Monday, September 20, 2010

To Be Great Indian Cities Cannot Rely on Evolution; They Need Intelligent Design

The Commonwealth Games should have been an opportunity to transform Delhi into a world-class city. But that remains only an aspiration, despite the huge amount of money already spent. The city's alphabet soup of agencies looking after land, municipal services, public works and electricity-DDA, MCD, PWD, DUAC, NDMC, DJB etc.-have often worked at cross purposes. There are allegations of corruption and evidence of incompetence.

Now turn to what China did with Shanghai-it was a display of national resolve seldom seen in India. While Manhattan's skyline evolved over more than a century, Shanghai's was transformed in a decade. It has over 4,000 skyscrapers, twice as many as New York. For fifteen years it has grown at an annual clip of over 9 per cent, faster than the mother country. Its per capita income has grown fourfold even as its population has more than doubled. It is set to emerge as a global financial and shipping centre-its Yang Shan deepwater port will be the world's number one.

Deng Xiaoping ignored Shanghai in the early years; he thought Shenzen and Guangzhou could rival Hong Kong's clout because of their proximity. But greatness cannot be thrust upon cities. In 1992, during his tour of South China when he made his famous 'to be rich is glorious' speech, Deng declared that Shanghai would be the 'dragon's head' of the Chinese economy. By then official sanction had been given to develop Pudong to the east of the Huangpu river as Shanghai's extension. Pudong served the collateral purpose of attracting foreign investments after Western sanctions followed the Tiananmen crackdown. Shanghai was given a number of economic freedoms that were not available even in special economic zones.

Great cities need great leadership, but Indian cities have none. Their management is a colonial import, led by a commissioner who reports to a council of elected members, often a bunch of petty local politicians. They also lack ambition. When Shanghai's fortunes were rising, Mumbai's were in decline. McKinsey reported that between 1998 and 2002, the city's annual economic growth (2.4 per cent) had slipped to half the national average (5.4 per cent) and well below Shanghai's (8.2 per cent). In quality of life it was a poor 163rd among 218 cities that Forbes surveyed. Nothing better could be expected in a city that paid $10 billion in yearly taxes but got back less than $0.3 billion as infrastructure investment.

Chinese city governments are now in the driver's seat of urbanization. City polices vary-local officials sit with state-owned enterprises and private players on how to provide backbone services like water, power supply, roads, bridges and telecommunications. For Pudong, Shanghai's municipal government opened up to the best in the world. Top architects were roped in to design iconic buildings. Lending agencies like ADB and World Bank financed water supply, sewage treatment plants, power distribution and transportation. They introduced new tendering systems and trained officials in project management.

But Chinese mayors also over-reach. 'I have a dream,' a former mayor of Shanghai and party secretary said echoing the American civil rights leader Martin Luther King. One of
his dreams was to build an artificial beach. The 'hai' in Shanghai means 'ocean' but the city did not have a beach; so 128,000 tons of sand was brought from Southern China to simulate one in the suburbs. The Shanghai miracle has displaced people on a massive scale. Between 1991 and 2000, the city government demolished 26 million sq. metres and relocated over 650,000 households. Overall, about a tenth of the population has been displaced since reforms began. Like other Chinese cities, Shanghai has been built on stifled voices.

Unlike China's restrictive hukou, Indians have a fundamental right to live and move freely in the country, so city populations have grown unchecked. The last census (in 2001) estimated India's slum population at 41 million (12.5 per cent of urban people). Wrong policies and inefficiency have aggravated urban misery. The World Bank says that between 1964 and 1991, Mumbai reduced the amount of space that could be built up on a plot of land when other cities all across the world were encouraging vertical growth.

Perhaps India's planners need to take a few lessons, if not from 'adversarial' Shanghai, then certainly from the exceptional story of Jamshedpur. More than a hundred years ago, Tata Steel acquired a lease on this 64 sq. km industrial township. Today, drinking water is available for longer in Jamshedpur than pretty much anywhere else in India. Its quality is better than the national average; unsurprisingly, the daily average consumption is double the official norm. The city is run with corporate efficiency; in 2004, it has outsourced its municipal services to a company called Jusco.

With a population of just 0.7 million, Jamshedpur's problems are not comparable to that of a large Indian city. Yet it is a template, and given good governance, an exception which could become the rule.

1 comment:

  1. Having lived in Jamshedpur I can vouch for the fact that the quality of life and maintenance of public facilities is distinctly different in the areas controlled by the TATAs and the Municipal authorities. The difference is not about the resources at their disposal but the will to do public good.

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