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Praja Foundation

Article image Date: 26th April 2023: Praja Foundation released the 'Urban Governance Provisional Report on Key Findings from North-Eastern States' at Guwahati, Assam. The Pan-India study on Urban Governance was initiated to build a network that will be leveraged as a platform for knowledge sharing, capacity building, mobilising stakeholders and advocating for policy reforms. This study has now been completed in the North Eastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura. "Local governments possess a better understanding of the problems and requirements of their citizens. Hence, they are the most suitable to formulate policies, make decisions and execute projects. As seen in the case for few municipal services like solid waste management, water supply and sanitation, when city governments are the main agency involved in delivery of services, there is both innovation and effective delivery. But in the present governance structure, the devolution of powers and functions remain far from what was stipulated. State Governments may not have given total control because of various reasons, such as challenges due to change in management, questions of power and where decision-making control resides", said Nitai Mehta, Managing Trustee, Praja Foundation. The report is based on four themes of Praja’s framework on urban governance for the empowerment of city government – (i) Control and execution of functions and functionaries; (ii) Empowered and accountable elected representatives; (iii) Fiscal decentralisation and (iv) Active citizen participation. Furthermore, the report also attempts to analyse few additional governance issues like a) Women, Children, Elderly and Vulnerability Communities, b) Sustainable Development Goals and c) Climate change, adaptation and mitigation. Multiple stakeholder interviews were conducted to validate the data and understand key insights on the parameters. Overall, total 225 interviews were carried out with key stakeholders including elected representatives, government officials, and civil society experts from 8 states in North-East India. "As per the Seventh Schedule of the Indian Constitution, Local Governments fall under the State List. Therefore, the empowerment and structure of the local governments vary from State to State. However, when it comes to the present governance structure in India, city governments act merely as an institution for service delivery. Today, the City Governments must approach the State Government in matters of approving budget, recruitment of human resources, raising financial resources and passing rules and regulations related to the functions of the City Government. The City Governments need to be given independent decision-making authority while also ensuring that they are accountable to the citizens", said Milind Mhaske, CEO, Praja Foundation. The North-East Regional Consultation is a part of Praja’s Urban Governance Index (UGI) 2.0 study. The study has detailed out the responses of each state to the parameters focussing on the themes to empower city governments. As the third tier of government in the Indian governance system, the city government should have complete authority to carry out all 18 functions and other locally important functions which affect the day- to-day lives of people. City residents expect the Mayor to solve existing issues in the city. Despite being an elected representative and the first citizen of the city, a mayor lacks administration powers and only has a ceremonial role in the functioning of the municipal corporation. Moreover, the tenure of the Mayoral post should be co-terminus with the term of the municipal corporation. A stable tenure will enable mayors to take decisions with long- term vision. The city government and local elected representatives i.e. the Mayor and councillors are closest to the citizens and know their needs and demands. However, they are not empowered with decision making powers. Recognising the dire need for urban governance reforms, given the direction our cities are headed in the country, the elected representatives and administration of our city governments need to be empowered and strengthened for effective deliberation. During the consultation, Tamme Phassang, Mayor of Itanagar states that "Why people are coming to stay in urban areas? It is for Good roads, education, health and several amenities. The finance (funds) of the Municipal Corporation needs to be improved if we want to effectively provide these services. Multiplicity of authorities causes difficulties to plan and implement the best approaches to enhance service delivery and development of the city" The city governments hold the responsibility to deliver services to the residents thus, it is necessary to strengthen and study their financial mechanisms. The accountability of the city governments can be effectively ensured and necessary policy reforms can be initiated if financial data of city governments are available in the public domain. "The first real issue we are facing is our lack of skills and expertise in financial management. There is a lack of effective deliberations too in budget making process. There is a need of proper financial training for ERs or Admin involved in budget process", discussed Muhammad Sajad P, Additional Municipal Commissioner, Agartala Municipal Corporation.

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