Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cities-The Times of India

City-states can be viable alternative to choked metros-Bangalore-Cities-The Times of India
Every city in India aspires to become a Singapore. But no one at the helm has any clue about how to realize that dream. Guess what a Singaporean,
that too former PM Lee Kuan Yew, has to say? If Mumbai, for instance, has to become an international city, like Singapore, it must be made into a separate province. China has done it. Its cities deal directly with Beijing. And it has worked.

The 85-year-old founding father of Singapore and its first PM was in Delhi the other day to attend an interactive session with Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas delegates. He said, "During my visit to Mumbai 18 months ago, I had a meeting with the Maharashtra deputy CM on how to turn the city into a Singapore. At that time I found the airport not up to international standards. The approach road was also terrible... I asked the minister, ‘Who controls Mumbai?' He said the city was under Maharashtra. I told him if Mumbai has to become a Singapore, it must become a separate province... Otherwise, there is no hope for it to grow into a financial capital on par with Shanghai, Tokyo, Hong Kong or London.''

Opinions may vary, but there is no harm in discussing Lee's suggestion. We remember the likes of IT icon Narayana Murthy having spoken on similar lines. Such out-of-the-box ideas sometimes help in finding viable solutions.

For instance, the Maharashtra minister is said to have told Lee that the state cannot afford to lose Mumbai as a big chunk of its revenue comes from the city. He is not wrong. What if the Centre compensates the state for the loss of revenue that Mumbai generates? Isn't it food for thought? Mumbai will prosper under the Centre's special care and the state will continue to get its share of revenue.

Cities in India have been deteriorating day by day. Take IT city Bangalore. Its image has taken a severe beating in the last few years. Much of the sheen the IT sector gave the city has disappeared. Infrastructure facilities are not proportionate to the city's growth. Civic amenities are woefully inadequate. Power and drinking water supply are erratic. Sewage and storm water drains badly need a makeover. Roads are chock-a-block with traffic through the day. Crime is on the rise. Terror shadow is lengthening. Doesn't the city need special care?

Lack of political will to think differently and initiate tough measures is one of the main causes for this state of affairs. Most often, political rivalry, one-upmanship and witch-hunting derail many projects. A government run by one political outfit deliberately scraps schemes initiated by its predecessor. Some keep playing the rural vs urban card, and, in the process, act as an impediment to the progress of both these areas.

Netas and babus keep visiting cities across the globe, at the cost of the exchequer, to study measures being taken for their upkeep. One has lost track of the number of visits they have made to cities like Shanghai and Singapore. They did come back enlightened. They even promised to implement what they saw and heard. Only to be forgotten, till another such fun trip arrived.

Proactive CMs have initiated measures from time to time. They encouraged private players to lend a helping hand. Made them sit with stakeholders to find solutions. The Bangalore Agenda Task Force (BATF) was one such initiative started during the S M Krishna regime. It did bring about a number of changes. Before it could put plans into action, Krishna's government fell. The BATF was scrapped by the next government, remote-controlled by Krishna's bete noire Deve Gowda. Now, Yeddyurappa seems to have revived BATF in a different form. ABIDe has some of the best minds working on measures to put the bang back into Bangalore. One just hopes it turns words into action.

We have no dearth of expertise. We have solutions to problems. We have go-getters who can implement them. What we lack is the will. If only our netas and babus work sincerely, our cities can match international standards.

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