India is witnessing a surge in urbanisation. Around 377 million people are residing in these urban centres. Urban municipalities, municipal corporations, and corporations are civic bodies that are entrusted with providing and maintaining civic amenities in urban centres and form the basis of urban local governance and link citizens to the policies of the state and the central governments.
There are various roles that an urban civic body has to perform including the 18 functions assigned to them by the 74th Municipal Amendments Act. They play a pivotal role in maintaining water supply, in maintaining the streets and street lighting, in ensuring cleanliness and garbage disposal. They are also meant to prepare revised circulars for maintaining good governance in terms of social and economic developments. Now, the point is how responsible are these corporations and how good is their response.
The municipal corporation or the local government is usually responsible for providing civic amenities to the citizens. They also discharge a host of social and financial duties. A source associated with the daily activities of a municipality bordering the northern fringes of Kolkata, on conditions of anonymity, told BE, “Focus area of work for any municipality is service delivery and importance is given to effective service delivery in the least possible time. I am not saying that we are always able to achieve our targets but we strive to do our best.”
The source further added, “There are certain things that can be done to expedite the process. Now, people have to cooperate as well. We have seen in many cases that some people wouldn’t carry documents when they come and that delays the process. For us to start the work, we need the documents. One must understand that many of the services rendered by municipal bodies depend on human actions and cannot be substituted by automation. One has to sit down, read the papers and cross check them for errors. Inspection is required. This needs a lot of human resources and committed staff. One way to increase responsiveness of municipal bodies is to entail an enormous increase of human resources. However, that is not practically and economically feasible.”
Some other ways in which the response can be enhanced:
l Capability and Communication: A municipality can upgrade their services by enhancing capabilities of their employees. Communication is very important in terms of service delivery since the municipality needs to understand the issue and then deliver the solution.
l Corporatisation: Municipalities often assign certain services to specific companies and the public receives the services from these private companies. This system works well for providing specialized services.
A municipality is accountable for providing services that are assigned to them in the fastest way possible. Accountability is to be measured from two sides, i.e., upwards and downwards. Upward accountability is when the municipality is answerable to the government and downward accountability is when they are being answerable to the public. The state government can question the municipality’s accountability for several processes ranging from public issues to internal problems. The government has implemented a method of measuring the performance of the municipality with ‘4 Fs’ which is function, functionary, finance and field. These points determine the accountability and performance of the municipality.
Inspecting the Performance
The general public can monitor the performance of a municipality by checking three different segments i.e. the input, the activity or the processes involved and the output. The clarity in the provided inputs as well as in the outputs received is one of the most important performance testers of urban local governance institutes. This also includes the financial details. On a pan India basis, there are certain initiatives taken by the municipal authorities in conjunction with the state and central government:
l Storm Water Project: A storm water project has been sanctioned by the government for the proper disposal of the storm or rain water. Storm water drains are being constructed to facilitate the easy flow of water into drainage canals. If the water is diverted into these canals, there won’t be any water logging. The source added, “Plastic is not allowed in certain areas. But that needs public participation. We all know plastic clogs our drainage lines. If the public is aware and reduces usage of plastics, water logging can be combatted easily. Storm water drainage is the biggest project at the moment. The project is around `350 crore and is supposed to cover all municipalities and is being funded by the central and state government jointly.”
l Compactors: The source added, “We are going for a vat-free city by installing compactors. There are two types of compactors. One is a stationary compactor and the other is a mobile compactor. We have about 17 compactors and we are trying to get more compactors in order to achieve zero vats in the city.”
l Waste to Energy: Another initiative by the municipality is conversion of energy from waste. This project is under the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) project and is funded by the state government and is worth `15 crore. Approximately 55 million tonnes of municipal solid waste is collected through compactors and then dumped in areas before they are broken down for energy production.
l Electronic Rickshaw: Electronic rickshaws, an initiative by south Dum Dum Municipality, Kolkata, are being brought in action for collection of garbage with different bins for different types of waste. The fact that these rickshaws are electronic makes them environment friendly as well.
Prevention for Controlling Diseases:
l Covered Drains: Covered drains are one of the most important aspects for any municipality in terms of controlling vector borne diseases. These drains act as the breeding areas for different insects that cause diseases like dengue,
l Spraying/Fogging: Fogging is done regularly by most municipalities to reduce the risks posed by mosquitoes and insects.
l Vector Borne Disease Control Team: The team consists of officials who inspect several houses in the municipal area and ensure that no houses have stored water or areas where mosquitoes can breed.
Are they facing any issues while doing the same?
The source added, “To implement any policy, the toughest challenge that any authority faces is to get a consensus because there are so many issues and there are multiple stake holders. Each stake holder has his or her own point of view.”
Another source from the South Dum Dum Municipality told BE, “The process clearing the sewerage lines would be better if the municipality could do it twice a day when they are cleaning the sewerage lines. It’s very difficult and equally costly. Now to generate the funds needed to entail such through cleaning of the sewerage lines, we would have to increase taxes and if we increase the tax, there would be certain kind of resentment amongst the public. Everybody wants services but they don’t want the charges to go higher. So the challenge is to provide optimal services with no or marginal increase in costs.”
While trying to regulate the messages or inspecting houses, the municipality officials are often interrupted. The source further added, “The most important reason for the outbreak of dengue is lack of social awareness. Not many people follow the dos and don’ts of having a safe environment or even the guidelines that are issued by the government. Now there is a vector borne disease control department in the municipality from which different municipal officials are to regularly visit houses. When the officials are visiting houses, they are often obstructed from doing their duties due to the lack of awareness among the general public. Since most of the municipalities in West Bengal have a high density of population, checking vector borne diseases are always challenging. Lack of social awareness complicates matters. Since three out 10 houses are allowing the officials to do their duties, the process gets slower.” The process to create accountability also requires active participation from the public. The citizens need to understand that it is a two way process.
How is India dealing with the awareness that is being circulated?
The government is trying their best to enhance accountability by making the public more aware. But since the audience is not equally receptive, it is a challenge to communicate in an effective way. One needs to understand the problems and then only can the solutions be planned. So, even after the government has launched advertisements on different forms of media or started campaigns, the desired effect is not always achieved.