Why India’s urban governance is ailing?

Almost half of the northern India is reeling under heavy floods; southern states have suffered the worst drought; traffic and water clogging remains the foremost concerns for urban hubs like Gurugram and Delhi; India’s urban governance has been messed up! With rising population, migration (from rural areas to cities) and urbanisation, the existing infrastructure has been extremely stressed. In such a scenario, the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) of our nation needs a series of serious reforms.

In India, 377 million of India’s population live in urban areas as per 2011 Census. India being part of global trend towards increasing urbanisation, where half of the world’s population tends to live in cities, as cities hold the potential for economic social development leading to creation of job opportunities.[1] In India, Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) are considered to be the most essential agency for improving urban governance. The 74th Amendment to the Constitution of India in 1992 created hope for reform by recognising the institution of self government in the form of ULBs which included municipal corporation, municipal council and nagar panchayats. However the manner of election, tenure and power of members of these institutions were not prescribed.

Constitutional status to municipalities were also given by 74th Amendment and 18 functions were delegated via twelfth schedule which included the task of urban planning, economic and social development planning, ensuring public health and alleviation of urban poverty among others.[2]

Mr. Shashi Tharoor approach is worthy of appreciation where he brought private member’s bill asking for direct election and empowerment of the office, of mayors in large Indian cities.[3] He introduced the bill with proposal to amend the Constitution for strengthening local governments. This step for direct election and empowerment of mayors for all cities was necessary to be taken in order to strengthen the city level institutions.[4]

Source: Crisil 

BJP government in 2010 had introduced direct elections for mayor and deputy mayor in state of Himachal Pradesh, but the Congress government reversed the decision on direct elections for mayors of previous government. Same action was taken by BJP government in Rajasthan by scrapping the decision taken by the Congress regime.

There has been recent approval of proposal for direct election in Maharashtra of village sarpanch, the head of gram panchayat, who was earlier elected indirectly by elected representatives.[5]

Lack of direct elections for mayors accompanied with the short tenure of mayors in many states are the first barrier in strengthening of urban local bodies.

Ideally after so many years it is expected that 100% legislative devolution of the twelfth schedule functions to the ULBs across all the states should have been achieved via amendments to their respective municipal acts. But as per the graph below, truth is that only about 82% of the legislative devolution has taken place until now.

Source: Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM)[6], reform appraisal report, cycle 4[7]

As clearly visible in graph that by 2016, only 12 states have devolved the function to local bodies. Despite of availing the right to information, objective assessment of implementation across urban areas are extremely difficult due to unavailability of public data on implementation and information. On the basis of available data it can be said that transfer of functions are done partially.

If we resort to progress in urban development, only 70.6% of urban population have access to tap water supply and approx 32.7% to sewerage system as per 2011 census. In the transformation of urban areas, major hurdle is the restriction of effective power devolution to local government.[8]

 Challenges in Urban India:

Yet there is need to address the planned urban administration concept and supply and demand gaps in India esp. in the sectors such as water, waste and sanitation, quality and affordable health and education.[9]

City rejuvenation programme was launched for 100 cities, in order to improve physical, social, economic and governance infrastructure.[10] For further replication across the city, the government plans to develop lighthouse projects within each city’s compact areas.

Major challenges being faced are:

  • Lack of institution, infrastructure and fund
  • Limited autonomy
  • Lack of financial independence
  • Insufficient quality of education
  • Insufficient access
  • Inadequate public transport and many more.

Necessary steps to be taken for reform:

Since there has been reluctance on the part of states to devolve functions to local government, there is need to mandate the devolution of power under the Constitution.

To cater the need of urban areas there is need for up-gradation of technology by investing inflows to local city economies, complemented by reform in fundamental governance.

For governance, most crucial aspect is the greater local autonomy of the cities in India. It is the responsibility of government to ensure the effective transfer of essential services to the local governments and minimising of inter jurisdictional conflicts among the implementing agencies.

Author: Namrta

You can reach author at: namrta.9809@gmail.com

Namrta graduated from National Law Institute University, Bhopal. Currently, she is pursuing LLM from the same university. She works as a content writer for TA.


[1] http://moud.gov.in/cms/urban-reforms.php

[2] https://thewire.in/56022/smart-cities-to-succeed-need-to-strengthen-local-governance/

[3] http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/GuRd06nvS9vBBqq1IpV3vN/Towards-directly-elected-and-empowered-mayors.html



[6] Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), a centrally sponsored scheme for urban development launched in 2005, mandates a reforms process for urban local bodies (ULBs).

[7] Available at https://thewire.in/56022/smart-cities-to-succeed-need-to-strengthen-local-governance/

[8] http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=86918

[9] Reforms to Accelerate the Development of India’s Smart Cities – Shaping the Future of Urban Development & Services Initiative, April 2016.

[10] Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India. 2015. op. cit.

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