The role of elected representatives in ULBs will decide the fate of the New Urban Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Abhishek Pandey, Editor of Urban Update, interviews Chandigarh Mayor Davesh Moudgil and speaks on various aspects of urban governance including the powers of mayors, the impact of 74th Constitutional Amendment Act (CAA) and the corrective reforms required to strengthen urban governance eco-system. Excerpts from the interview…
The 74th CAA provided more powers to elected representatives in municipal governments. Are those powers adequate, or do mayors still feel the administrative and financial powers are still not enough to bring about a change?
25 years have passed since the 74th Amendment of the Constitution. I think the idea of the Amendment was how to strengthen urban local bodies. This is my personal opinion that mayors still do not have enough powers. There are many discrepancies. In some cities, election of mayors is direct and in some places, it is indirect. In many states, the right to write Annual Confidential Report (ACR) of municipal officials is with mayors while in Chandigarh and many other cities, it is not so.
The most important thing is the tenure of mayors. The tenure of a mayor is only one year in a city like Chandigarh. There are many cities which have mayoral tenure of five years. They should get adequate time to deliver what they promised to the people. One year is too short a time to execute any concrete development work. I think it’s a joke that a person is given one year to develop a city and to solve the city’s problems. As you are talking about funds and financial powers, when it comes to large scale projects, we seek assistance of central and state governments. If the governments really want to strengthen urban local bodies, the election of mayors should be direct, tenure should be at least five years and as per the recommendations of many finance commissions, states should share revenue with corporations.
The mayoral system in the country is not uniform. Why is there no voice from the mayors’ fraternity to bring corrective reforms in the system so that elected representatives can deliver desired results?
All India Mayor Council is already there. I haven’t heard of any meeting of the Council since I became the mayor. I’ll raise my concern over two main issues. First, mayors should be elected directly by citizens so that his/her accountability is fixed towards people. Second, people believe that the person they have elected will bring about changes but one year tenure is not enough to do so, s/he should be given adequate time to deliver and perform.In existing system in Chandigarh, as soon as a person is elected, he starts packing his stuff to leave the position.The political pressure is such that in one year of tenure, his last two months go inpreparing for the next election. In my opinion, local networking with citizens can be managed better by mayors rather than any other governing authority. The election of mayors should be direct and they should have five-year tenure for adequately implementing their plans for improving civic amenities in a city.
For example, look at the mayor of London or Washington. If they announce on radio that a particular road is closed on a particular day then the road will be closed even for the President of the country. But mayors in India are still struggling for their basic rights. The important question is if the mayor himself is struggling for power then who will deliver and perform.
You just compared Paris and Chandigarh. But in Paris when pollution level arises, the mayor declared that public transport would be free for all until the pollution level came down. Do our mayors enjoy such powers? Do you think the mayors should haveadequate powers in areas such as public transport, pollution control and local development projects so that cities can be
And, one more thing, Union governments have started many urban transformation schemes such as Smart Cities Mission and AMRUT. It is a general feeling that these schemes, particularly Smart Cities Missionhas taken away the powers of mayors, what is your opinion?
When a mayor in the cities of the developed world announces something, people and authorities respect it. Mayor is known as the father of city. But in India, take the example of Chandigarh, there are many departments which are not under Municipal Corporation.Transport department is not under corporation so mayors cannot take such decisions. Education and primary health departments are with the corporation but we don’t have enough rights. We just maintain the buildings.
Mayors can’t even write ACR of municipal officials. The point is if a mayor has no powers to make changes in the system for betterment of society, he cannot work.
Second, you mentioned Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) that is created under Smart Cities Mission has neglected the elected representatives. Even the mayors of cities are not part of it. Though, we are working for Smart City Mission and trying to make PM Modi’s dream come true but until people’s representatives are not in the system, there will no control over the manner of its functioning.
If you talk in context of Chandigarh, a war for supremacy is going on. Who has the upper hand – is it the mayor or the commissioner? On first position general house is there which is mayor who talks about policies and planning, second is Finance and Contract Committee, and at third position is commissioner who is there to implement the schemes and policies. So in my opinion elected representatives should be given enough powers if you want to improve the democratic structure.In the end, I would like to say that a city plan and policy framework should be created with the partnership of local residents. I have implemented projects with public participation and this ensures their responsibility and accountability towards public property. If we talk about government property, people neglect it, they think it’s their right to destroy it. But when people’s input is there in any project then they get attached to it emotionally.
In Chandigarh, the planning department is not under Corporation. If a junior engineer develops a project of a city then he would build a city of concrete. He will not think about the rights of pedestrians and cyclists. The planning department should be under Municipal Corporation or at least they should work with Municipal Corporation. If the role of mayors and councilors is limited to cleaning of city streets and maintenance of parks and gardens, it will be unfair to people who have elected their representatives to run the cities.
Chandigarh is known for its cycle and pedestrian-friendly streets. It is also the first planned city of India. What is so special about Chandigarh and what are your future plans for the city?
People of Chandigarh are aware, well-educated and sensitive towards the city. Chandigarh is also known as ‘pampered city’.There is people’s involvement in city affairs. Pedestrians and cyclists get due respect on the streets of our city. There is a large population whichtravels on foot and uses cycles. There are over 1800 parks of varying sizes between 6 acres and 14 acres. Almost all of them have walking tracks. Public participation in maintaining these amenities is also high in our city.
There are three type of networks in Chandigarh and these arequite strong. There are Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs), Market Welfare Associations, and religious associations.Apart from these large networks, there is also a senior people’s association which consist of people who are the retired professionals who come up and share expertise for the city’s development. We provide them a platform of participation, we try to formulate schemes and policies with their consultation.
What do you think about your plan for Chandigarh City? What improvements you want to see during your tenure?
Chandigarh was the dream city of Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru and at present Prime Minister Modi’s dream Smart City. We need to balance these two visions. Chandigarh didn’t have any culture of its own. It was a new city and people from various parts having diverse culture came here and settled. A city where so many people from such diverse backgrounds, cultures came together to live, it is difficult to take them in one direction.
It’s been like 50-60 years since Chandigarh City came into existence and gradually, it has developedits own culture. Those who are born in the city start to feel like it is their own. Chandigarh has evolved as a city where people want to settle. World Heritage status has been given to us because Le Corbusier who was a French architect created a zone of Chandigarh that is known as Phase One like that of Lutyen’s Delhi in our National Capital, so we are trying to maintain it.
Open Hand Monument that is an identity of Chandigarh, Raj Bhawan, Vidhansabha, and UT Secretariat are those buildings which have been given status of heritage site. Public participation forums are instrumental in success of many of our projects because when people are engaged in the development of a city then they start to feel like it is their own and start to respect it. I am sure if the planning and architect department is under the corporation and the tenure of mayor is increased then city will prosper further.
The world is also discussing the Sustainable Development Goals and New Urban Agenda. What would be the contributions of mayors in achieving the objectives of these international agendas?
See 17 goals have been decided, and we have to work upon them and implement them. Bureaucracy should work as per rules and regulations. If I say in context of mayor, as the tenure is of one year only, so before going we inform the new mayor that this much work have been done, and you should look after its future development. Every person has different caliber to do a certain workso one person does work according to his/her caliber and potential.
Chandigarh is committed to achieve the 17 SDGs. We have already achieved some of these goals and we won’t face much problem. We are totally clear to achieve the objectives under the SDGs and New Urban Agenda. There is also misconception about the idea of smart cities. Smart cities does not mean that we need to facelift cities’ aesthetics, but these cities should be able to provide basic civic services to their citizens. They should be provided with clean air, clean water, clean ambience, etc.
Today, we talk about 3R—Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Why is it needed? The reason is that we have forgotten our roots and culture. I’ll wrap up this interview with one example that we use to hang jute bags behind our doors earlier, and whenever we went shopping we picked them before going out for shopping.
But today plastic waste is a big menace.You tell me, where are the jute bags at homes? Who wants to keep them? We are also talking about back to basics. We have to understand our culture, we can’t ignore it. We have to make a correlation of our core culture and objectives under New Urban Agenda and club them together to build our cities rather emphasizing only on policies under new agenda.
Thank you so much for talking to Urban Update. We would also like to know about your experience in this South Asian Cities Summit; we would also like to take your suggestion regarding this event, sessions, speakers, etc. What could be the role of the South Asian Mayors Forum in making urban development sustainable?
I have attended the two-day event. I think the sessions were good and relevant but the level of participation should be increased. You have called so many mayors to share their experiences and their thought process, some interactive mayor to mayor sessions should be organized for idea exchange purpose so that the mayors can discuss and share their problems with each other. I would like to congratulate AIILSG for organizing the South Asian City Summit and propelling dialogues for building future cities.