OPINION | Urban India Beyond Metros

The educated middle class who resides in tier 2/3 cities, are the wheels that move the economy. The government owes to this constituent to improve the quality of service.

OPINION | Urban India Beyond Metros
Image for representation | file

New Delhi | Tarun Gupta: After the assembly elections in 5 states, there is a hiatus before the next round of electioneering begins. This perhaps is the best time to focus on governance.

Although India is a holding together federation, a nation where central government is more powerful than its constituent states, we have often seen that on several parameters of quality of life, the state governments exert greater influence. In the recently concluded assembly elections, governments in each of the states have been voted to power with a clear mandate. They have the platform from where to address the overdue problems.

The issues crying for address are numerous:

Something that has long afflicted our urban agglomerations and irked residents, is the appalling municipal governance. The dystopian state of affairs seems to belie our economic progress. Our cities grapple for fundamental essentials of salubrious living. There is visible filth and garbage. The elementary waste collection, segregation and disposal is sub-par. The sewage and drainage systems are antiquated. The open drains have ruthlessly devoured precious lives. Encroachments are rampant, footpaths have disappeared, roads seldom survive more than one monsoon. Stray animal menace if it already isn’t will soon emerge as amongst the big nuisances. The pet animal owners are unaware and uninterested in complying with regulations. Littering, spitting, piddling continues unabated. Penal deterrents remain unused theoretical precepts. Amidst the chaos, the administrative machinery appears insouciant and the citizenry sometimes helpless, at times hopeless and most times complicit. Is it any surprise that our cities rank amongst the filthiest and most polluted?

Education and medical have a direct bearing on the quality of life. These are matters in the concurrent list where both center and state have a part to play. Most tier 2, tier 3 cities are well short of high standard education and medical facility. Along with inadequate employment opportunities, lack of education and medical care are some of the foremost reasons for people moving out of their home towns. This deluge of migration from small towns into a handful of metros, which in turn burdens the infrastructure of those large cities, can only be curtailed by upgrading the non-metro townships.

It has often been stated that India lives in villages and workers and farmers are true representatives of the nation. That for me is an anachronism. Today the most apt synecdoche for India is the educated middle class and it resides in tier 2/3 cities. They are the wheels that move the economy, they are the opinion makers who shape the narrative. The government owes to this constituent to improve the quality of service. The union government with better access to financial and intellectual resources, can plan and set the agenda. Governance is as much about execution as conception. The former is mostly the domain of the state government.

One may be prompted to ponder that in a three-tier model of democracy that we have, aren’t we holding the state government responsible for what is apparently a municipal failure? Well the municipal bodies in non-metro towns are too enervated to even warrant a discussion. Their empowerment and efficiency are also moth ridden state subjects. The state governments that for the sake of federal structure, cry hoarse about decentralization, are themselves guilty of power concentration, debilitating the third tier in the process.

Along with law and order which of course is a sine qua non, if the states can walk the talk on sanitation, municipal governance, education and health, the transformation will be phenomenal. Capital investment and resultant employment generation will be natural concomitants.

More than area, geography, demography, the size of a city is a function of its potential. Does it have the capability to fulfill the aspirations of its people? A city becomes small when the dreams of the residents become incommensurately bigger than what their domicile can deliver. It is agonizing to be forced to move out of your home town, your comfort zone due to lack of opportunity. Leave aside attracting investment from outside, the first success is to retain internal investment and talent. As a logical corollary, that really is the only way to free up and unburden our handful of large metros.

This message isn’t just for newly elected governments but all state executives of every hue. Future assembly elections may be influenced as much by municipal governance as other issues. We hope for a scenario where our non-metro urban centers can give their residents wings to fly, roots to return and reasons to stay.

(Disclaimer: This article has been written by Tarun Gupta. The views expressed are of the author only.)

This website uses cookie or similar technologies, to enhance your browsing experience and provide personalised recommendations. By continuing to use our website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy.