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Municipal Governance                              

Reports from a recent conference and heartening remarks on slums from Ajay Maken, Minister of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation

I recently attended an international conference on the Governance of Megacity Regions, hosted by the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) in Mumbai. The conference was organized around the findings of CPR’s recent study titled ‘Governance of India’s Megacities: Needed transformation’ and designed to facilitate discussions on critical issues faced in metropolitan regions in India and elsewhere. The conference was attended by researchers, academics, and government officials from the US, the UK, Indonesia, Canada, Singapore, Brazil, and South Africa, who shared their experiences of metropolitan governance in their countries. Each city discussed in the conference had unique problems but I discovered that the problems of fragmentation, ambiguity and conflict in jurisdictions between the various tiers/agencies of the government exist pretty much everywhere.

Most importantly for me, it was heartening to see the Minister of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation Ajay Maken spend so much time contributing to the discussion. He also took every opportunity to make the case for in situ development of slums. Arguing that slum dwellers make an important and under-recognized contribution to the economy of the city, he highlighted the problems with locating them outside the city. He also argued that to a slum dweller who has moved from the villages to the city looking for opportunities, the place of residence is of much less priority than the opportunities for decent livelihoods that are available only in the core city. In his vision, the city is an organic, symbiotic space that houses both service users and service providers from different classes side by side. Much of what Mr. Maken said resonated with the things that we at Transparent Chennai also believe.

Mr. Maken shared a number of policy strategies he felt were important for the Indian context. With specific reference to in-situ rehabilitation of slum dwellers, Mr. Maken felt that land use convertibility must be made easier by relaxing land use norms in various cities so that the needs of each unique city could be met. He said that density and FSI must be eased in order to increasing housing stock for the urban poor, especially in cities like Mumbai. Most importantly, he made a case of acknowledging the reality of city growth in India. Urban planning as it currently stands in India, does not accommodate informality, but he believed our planning instruments must be changed to include the informal organically into the city by better management of our resources.

His talks reinforced our belief that in the face of the Rajiv Awas Yojana, the climate is ripe for in situ development of slums. This is what TC has been pushing for in Chennai, especially since this city has a history of successful in-situ rehab under the World Bank funded MUDP and TNUDP projects. More to come on our efforts to make that happen here again!

Taller buildings in low-rise neighborhoods that have come up as a result of an increase in FSI.
Photo by: Nithya Raman.

Written by Priti Narayan, researcher, Transparent Chennai

Mapping Ward 5

On February 21st I made my first visit to the peripheries of Chennai. Agnes and I were there to collect spatial data of civic services in three areas of Ward 5 in Tiruvottiyur. We mapped surface garbage, construction debris, sewage on the streets, and dustbins. We also mapped the places water points, as well as public toilets (but there weren’t any public toilets in the areas we mapped).

It was quite difficult to map each and every trash on the street as there were a lot of streets but mostly because there were a lot of sorts of garbage on each street. Even just by going with a motorcycle to Tiruvottiyur, we could see so much trash everywhere, mostly near the sea – lying between the road and the sand. How could we map everything in a clear way so that the data can be used to explain all the issues faced by the city concerning waste, sewage and hygiene?

I felt that the situation was quite hopeless, until we arrived in a new neighborhood which was totally to the contrary. It was quite incredible for me when we arrived in this neighborhood: no trash could be seen anywhere in the road. Agnes explained me that in this particular neighborhood, the people created an association in charge of cleaning the streets, and financed it themselves. The difference with the other neighborhoods we saw was huge. Naively, I asked her if they were rich people. She replied that it used to be a slum, but not anymore because people built houses of brick and mortar. However they are still quite poor.

Two things are interesting in the conflicting visions of the same ward:

First, people really feel concerned about having a clean environment: as soon as they have enough money, they are ready to invest and pay for a service which is supposed to be offered by the government. It is a quite a positive discovery for me to see how Indian citizens are not only criticising what happens, but actually ready to act and fight for their rights and to improve their way of living.

The other is that if the situation gets so catastrophic that people decide to pay themselves to clean their streets, how could slum dwellers manage to live in a clean environment? How do they get the government to ensure cleanliness and to protect their health? Is the solution to create associations to clean the street or to work with Chennai Corporation to improve this service? People paying for a cleaning service of public streets could be a short term solution at most. It seems very important to work at the city level as so many NGOs already do right now to raise awareness and enhance public action concerning waste and sewage in the city.

In theory, ensuring cleanliness in the streets is supposed to be the way public services work in India. But why is the reality so different?

Written by Judith Sebo, intern at Transparent Chennai

The Informal City Dialogues: An intervention into the nascent discourse on the Solid Waste Management ‘crisis’ in Chennai

The word ‘crisis’ has been used widely over the last year or so to describe the garbage and solid waste management situation in Bangalore (Bengaluru), prompting promising legislative and social interventions.

It is fast becoming apparent that terms like crisis are equally applicable to the situation in Chennai. Most of the 4,500 plus tons of mixed garbage generated in the city daily have for years now ultimately ended up in one of two massive dumpsites: Kodangaiyur, to the north of the city and Perungudi, to the south. This system, which is confined to the functions of collect, transfer and dispose, has never been particularly efficient, whether executed wholly by the Chennai Corporation (which is responsible for solid waste management in the city) or by a series of private contractors hired by them. The most visible failure is the large amounts of garbage left uncollected daily in various parts of the city. The problem facing this system today however goes far beyond inefficiency: it is simply unsustainable, and it seems to have no future in a modern city.

This was brought into sharp relief a few days ago (Feb 10th) when a fire in the Kodangaiyur dump-yard, an all too common occurrence, had the local residents up in arms to such an extent that the Corporation Commissioner paid a personal visit to the dump the very next morning. The possibility of the closure of the dump and the certainty of stiff opposition from local residents and environmentalists in any proposed alternative dumpsites means that the authorities must be aware of the need for a re-think of Chennai’s solid waste management practices.

A fire at Kodangaiyur dmp

It is in this context that Transparent Chennai project in partnership with MIDS (Madras Institute for Development Studies) and GAIA (Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives) is starting its project on informal workers in the waste sector as a part of the Informal City Dialogues, a project commissioned by the Rockefeller Foundation as part of their centennial celebrations.

As the city authorities and eventually (with concerted effort) the city itself begin to re-think SWM practices and evolve new strategies to tackle waste and attendant issues, we believe it is crucially important that the informal sector and an understanding of its role and contribution be part of the current discussion and of any proposed way forward. Through workshops and meetings, this project hopes to develop a dialogue and interaction between informal waste-workers and the city at large that currently does not exist.

Thousands of people in the city draw their livelihoods from informal waste work. Their work is a social good – they divert recyclables out of the waste stream – but, unfortunately, the state currently views their work as criminal. This means that these groups are often persecuted and are highly marginalized. The integration of these informal waste workers, including waste pickers and itinerant waste buyers, into formal and legalized waste management structures is important not only because of social justice concerns. According to researchers Saskia Sassen in The Hindu, the informal sector is the most resilient and adaptable aspect of any city, and can help the city cope with change and shocks.

Many SWM experts argue that decentralized waste management, segregation at source, and the incorporation of the informal waste sector is the way to a sustainable SWM system in Chennai and other similar cities. This is the model that Pune and Bangalore are following in their recent reforms. However, there are some alternative solutions that are also in the fray. Perhaps the most important of these is the ‘Waste to Energy’ a.k.a. Refuse derived Fuel (RDF). The Waste to Energy concept is an attractive option to policy-makers as it requires minimal changes to existing governance mechanisms (i.e waste will still be collected and transported to a central location, where it will be processed instead of being landfilled), and because it seems to avoid the complex managerial problems that a decentralized system would entail.

Former waste-pickers at work in a DWC in Domlur, Bangalore

Such an answer to the waste management crisis would be technologically oriented and capital intensive, characteristic of the options favored by the government in the past. However, such technologies seem to be unsuitable to the Indian context: the low calorific value (less plastics, more organic waste) and mixed nature of the garbage in India would mean that the quality of both fuel and compost produced would be low. The concept also excludes the informal waste sector, meaning that many workers would be left without their source of livelihood, leading to impoverishment and conflict.

As Chennai begins to acknowledge and understand the SWM crisis, it is important that a broader and more nuanced dialogue about new models takes place, one that does not place the informal waste sector in opposition to the proposed solutions. We hope that we can kickstart such a dialogue through this process, a dialogue that acknowledges the contribution of the informal sector to existing waste management processes in the city, and includes waste workers in its vision for the future.

Written by Harsha Anantharaman, researcher at Transparent Chennai

My first impressions of the Corporation of Chennai

On our third day with Transparent Chennai, we got to see the Corporation of Chennai – the local government office. It was really interesting for us to have a glance of how local policies work here, as well as to see such an old colonial building which was constructed in 1913.

It seems that Transparent Chennai is quite welcome there, as they can meet a lot of officials, sometimes without any appointment. We did not understand how this administration works, and unfortunately we did not understand any of the conversation in Tamil. However, with the explanations of Transparent Chennai’s team, we got to see how complicated it gets to work on issues of municipal governance.

For example, we got to know how working on public toilets is complicated, as there are several departments concerned with this issue: the Buildings department, the Electrical department, the agency for waste, but also the Chennai Metro Water agency which answers to the state government and not to the Chennai Corporation, which complicates things even more. If we understood well, it seems that coordination between the different departments and offices is not so good. So Transparent Chennai tries to improve communication and information sharing between the departments, to improve efficiency on the field. It was really interesting to me to see how even collecting one piece of information is so difficult in the labyrinths of Chennai city policies.

We also attended a meeting with the Public Relation Officer who explained (in Tamil ) where the Corporation of Chennai stands in term of public toilets and water distribution. It was strange for me to be in an office like that and wait for the explanations because in France, we would have got it by e-mail or internet; it is more complicated there to have an appointment with a public officer. It was also interesting to see so much paper everywhere, because in the French administration we are used to seeing only computers. I am very curious to understand how the Corporation of Chennai really functions day to day.

While we there we also got to see school children rehearsing for the Republic Day at the Corporation Office. It was really funny for us to see all these dances and army parade. The funniest thing was to see children disguised in Gandhi and Nehru in order to retrace India’s history!

Written by Judith Sebo, intern at Transparent Chennai

Accountability and fiscal autonomy of municipal governments

I recently attended a conference on social accountability in municipal governance which brought together participants from different Asian countries including, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Vietnam. The discussions, that ranged from devolution of funds, functions and functionaries to citizen participation in urban governance, saw elected representatives and civil society organisations discuss different experiences in improving governance at the city-level. I was particularly impressed by the experiences of mayors of three cities: Madelaine Alfelor-Gazmen, Iriga City, the Phillipines, Vani Rao, Mayor, Municipal Corporation of Bilaspur, India, and Janaka Ranawaka, Mayor, Municipal Council of Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte, Sri Lanka.

Madelaine Alfelor-Gazmen is the mayor of Iriga City, the Phillipines – the first woman to be elected to that position in the history of the city. She is also the youngest to have occupied the office of mayor. Madelaine has fully computerised Iriga City’s local government records, made broadband internet free in all government libraries and museums, and promoted the use of internet technology by citizens to monitor the performance of the local government. Citizens’ opinion of local governance influences the government’s rating which influenced not only the city’s ability to borrow from commercial banks but also to win investment projects from the national government. Janaka Ranawaka has been able to move from a government-drawn budget to a more participatory one. Citizens are now able to determine spending of nearly 75% of the city’s budget! In contrast, Vani Rao faced several obstacles that prevented the local government of Bilaspur to function independent of the state government of Chhattisgarh. Vani had made an election promise to implement a gender budget but her efforts have been repeatedly shot down in the council. Instead, a budget prepared by the commissioner was implemented. Even as mayor of Bilaspur, Vani is forced to resort to the RTI Act to obtain data about and from the municipal corporation!

What was evident in all three cases was that the local government’s own resources determined the extent to which elected representatives could shape governance. In the Phillipines, local governments use all their own financial resources which are supplemented by investment grants from the national government. In the case of Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte, the municipality contributes 60% to its total budget with the national government’s share being 40%. However, in Bilaspur 100% of the city’s budget was at the disposal of the state government, with the local government having no control over even its own revenues. All three mayors intended to make their local governments
more responsive to their citizens, and each operated within a comparable political structure. Yet, the ability to control the city’s financial resources revealed the real extent to which the national and state governments have devolved powers for local planning and governance.

While the precise fiscal arrangements between different levels of government are country specific, it is widely recognised that the lack of financial resources is closely tied to poor fiscal autonomy, and that this affects the way local governments deliver public services. One universally accepted solution is to let local government be responsible for the delivery of public services as well as raising their own revenue. The Corporation of Chennai raises only one-third of its total budget, with an equal share received from central and state governments. The local government is responsible for municipal services that are instead provided by parastatal agencies that are accountable not to the Corporation of Chennai but to the state government of Tamil Nadu. Conversations with local residents, elected representatives and unelected officials all lay bare the disconnect between the local government, taxes collected and services received. Unless the link between spending and revenues is strengthened, accountability of the local government will remain at best tenuous.

Written by Satyarupa Shekhar, researcher, Transparent Chennai

The same old story: the fallout of the evictions at Zoo Maidanam

While the Ejipura evictions in Bengaluru were making headlines across the country, Chennai witnessed an eviction of its own. Around 150 families from the old Zoo Maidanam adjoining the Nehru Stadium have been shifted to Kannagi Nagar in preparation for the Asian Athletics Championship to be held in August 2013. In response to The Hindu’s report on the issue, the Chennai Corporation and the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board clarified that alternate housing had already been arranged for the displacees and that new ration cards will be issued within a week. The clarification also said that the transitioning of kids to nearby government schools has been facilitated and bus passes have been provided for the school-going children and adults of every family.

But a week since the evictions, the picture is still bleak. When I visited Kannagi Nagar, residents of Zoo Maidanam told me that around 48 evicted families are yet to be allotted houses in Kannagi Nagar, despite possessing necessary identification documents. Most people who have already moved to the resettlement colony are daily wage workers who have been unable to find work in the new neighbourhood, and have resorted to pawning their jewellery to pay for basic necessities.

The evictees were told that their new houses were free, but upon arrival, they were asked to pay Rs. 1,350 as downpayment. There were threatened that their homes would be seized if this amount is not paid within a week. As a result, people are wary of locking their homes and going to the city for work for fear of their houses being seized in the meanwhile. While the people are willing to pay EMIs towards owning their homes, they find the downpayment unaffordable, especially at a time when their livelihoods have been disrupted. “We ought to be paid monetary compensation because our homes were destroyed. Instead, after being displaced, we have been asked to pay so much money to live here,” a woman pointed out. The new evictees have been allotted tenements that were built at least five years ago, and they believe that the quality of construction is very poor.

In addition, contrary to the government’s claims, residents told me that bus passes have not been issued yet. Evictees say they are spending all their money on commuting to the city and back. Children, who were evicted during their school year, are facing the worst disruptions. Only the younger children have started to go to the government school in Kannagi Nagar while the older children continue to go to their schools in the old neighbourhood. But residents complained that many children have not even been recorded as needing bus passes, meaning they are paying large amounts of money to travel to their old schools, and that they will likely continue to pay.

People also highlighted the general problems in the resettlement colony faced by all residents: the lack of a government hospital in the vicinity, inadequate buses to the city, high commuting expenses and poor access to livelihoods.

The crippling effects of eviction are evident every single time it occurs, yet it is the government’s primary approach to dealing with slums in the city. Even in the face of a progressive opportunity like the Rajiv Awas Yojana[1], it is disheartening that there are around 30,000 tenements being built in Perumbakkam and many empty flats in Kannagi Nagar waiting to be occupied by evictees from the city.

[1]In 2009, the government announced a scheme for the urban poor called Rajiv Awas Yojana that aims to create slum-free cities by giving property rights to those living in notified and non-notified slums. The RAY emphasizes on in-situ slum development and community participation in planning.

Written by Priti Narayan, researcher at Transparent Chennai

Not deterred by unusable toilets

In a city where a large part of the population defecates in the open, there is an urgent need for sanitation facilities. Tamil Nadu is touted as a state that has built the largest number of toilets. Ironically, a government study found that 67.4% of the municipalities in the state did not meet the norm of 60 persons per public toilet seat.[1] In Chennai alone, one toilet seat was available for an average of 1,056 people in undeclared slums.

A Transparent Chennai study of public toilets in Chennai showed that many of them are non-functional. Some of them have been turned into storage spaces, shops and even telephone booths. Public toilets in the city slums are literally raising a stink. The filth from choked sewage lines makes life difficult not only for nearby residents but also for the municipal scavengers. Not only are the existing toilets not usable, they are also too few. Mullaima Nagar is a neighbourhood in ward 173 with a population of 3500 but only one public toilet.

Recently, the Corporation of Chennai announced that it would install 5000 new toilets across the city. It invited private corporate organisations to submit tenders for installing and maintaining prefabricated toilets but was forced to withdraw it when it did not receive a response. A fresh tender has not been re-issued and one can only wonder how much longer it will take the government to provide a basic service.

It is obvious that there is a dire need for public toilets and community toilets in slums and informal settlements. But is the solution to build or install more toilets? Is it not important to ensure that existing toilets are useable? While it is easy to contract services for civic amenities, it is important that the government pays attention to existing assets and services for the urban poor.

[1]Tamil Nadu Urban Sanitation Policy, February 2012

Written by Agnes Amala, researcher, Transparent Chennai

Zero hour

‘Zero hour’ is a one hour window where members of the Corporation council have a fixed time period to raise questions without prior notice to the mayor. Normally a councillor has to inform the council secretary of questions she/he wishes to ask the mayor. These questions are tabled before the council and addressed during Question hour.

The ‘zero hour’ brings an element of uncertainty and surprise to what would otherwise be a monotonous and pre-planned activity. Questions raised in this hour might come from any corner irrespective of the political party to which the member belongs. Unfortunately, today it has become a practice of the past. It no longer exists in the agenda of the councillor’s meetings in the present scenario.

Recently, some councillors demanded for the restoration of the zero hour but the suggestion was shot down by others who said that the zero hour was not mandatory and had been instituted by the previous mayor, and that the current government was not bound by the practices of the previous one. This is unfortunate because the zero hour could work as a brain storming session where all members of the council could deliberate about matters that were of current importance, which the question hour does not permit, without the boundaries of party positions and political posturing.

Written by Agnes Amala, Researcher, Transparent Chennai

Sitting on the bench- how citizens have been excluded from the conversation on accountability in Chennai’s waste management

Since October, our newly appointed officials in the Corporation of Chennai have been trying to work out how to remove all the garbage that now lines our streets, which is something that has become a major concern to residents in this city. Spearheaded by the Mayor, who has promised to take up ‘garbage clearance on a war footing’ (The Hindu, October 26, 2011) a whole slew of initiatives have been planned to deal with this problem. From new contractors with new systems of garbage collection, complaint redressal systems at the ward level, and technology driven top-down accountability mechanisms within the Corporation, there is no doubt that our corporators are trying to be proactive (The Hindu, January 27, 2012). However despite all these efforts, it is important to remember that this is a sector that has a long history of failed plans. Take for example the MSW (solid waste and handling) rules of 2000- while segregation has been mandated by these rules, even today garbage is still indiscriminately collected and dumped at Perungudi and Kodangaiyur, Chennai’s primary dumpyards (The New Indian Express, April 21 2011).

In such an environment, enforcement of rules and plans becomes the critical issue; and one way of engendering better enforcement is to focus on monitoring those responsible and holding them to account. However, while there are efforts being made to bring accountability into Chennai’s waste management architecture, our Corporation has failed to provide space to a key agent in bringing about this change- the citizen.

Looking at the current plan for better accountability, which talks about a 4 tier system for monitoring different facets of our municipal waste management (The Hindu, January 27, 2012), it becomes apparent that the role of the citizen in the oversight mechanism has been completely bypassed. The purview of accountability currently lies only within the various tiers of the Corporation as no effort has been made to provide for an interface that could disseminate the tremendous amount of potentially extremely useful data that will be generated through the accountability system into the public realm. Instead, citizens have to be content with the councilor grievance redressal system, which is comparatively quite feeble because apart from questions of it’s efficacy (after all complaining to our councilors is nothing new) it is not integrated into the more robust Corporation accountability mechanism and thus it cannot ensure that garbage on a street that has received a lot of complaints gets flagged inside the Rippon building.

This also ensures that the struggle for cleaner streets remains localized. After all, with no information on the overall quality of garbage collection in a ward or across wards, residents can only protest to the presence of garbage in their immediate environment, which impairs the ability of citizens and citizen groups to get together to demand for ward level improvements to garbage collection.

By undervaluing the role of the citizen, the current accountability mechanism created by the Chennai Corporation lacks the teeth to facilitate a tangible shift to more efficient and equitable service delivery practices in garbage collection. Currently, with not even the new routes and timings of garbage collection being made available in the public domain, our Corporation’s commitment to genuine accountability must be questioned.

Under these circumstances citizen generated maps that assess garbage infrastructure and service delivery in their ward or area can be a very useful tool to residents, as it can help make stronger and more informed demands to the government. The methodology that was used to collect information on garbage in Ward 176 during the ward accountability experiment is ideal for such a task.

To test how effective such maps can be, we are working with residents from the Kalakshethra Residents Welfare Association (KCRWA) who are eager to improve waste management in their area (around 14 streets- Map 1).

Map 1- Streets of interest to residents in KCRWA

These maps will contain routinely updated information on locations of surface garbage and debris found in their area as well as information on dumpsters that are either broken or overflowing. They will be available online and will also contain data about the kind of surface garbage found along with pictures. Residents from this area can monitor progress online as well as submit data, which will then be integrated into the online map. We are eager to see if this becomes a tool that residents find useful when dealing with their service providers and councilors.

Siddharth Hande

An evening with Professor K.C. Sivaramakrishnan

It is six years since the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission became official on Dec 3, 2005. These were expected to be the six defining years for India’s urban landscape. JNNURM gave rise to a million new hopes and desires. Its ‘one of a kind’ design coaxed people to believe that hopes would somehow be fulfilled in the next seven years when the program was to be rolled out in our rapidly urbanizing Indian cities. We are now entering the seventh year, and questions are being asked -Have hopes been fulfilled? Did JNNURM succeed in delivering its promises? Did the urban sector reforms lead to equitable, efficient, productive and responsive cities, as aimed by the $20 billion programme? Were reforms in accordance with the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992 which seeks to strengthen urban local bodies? Unfortunately, the answers to these questions are not so clear cut, as a talk I attended last week made clear.

Recently, Professor K.C. Sivaramakrishnan, a former IAS officer who served in the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority and is a member of the Technical Advisory Group of the JNNURM, talked about his new book –Re-visioning Indian Cities: The Urban Renewal Mission, at the Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai. I have to admit that I haven’t read the book yet, but the discussion was intriguing and left the audience thinking about key urban issues and concerns that have plagued the Indian economy for decades.

Sivaramakrishnan started his talk provocatively: “I have lived to see four decades of what one may want to call an urban mess,” he said. He had come to Chennai days after attending the sixth anniversary celebration of the JNNURM held at Vigyan Bhavan in Delhi along with city officials, state ministers and other key urban leaders. He told us that the awards ceremony encapsulated the progress of the JNNURM so far. The JNNURM has had some positive impact: it has prompted people to engage with the urban agenda as never before in Indian history.  Awards were presented at the ceremony to cities whose success stories in providing better services would not have been widely recognized without such a program, like a town in Tripura which successfully implemented 24X7 water. Many more buses are on the roads thanks to the NURM, an objective that was not even part of the original program.

But Sivaramakrishnan cautioned that it was not clear that the program had achieved its ambitious objectives. The program promised to be different, but he argued that the JNNURM was put together like any other centrally sponsored scheme, with all the attendant problems. The concept that ‘better performing cities should get more money’ was shot down by the Planning Commission. Most importantly, he pointed out that the program’s stated commitment to empowering Urban Local Bodies was immediately derailed by treating the para-statals (which are controlled by the state governments) as the same as ULB’s.

According to him, state governments have always undermined and assaulted the capabilities and powers of the municipalities, and that the JNNURM did not change this trend. He argued that “[t]he tendency of the state government to say municipalities are useless has to change. Because of this tendency, parastatals were created. There has been no serious attempt to decentralize in spite of the 73rd and 74th Amendment.”

The floor was then opened to the audience for questions. I must confess that I couldn’t contain my excitement at this stage because I anticipated some seriously controversial questions. Mr. SP Ambrose, a retired IAS officer, Managing Editor of our very own Adyar Times, and also a government servant for many years, did not disappoint me. He asked whether the JNNURM had led to better cities or contributed further to the urban mess. He also asked if JNNURM had done very well in some cities, examples which can be highlighted and replicated in other cities.

To this, the professor immediately said:“Some cities have definitely done well in the last decade but I cannot directly link it with JNNURM’s effectiveness. Cities that have done well, like Surat, did well even before the introduction of JNNURM. This is because of a fairly robust arrangement between the local and state political set up.”

Prof. Sivaramakrishnan also highlighted the impact of the bus component of the JNNURM in cities. “When the BRT was introduced in Delhi, 90 per cent of the car owners said that it was a dreadful concept to have bus lines. 90 per cent of the bus owners and users said this was a wonderful concept. So, one can see the intensity of conflict of interest not only between various levels in the bureaucracy, but also between the different socio-economic groups.” In this case, the JNNURM intensified conflict between these classes, but perhaps such conflict will push cities to make decisions about how to more equitably allocate public spaces like roads.

When the audience further prodded him to comment on the effectiveness of the programme, and why his book refuses to give an overall picture of the efficacy of the programme, he highlighted the lack of adequate data on change. He continued: “Let me tell you about the mid-term evaluation of this programme. Assessment of the projects has just been a box-ticking exercise … There has been no determined effort to break away from patterns.”

Prof. Sivaramakrishnan ended by thanking the audience for taking out precious time away from the kachheri season in Chennai. He closed the evening by saying that one book always gives way to another, and that he is confident that he will be back next year talking about his new book.

Verdict: Grab this book if you are interested in learning more about the JNNURM from the perspective of an insider!

Somya Sethuraman