn’t get to rule the state (BJP). The party that shared power for most of last 3 years (JD-S), tried to play up rural-vs-urban card, and got away with some severe anti-Bangalore (rather anti-city) statements and doings. The reality seems to be that local government of our city has had little to do in matters that will have the most effects on its residents. Moreover, the setup is such that when it comes to successes, the state government jumps ahead to share it (inaugurating and announcing city’s big projects), but when its time to share the blame, local government is pushed to front (dog bite cases – remember how BBMP was blamed by the health minister).

Mr Livingstone visited Delhi as well. Though I didn’t follow the things he said and did at Delhi, I am sure he didn’t make any similar statements there. Is it any surprise that most of the far-sighted corrective urban development measures originate at Delhi? Well, Delhi is a city state, its residents have say in electing their ‘direct’ rulers and Delhi’s elected representatives have no such city-vs-rest distractions available as excuse.

Why wouldn’t we apply the Delhi (city state) or London (Mayor is responsible for all city matters, period) model to all of our super-large cities as well? Why does Bangalore have to debate with a humble farmer on developmental matters that have nothing to do with agriculture? Why does Bangalore have to be a mute witness when various elected and non-elected bodies pass the buck to each other. The sooner that changes, the better. Because as Mr Livingstone said, our cities:

“… need to have one responsible person to take a call on development matters”

[Cross posted from Praja, comments off]

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