Issues metropolitan cities face – UPSC GS2

Governance issues
  • Factors underlying city governance include spatial planning, municipal capacities, empowered mayors and councils and inter-agency coordination, and ward-level citizen participation.
  • Twenty-seven years after the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act, these reform agendas continue to be slow in implementation.
  • India’s metropolitan cities have weak capacities in finance and staffing.
  • Bengaluru’s average percentage of own revenue to total expenditure is 47.9%, Chennai 30.5%, Mumbai 36.1% and Kolkata at 48.4%.
  • According to ASICS 2017, Mumbai has the highest number of officers per lakh population at 938 in the country.
  • Yet it is abysmally low compared to global cities such as Johannesburg with 2,922 and New York with 5,446 officers per lakh population

Limited powers of mayors

  • The leaders steering India’s metropolitan cities are toothless.
  • No big metropolitan cities with 10 million-plus population has a directly-elected Mayor.
  • Mumbai’s Mayor has a tenure of 2.5 years, Delhi and Bengaluru, a mere one year.
  • Mayors do not have full decision-making authority over critical functions of planning, housing, water, environment, fire and emergency services in most cases.
  • Our metropolitan cities are far from being local self-governments.
  • Parastatal agencies for planning, water and public transport report directly to State governments.
  • The State government also largely controls public works and police.
  • Globally, metropolitan cities are steered by a directly-elected leader.
  • Evolved examples include the Tokyo metropolitan government and recent experimental models such as combined authorities in the United Kingdom and Australia.
  • India needs home-grown solutions suited to its context and political realities while imbibing lessons on institutional design from global examples.
  • It is time the Central and State governments lead efforts towards a metropolitan governance paradigm.
  • The first steps should include empowered Mayors with five-year tenure, decentralised ward level governance, and inter-agency coordination anchored by the city government.

Lack of transparency, accountability and citizen participation

  • Transparent cities with institutional platforms encouraging citizen participation improve urban democracy.
  • No metropolitan has functional ward committees and area sabhas.
  • An absence of citizen participation is worsened by poor transparency in finance and operations.
  • As per ASICS 2017, India’s big metropolitan cities on average score 3.04/10 in transparency, accountability and participation.

Significance of smaller cities

  • A World Bank report notes that despite the emergence of smaller towns, the underlying character of India’s urbanisation is “metropolitan”.
  • Under this metropolitan character, new towns emerge around existing large cities.
  • According to a McKinsey report, in 2012, 54 metropolitan cities and their hinterlands accounted for 40% of India’s GDP.
  • The report also estimates that by 2025, 69 metropolitan cities, combined with their hinterlands, will generate over half of India’s incremental GDP between 2012 and 2025.
  • Despite this, India is yet to begin an active discourse on cohesive metropolitan governance frameworks.
  • This indicates that while India’s urban vision should focus on its metropolitan cities to reap the benefit of scale, it shouldn’t ignore smaller cities.
  •  Studies by the Centre for Policy Research point that India’s spatial feature exhibits the growth of small towns beyond the economics of large agglomerations.


India should use the current pandemic as an opportunity to introspect and reform the way its metropolises are governed.

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