Scarce resources of the urban local bodies (ULBs) are, to an unfortunately large extent, frittered away by corruption, rues Paromita Shastri in ‘How India’s Small Towns Live (or Die): Making sense of municipal finances’ (www.academicfoundation.com).
The author cites examples such as how development works and expenditure on regular provision of civic services get concentrated around the residences of municipal officers to the neglect of the rest of the city (in Himachal Pradesh); and how there is nexus between municipal officials, contractors and private operators to deliver basic services, be they of sanitation or solid waste management (in Haryana).
Adding to the inscrutability of the problem can be many factors. Sample these: “Capital expenditure records are poorly maintained and are kept solely with the engineering department. They are extremely difficult to access. The fact that there is no summary of grant flows available indicates the lack of interest in tracking grant flows. The stubborn resistance of the officers in sharing financial records relating to expenditure from capital grants is worthy of special mention…”
The book highlights the ‘institutional vacuum’ in which ULBs take decisions; for instance, the local bodies may often have no technical competences or information base to take decisions relating to location of an industrial unit, its technology, and production links. Also, the ULBs do not have the capability to assess the long-term cost implications of any possible contracts they might enter into with private companies, notes Shastri. “Nor has the state government been cooperative in this regard by providing technical assistance to ULBs for assessing, say, the long-term implications of land deals or appropriate environmental safeguards.”
Insights of value, in the context of the rapid urbanisation being witnessed in the country.