Though functions of the city state had been detailed in Kautilya’s Arthashastra, it is to British rule that we owe the present form of urban local government. The present system of local self-government takes off from the ‘Lord Ripon Resolution’ of 1882 in which municipal authorities were made responsible as units of self-government.
India’s rapid urbanisation clearly indicates an inescapable urban future, having the second highest urban population in the world. Very soon India would be living in cities. Cities are emerging as the engines of economic growth. Simultaneously, rising migration is fueling urban poverty. To make cities more livable, green, integrated and smart, the authorities with the onus of managing the urban planning and development, the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs), need to get even more smarter, efficient, proactive and citizen centric. There are some serious challenges, which mar the working of municipalities, and that includes existing manual system of working, lack of transparency and accountability, and high waiting time in availing government services. Despite considerable amount of resources being spent each year both by the central and state governments, universal access to urban services is a distant dream for many citizens, particularly the poor and marginalised. Its high time to shift the focus of urban governance towards long term and integrated planning of cities, and achieving the goal of world class standards.
Also, the political devolution – handing over of functions from the central to local authorities took place to some degree, fiscal and administrative devolution were not actualised in many states. Due to this reason, municipalities and other governance institutions continued to languish in a state of neglect. While the urban local bodies were given responsibilities, they were not given the financial power to act on these responsibilities.
ICT, although, expedites the service delivery, and being increasingly used for enabling re-engineering and standardisation of business processes, it has got potential to be leveraged for creating social capital. To synchronise with the changes in the lifestyle, culture and technology, and the subsequent increase in citizen’s demands and expectations from the governments, its high time the public authorities take the challenge, lest the citizen-state bonding loosen further.