BOOK REVIEW

Urban governance model

K. C. SIVARAMAKRISHNAN

Compilation of papers by Indian and foreign scholars on shifts and contestations in governance



NEW FORMS OF URBAN GOVERNANCE IN INDIA — Shifts, Models, Networks and Contestations: Edited by I.S.A Baud and J. De Wit; Sage Publications India Pvt. Ltd., B 1/I-1, Mohan Cooperative Industrial Area, Mathura Road, New Delhi-110044. Rs. 850.

Much of the contemporary discourse on governance is taken up by definitions. Clarity is much less when it comes to urban governance, which is treated as governance applicable to urban territories. Normative models are hard to find; structural models are usually based on the municipal construct. This book edited by Baud and David, scholars from Netherlands, evokes therefore much interest. It is an informative compilation of papers written by Indian and foreign scholars after some research and analysis.

Ward committees

The book has 12 chapters presented in three parts under the heads: models and instruments in urban decentralisation; multi-stakeholder arrangements in public services; and contestations and urban governance. The papers in the first part focus mainly on ward committees though this is not explicitly stated. This theme is also discussed in some of the chapters in the second part relating to public services. Pinto traces the evolution of the City government of Mumbai and rightly stresses that the Mumbai model with focus on the key position of the Municipal Commissioner is out of tune with the democratic ethos. It artificially separates the deliberative from the executive functions. The introduction of ward committees for groups of several wards is also regarded as a limited extension of the central municipal office rather than securing people’s participation. The paper by de Wit, Nainan and Palnitkar continues the discussion on ward committees in Mumbai and concludes that there are very little criteria for assessing its performance. In another chapter, Nainan and Baud provide additional material on ward committees and conclude that whatever the political space created has been more useful to the councillors rather than the people.

Local participation

Redkar and Bhide offer an interesting and useful comparison between with the Advanced Locality Management set-up and the adoption of the slum rehabilitation programmes as additional and possibly alternative arrangements for more effective local participation. Ghosh and Mitra have given valuable information about the working of ward committees in the three urban areas of Kolkata, Siliguri and Bidhan Nagar in West Bengal. Ghosh makes the telling point that the Marxist leadership considered; prima facie, as favouring mass support has not necessarily meant empowerment of the ward committees. On the contrary, the real power is wielded by the citizens committees which are formations of CPI(M) working at the grassroots level long before the ward committees were formed.

It would have been very useful if the editors had taken the hypothesis that ward committees are an innovation and a distinct model of urban governance, examined the background to its inclusion in the 74th Constitutional Amendment as revealed in the debates of the Joint Committee of the Parliament and proceeded to organise the material on an inter-city comparative basis. This would have been much more effective than bits and pieces about the background and scope of the 74th Amendment taking space in many of the individual chapters.

Baud and Dhanalakshmi analyse performance and accountability in multi-stakeholder arrangements for providing specific services such as sanitation or sewerage in Chennai. Lorraine Kennedy gives some very useful insights about the emerging and aggressive role that the corporate sector has assumed and its influence on planning and development in a fast- growing city like Hyderabad.

Judicial intervention

Part III on Contestations and Urban Governance stands out as forthright and provocative. Dupont and Ramanathan in tracing the evolution and substance of judicial intervention in problems of urban management have brought out the irony that the higher judiciary which devised public interest litigation with the intent of helping the indigent and the powerless has itself let it become the vehicle for safeguarding the interests of elite classes. Adarkar raises the question which is basic to the main objective of the book: “Whose ball game is urban governance?” The fact that the powers that be continue to regard urban management as essentially a vehicle for urban real estate development is amply brought out by Adarkar’s story about the Textile Mills Land case in Mumbai. Eventually the limited victory won by citizen groups in the Mumbai High Court was reversed in the Supreme Court.

His paper predates this unfortunate ending. Sridharan provides a very useful conceptual pattern for changing the aspects in urban governance. The forms of contestation and cooperation are brought out lucidly with reference to West Bengal, Kerala, and Delhi.

Reverting to the title and the main objective of this book, it is fair to say that it is much less about new forms of urban governance and more about shifts and contestations. The 74th Amendment itself cannot be regarded as a model of urban governance though it ensures an elected structure to municipal bodies. Given the commitment and consistency of the contributors who have pursued questions of urban management for sometime, one could expect a more structured analysis of decentralisation at, and below, the city level to follow. For the present, readers would welcome this book as a good source of city-based information emphasising a central point that contests are an inevitable part of any process of governance.



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