India’s urban chaos: Whose responsibility is it anyway?

Bibek Debroy in Policy Puzzles, Economic Times

India has been rapidly urbanizing and will continue to do so. What is “urban”? As is common with many other countries, there is a technical definition of urban in the Census. More accurately, it is a definition of a “town”. A town is (1) “All places with a municipality, corporation, cantonment board or notified town area committee”; or (2) “All other places which satisfied the following criteria: a minimum population of 5,000; at least 75% of the male main working population engaged in non-agricultural pursuits; and a density of population of at least 400 persons per sq km”.

The problem is obvious. If (1) is satisfied, we know who is responsible for urban governance, interpreted as collecting revenue and spending it to provide urban services. In addition, we know the conduit for devolution of public expenditure through assorted schemes. These are statutory towns. If (2) is satisfied, the habitation exhibits urban characteristics. However, since there is no (1), we don’t know who is responsible for urban governance. These are known as Census towns. In addition, though it doesn’t directly concern us, there are definitions of urban agglomerations and outgrowths. Census 2011 tells us there are 7,935 towns – 4,041 statutory towns, 3,894 Census towns, 475 urban agglomerations and 981 outgrowths.

A few days ago, ET did a story, flagging governance problems in Census towns that aren’t statutory towns. 3,895 is a huge number. Let’s take the example of Delhi. There are 3 Census towns in Delhi, Asola (population 5,003), Bhati (population 15,888) and Jonapur (population 7,419). There also happen to be 369 villages in Delhi. I find it a bit odd that there are two “villages” right next to where we live – Mahipalpur and Masoodpur. Why is it odd?

Because there is a Mahipalpur-Masoodpur main road that cuts across the heart of Vasant Kunj, from Chattarpur on one side to the National Highway on the other. The widening and maintenance of this road is the responsibility of MCD. But the street-lights (and assorted other things) along one side of the road are the responsibility of MCD, while along the other side of the road, they are the responsibility of the Panchayats concerned. There are shops along both side of this road and they aren’t dissimilar from each other. However, the Delhi Rent Control Act applies to one side and not to the other. (So I have been told.) But let’s leave the villages aside.

Read more at: http://blogs.economictimes.indiatimes.com/policypuzzles/an-urban-chaos-issue/

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