As per UN, 34% of India’s population resides in urban areas now. Tokyo remains the world’s largest city, followed by New Delhi and Shanghai. Around 29 million inhabitants are living in the capital city of New Delhi. Today, sprawling urban hubs like New Delhi, Gurugram, Mumbai and others are facing severe pressure due to increased migratory population and ecological challenges like climate change and flash floods.

The challenge becomes critical for a city like Dehradun due to its placement in an eco-sensitive zone. The capital is facing a new challenge of adopting integrated and more resilient planning of infrastructure creation and balanced utilization of natural resources. Sustainable solid waste management, eco-friendly public transport system, covered drains are some major issues related to urban growth of the city. This calls for systemic reforms in the urban governance framework of Dehradun.

The newly elected city leadership (Mayor and Councillors) needs to understand the importance of having systemic and well-structured inputs and process for strengthening the outputs or outcomes. This is what even the ASICS report for Dehradun advocates for. ASICS is India’s only independent benchmarking of cities using a systemic framework. It evaluates India’s city-systems: the complex, mostly-invisible factors (such as laws, policies, institutions, institutional processes) that underpin urban governance and strongly influence the quality of life in India’s cities. It is an annual exercise carried out by Janaagraha, a not-for-profit based in Bengaluru working in the domain of urban governance.

Out of 23 cities that were ranked in 2018, Dehradun stood 21 with a score of 3.1 out of 10. Pune emerged as the top Indian city with a score of 5.1. Out of the four crucial parameters: Urban Planning & Design (2.4); Urban Capacities & Resources (3.3); Empowered & Legitimate Political Representation (4.8); and Transparency, Accountability & Participation (1.8) – Dehradun has scored the lowest (1.8) score in Transparency, Accountability & Participation.

Globally, it has been accepted that the growth of cities has to be inclusive, eco-friendly and citizen-centric. Dehradun is no different. Providing harbor to the young crowd and senior citizens, the city requires a robust framework for enhanced citizen engagement. It is absolutely necessary for the newly elected city leaders to establish a formal as well as an informal channel of communication with citizens. Surat, Indore and Pune remain the top examples to learn from.

Having a sustained and strengthened channel of communication will not only help in bridging the gap between the citizens and the government machinery but will also help in reducing the ‘trust deficit’ which the citizenry generally holds against the system and the vice-versa. Citizens should also understand that it is imperative to change their ‘complaining attitude’. Blaming and complaining won’t change the scenario but engaging actively and positively with the system will.

Apart from leveraging the power of Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp; ward meetings can be a good way to discuss the civic issues of a particular locality. Citizens should also start pushing for systemic urban reforms like asking for a stable and fixed tenureship for the municipal commissioner of the city, placing operational and financial information of development works in the public domain, creating working plans for financial and human resource management.

Until we start thinkingĀ and acting in this direction, our cities will continue to grow in a haphazard manner, affecting our quality of life and environment.

(Author is a Lead – Public Policy and Communications at SDC Foundation. He tweets at Writer_Rishabh)

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