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Local bodies in India must be made responsible for urban planning
The 2012-13 edition of UN Habitat's State of the World's Cities report, released two weeks ago, measures the prosperity of cities. Reactions thus far refer to the prosperity index and how Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad or Bangalore rank. The merit of this edition, however, is not in the statistics, but the substance of the views offered.
For Indian cities, the paradigms of a new approach to prosperity presented in the report are of particular interest. First, the assertion that as a country becomes more urbanised, both urban and national productivity will increase is supported by the experience of many developing countries. Second, taking urban infrastructure as the bedrock of prosperity, the survey finds that, in many developing countries, sanitation and urban transport are the least developed. Transport infrastructure in India's major cities is tilted in favour of private transport. The third aspect is linking quality of life to urban prosperity. The failure of many cities to address this issue, and the absence of measurable indicators to reveal progress or decline, are emphasised. Finally, the unequal wealth of cities and the increase in income disparity have a strong impact and is an important determining factor in the prosperity of cities. The report presents compelling data of rising inequality in Asian cities, which exceed the OECD average. In India, in the first four decades after Independence, the co-existence of the rich and the poor was broadly accepted and modest efforts made towards amelioration. But in recent years, city management and planning have become highly exclusive.
Discounting geographical location as a determining factor in a city's economic growth, it emphasises that many cities around the world have set themselves on the path of prosperity by innovation, sustained vision and good governance. Bangalore and Hyderabad are cases in point, though, unlike Chennai or Kolkata, they do not have the locational advantage of a port.
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