Nandan Nilekani on his Imagining India blog makes an excellent case why Indian cities need to have local control rather than being controlled by state or central government agencies. He points to the Mumbai’s most recent episode of Islamic terrorism and asks where was the mayor:
I doubt many in Mumbai even know who the mayor of the city is – it’s a largely ceremonial post. There was no powerful official representing Mumbai’s city administration simply because the administration has no power to speak of. The responses in the immediate aftermath of the attacks – orders to the police and military, evacuation operations – flowed from the state and central governments. It was the state, central and defence officials who seemed to be in charge. An entire tier of government at the local level appeared non-existent.
This had huge repercussions in the speed and efficiency with which Mumbai responded to the attacks. The city’s police were ill-equipped for any sort of rapid response. The NSG commandos who cleared the hotels had to be flown in from Delhi – and after their arrival in Mumbai, had to wait for hours to be transported from the airport.
As economists have pointed out, urbanization and economic prosperity are bidirectionally related as causes and consequences. To a significant extent, the poverty of India is directly a consequence of the neglect of planned urban growth. Gandhi and Nehru — as they usually do — get the wrong end of the stick and India suffers. I have made this point too frequently on this blog. Here’s Nandan:
The Indian city has long been exiled from our collective imagination. The romance of the ‘village republic’ for India’s politicians and the strong association of the city with the British Imperial Raj doomed the city in Independent India. Gandhi said, ‘I regard the growth of cities as an evil thing’ and for Nehru the city of New Delhi was ‘un-Indian’.
Now there is some hope for India. Thoughtful and influential people like Nandan Nilekani understand how the world works much better than politicians like Gandhi and Nehru. Which brings a broader point to mind: the shift of power from the (widely recognized as corrupt) politicians and bureaucrats to thoughtful people who create wealth and actually help social welfare.
Related posts: See “Urbanization and Development of India.”