In 2004, in the first flush of enthusiasm following the UPA’s unexpected victory in the Lok Sabha elections, the Government of India, for the first time in its history, created a separate Ministry for Panchayati Raj. This was done by carving this ministry out of the leviathan Ministry for Rural Development. An ardent supporter of the ideal of strengthening local governments, Mr. Mani Shankar Aiyar, was put in charge of the fledgling Ministry. Cynics might say that what was being handled reasonably competently by one Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Rural Development was being now shared with a rambling bureaucratic hierarchy comprising of a Secretary, two additional secretaries and three joint Secretaries, with all their attendant support systems and staff. Read more »
In my last blog, I suggested that making public transport completely free would be a good idea, though at first sight, this might seem irresponsible and amount to shallow political opportunism. Today let me take this issue as an example to illustrate what the making of public policy entails. Read more »
India might actually be lucky that its urban sprawls militate against the idea of strict zoning. We have, in our low rise, high density settlements, often unplanned, a system of mixed use of land by default. Our shopping areas are not vast malls the size of football fields located far from cities on freeways – at least not yet – they are a stones throw away from where we live. Many people live and work close together, particularly those engaged in small businesses and manufacturing businesses. True, rising pollution and environmental activism has resulted in stricter implementation of rules and laws that mandate the separation of some kinds of manufacturing activity away from residential areas, but these are not enough to amount to a regime of strict zoning. Read more »
Zoning and transportation planning are inextricably linked issues in urban planning. India’s spatial planning laws and policies have long since expressed a strong preference for zoning, under the lingering influence of Ebenezer Howard’s approach. These preferences were further reinforced with India’s initial experiments with the building of new, planned cities and expanding existing ones, post-independence. However, it stands to reason that the more one separates the places of work from the places of residence; the issue of transportation of large numbers of people back and forth becomes central to city planning. Read more »
Ebenezer Howard’s vision of garden cities comprised of a central residential area surrounded by places of work. He suggested that people could live in the centre of each garden city, in nice houses with gardens and then go to work in the factories and industries that would be located along the periphery. Around that, there would be green belts of farmland, which would insulate each garden city from the next. This way, he said, the benefits of rural and urban living would be abundantly available for residents. As soon as each garden city reached its population limit – 32000 people, he said, was appropriate – the next garden city, again based on a nucleus of residence and a cell space of commerce and industry bounded by a cell wall of green fields, could be built.
We curse the pollution, fret at the traffic jams, worry about the safety of our children, and rue the lack of reliable water and electricity supply, yet do not move out from our urban cages. The thought of moving to rural areas, or even smaller urban areas might cross our minds, but except for a few of us, we rarely make the actual move. Let’s face it; much as we might dislike living in cities, many of us, particularly those from the middle class, know that it is only here that we can surge ahead, in terms of wealth and career growth. While the pursuit of both might be questioned, from a practical standpoint, these are still prime drivers of ambition.
As I sat in my car, fuming at the delay, I reflected upon what had happened to my adopted home, Bangalore. I had first come to the city when I was sixteen years old, in the mid-seventies and was struck by its charm. Fourteen years later, Bangalore still was a beautiful place, but priced beyond my modest pocket. Read more »
My previous blogs had dwelt on the successes of the poverty eradication approach of Elapully and Nedumbassery Panchayats in Kerala. However, I had also questioned the completely local approach to poverty reduction and wondered whether that might succeed in all conditions.
The experience of Elapully Panchayat in Kerala, which tweaked the NREGA programme to ensure that scarce labour benefited both from agriculture and wage employment in the off- season, indicates that local governments can effectively implement anti-poverty programmes, finely tuned to the needs of their citizens. Kerala abounds with such examples.
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I ended last week’s blog with asking the question whether it might not be better to repackage NREGA into two parts, namely, a largely untied grant for infrastructure building to the Panchayats, and an unconditional cash transfer to the poor. The infrastructure building component would reduce the temptation for Panchayats to divert NREGA funds by preparing false attendance records. The cash transfer would be a simple substitute to the complex process of paying people wages for unskilled work, and enabling them to use that financial cushion for further progress, such as upgrading their skills and becoming more employable. Read more »