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City-states as viable alternatives

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If Bangalore, 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. We remember the likes of IT icon Narayana Murthy having spoken on similar lines. Such out-ofthe-box ideas sometimes help in finding viable solutions.

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-ofthe-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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Besides the above, being at one corner of the state, it is not serving the function of being the state capital effectively either. As such, why not carve out Bangalore as a separate city state, and have a more central city like Shimoga as the capital of Karnataka?

Muralidhar Rao


murali772's picture

benefit of less government too

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A small party with a focus on, say, urban government only, could easily claim a clear position for itself intent on limiting the size of government in specific ways for specific goals.

If any of our mega-cities were to turn into a city-state, then too the politics of limited government might emerge.

Would that be a good thing for India? We'll leave that question to you, for the moment?

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Muralidhar Rao

Muralidhar Rao
silkboard's picture

city-state idea - needs more thought

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BTW, whether endorse city state or a separate 'capital region' like concept or not (Tarle and I discussed this here late last year), moving Karnataka's capital to a central, or even better, a coastal town (to kick start the trade gateway and tourism driven coastal economy) would be a welcome first step. Thats would be a bold step for developing tier2 cities.

My vote was for Kundapura, I was half serious there, though the post was made on an April fools day.

Its a bit surprising to read a one-sided take on BATF and ABIDe by Mr Balram. On one hand, he is talking about a local democratic setup like City state, but in the same article, he is batting for BATF and ABIDe. Those two things can't co-exist. Actually, in all fairness, BATF etc are measures to work around the absence of solid local governance institutions. BTW, Mr Balram, if you have problem with Yeddy Gowda politicking, that won't go away with city states, just look at percentage of urban poor and low-middle class in city's population.

Actually, any idea, that works around existing problems without really analyzing as to why the current setup is not working - I don't like them. Its probably an Indian trait - we give up too easily. The real problem of Bangalore is weak and ineffective BBMP - why have we given up on making this organization work? Kasturi Rangan committee is at least trying to work on the Municipality idea itself to make it better and more representative. But the city state concept, I am not sure.

Whats the cut off point here - state capitals? by population? Why should Hubli or Mangalore not be candidates for city state status, those cities are in much worse situation than Bangalore. Want proof? Just ask businesses and professionals who'd rather be at Bangalore than go to those cities.

Powerful city states would probably add to the non-inclusive growth, or the divide everyone talks about in these days of 8-9% growth. States of today don't have to be content playing sub-urbs to powerful cities they have helped create. The focus of any such administrative reform should rather be on making local governance work at all levels and sizes - city, village or metros.

Naveen's picture

Cities should be managed with autonomy

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Singapore is a city state with perhaps no parallel in the world, except for maybe Vatican. Hence, it cannot be compared with large nations with multiple cities /towns & diversities such as India or China.

China's ruling system is autocratic. To overcome this, & also to provide sheen to their cities, they have realigned their system to conform with such aspirations. Further, the existense of an autonomous Hong kong since it's hand over by Britain in 1997 may have influenced such thinking. Anyway, the Chinese boom towns - several of them now, apart from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou & Tianjin are prospering with excellent management & very good systems, competing with Japanese, European or American cities.

All that is needed by the governments here is to provide more autonomy to cities - & allow them to function independently under the mayor without interference. Part of the finances & tax revenues collected by the city could go to the state, but a substantial percentage will require to be reatined for the city's upkeep & improvements.

Creating many more city states might complicate things & increase the divide between urban & rural peoples.

srkulhalli's picture

Citi state - navi mumbai as example

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We dont have to look far. Navi Mumbai in India is a successfull example about what having a single agency plan and develop the city (in this case CIDCO) can do. It isnt rocket science and we have enough capable engineers to do it, if they are given a free hand. Thanks to asj for pointing this out (readup navi mumbai in wiki). Rated one of the best cities of the world by National geographic.



asj's picture

Is Delhi not a city-state?

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Is Delhi not a city-state? What good has come out of it? Ultimately a city is as good as the people that make it up (includes citizens and quality of leadership). ASJ comment guidelines

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