However, much remains to be desired of all other departments. Gurgaon residents' dissatisfaction with the state of infrastructure and level of mis-governance can be judged by the number of litigations filed by them in the District and High Courts against departments like HUDA and Department of Town and Country Planning.
The government’s attitude towards those who are raising voices against the apathy of State Government authorities can be summed by this recent shocking and insensitive outburst as reported in the media, from Principal Secretary, Town and Country Planning.
He said - “Most of the litigants are retired CEOs of companies, Army generals and bureaucrats, who have no work and fat pensions to pursue litigation. They have seen the best of places in the world and after investing in a 4-5 crore apartment they have the same fancy ideas and expect facilities like those in New York in Gurgaon. Ordinary people are happy with Gurgaon’s basic amenities.” I don’t know if there can be a better example of ‘ Ulta chor kotwal ko dante’.
Water shortage, poor sewage disposal and public transport – a lot has been said about these issues, lot of expert opinion on solutions have been doing the rounds. Apart from small incremental improvements in these areas, these issues continue to haunt us.
But instead of the MICRO let's take a MACRO view and bring to focus two fundamental aspects of change that are required in Gurgaon:
First and the most crucial aspect is ‘Governance of Gurgaon’
“Who is in-charge of Gurgaon?’ is a question that could qualify for Kaun Banega Crorepati. This is a million-dollar question because the governance structure of Gurgaon is broken. Overbearing and overriding role of state government is robing Gurgaon of any autonomy in deciding its own future. Gurgaon generates its own funds through various taxes and duties. This amount is actually much more than it is allowed to keep or even needs. However, the biggest irony is, that even for the funds that Gurgaon is allowed to keep i.e. the funds of Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon, the Municipal Commissioner or Municipal Councilors including the City Mayor have very little say in utilizing these funds.
The governance of Gurgaon, represented by its 35 Councilors and Commissioner, cannot design or execute any project worth more than 1 crore. That is the limit that has been imposed by State Government on the City Government. To give some perspective to this amount, 1 crore can get you just about one 1 km of road. Decisions on how to spend MCG funds are being made by people sitting in Chandigarh who are not affected by what is happening in the city or even fully know what the city needs. Such a Governance structure not only considerably adds to red tape, slows down the planning and execution process but also thwarts innovation and change.
In our federal structure we need state governments because the whole of India cannot be governed by the Government at the Centre. By that same logic we need empowered city governments because State Governments cannot effectively manage all their cities. It’s not like Gurgaon is alone in this boat. Though, Gurgaon probably has the tightest noose like grip around it by its state government. It is a fact that Mumbai, Bangalore, Jaipur or Pune all have some version of centralized governance. Which is why, our cities suffer from common issues and have the same gloomy future.
In contrast, cities across the world are governed by an empowered political leader that is the City Mayor. It is true of New York, London, Philadelphia, Shanghai or any other successful big city. The City Mayor is directly responsible to the people of the city. Even China has senior political leaders who are mayors of cities such as Shanghai, Beijing and Chongqing. The empowered city mayor in turn has a strong administrative system below him/her.
Indian cities are headed by municipal commissioner who is a bureaucrat and not an elected representative, who stays for two-three years and his pay or career are not affected by the city’s performance. The mayor, even though is an elected representative and thus accountable to the people of the city, is just a figurative position who is neither in control nor has much say in framing policy, urban planning or utilization of budget.
Empowering the Mayor and thus fixing the accountability to him/her is crucial for Gurgaon to solve its crises such as water, power, traffic, public transport, infrastructure, and parking, etc. Having said the above, we too are responsible for the apathetic attitude of the state government. With 18 per cent turnout on voting day, how can we expect our voice to be heard. So, let us resolve to strengthen our democratic influence and make our city count in the political set up.
The Second Aspect I would like to highlight is Planning
When Gurgaon was being developed, did anyone think about where the water for residents in tall buildings and big bungalows would come from, and where the waste generated by them would go? Now they exist and answers have to be found.
When Gurgaon was being developed and licenses to build tall commercial complexes were being given, did anyone think of where people coming to work in these buildings would park their vehicles. Now they exist and parking has to be found. Fixing issues that have arisen because Gurgaon was not planned, needless to say, is expensive, time consuming and sometimes out right impossible. How can we fix the parking problem if no land has been left for parking? How can we have broader roads when these have not been planned? Where can we get natural drains of rain water when we have filled the ponds and nallas and built buildings on them. Of course, greed and short term vision leave no scope for planning.
As example of planning let me talk about just two types of planning here:
First Transportation Planning
Transportation Planning is a crucial aspect of urban planning. What are we doing these days in Gurgaon – Oh! there is a bottleneck, so let’s build a flyover here. We might provide temporary relief, but the base issue will remain. London has a scientific transportation plan called London’s Transportation 2025 Plan. So do all big cities. They look at the projected population and calculate how many trips will take place on the road, how many of these will be in peak hours, what’s the best mix – public transportation vs private and what is the per capita investment required.
Second example is Low Income Housing Planning
Low income housing planning is another important aspect. We must provide enough land and cross subsidization to build low-income housing. Migrant labourers, domestic help and industrial workers who constitute Gurgaon’s poor need cheap housing. If we don’t accommodate such housing in Gurgaon then unauthorized colonies, illegal construction and slums will continue to expand.
While some of these planning opportunities are lost to the current Gurgaon, and we will have to find post-facto fixes to our issues. But we still have an opportunity to learn from the previous mistakes and do a better job at planning the expansion of Gurgaon. With all the forecasted economic growth and ensuing population growth, there might be a case for the 50 odd new sectors that are being developed, but we can at least salvage these by asking some of the basic questions of how some of the essential needs of these sectors would be met. And unless we do this planning now, we might be still be complaining an discussing the same issues 10 years down the line.