Raghav Chandra

I.A.S 1982 batch

 chandraraghav007@gmail.com
Articles

Connecting India: It’s Still a Long, Bumpy Road Ahead : The Economic Times
Issues in tribal governance : The Economic Times
Lokpal is not an End in Itself : The Economic Times
Wildlife thriller with a twist : www.gfilesindia.com
Rebuilding India’s Steel Frame Modern management practices must be employed to rejuvenate our civil services

Raghav Chandra
At perhaps no time in recent history has the need to deliberate on civil service motivation arisen so urgently as now. The alarming Khemka case of 43 transfers in 21 years, the surge in criminal cases registered against civil servants and their sense of helplessness in dealing with societal shortcomings highlight the gravity of the situation. That the report of the Administrative Reforms Commission is going to be shortly considered at the highest level adds relevance to this.

The general refrain today is that the civil service has lost its steel-frame sheen because it has become malleable and ductile. Consequently, the current advocacy in this regard is more vigilance oriented, and partially ignores the immense sensitivity and magnitude of their work and the complexities of their work environment. Clearly, new and innovative management techniques are required to deal with the problem at hand.

While training and skill development can help to promote an adequate response to routine professional issues, a lot more is required to deal with dynamic problems involving divergent interests and the multitude of stakeholders. Often, the civil servant has nobody to discuss his situation with; trying to find the right balance between what is legally correct and what is desired by superiors involves shrewd judgment.

Either path is fraught with risk, for unlike the corporate world, the objectives of the superiors in the managerial hierarchy are not necessarily aligned with the goals of the shareholder, read public interest. Often, young civil servants get carried away either in exuberance or in expediency only because they do not have time-tested templates to guide and absolve them when they are confronted with such dilemmas.

In the Indian context, it may be useful to institutionalise a system of mentoring of civil servants. Distinguished retired officers with a reputation of being able to communicate paternalistically and yet forcefully

with civil servants as well as the ability to set up a dialogue between the various executive levels can be selected for such a role. Officers will receive guidance and support in dealing with tricky situations that they encounter and recalcitrant ones will be encouraged to fall in line. To extract their best efforts, these mentors should be appropriately paid for their services. And mentor-officer dialogue should be strictly off the record; this will facilitate free discourse.

Developing a suitable institutional memory to guide civil servants in their actions would be very helpful. The current methodology of the National Academy of Administration which is largely theoretical should be made case-based. Case studies should cover all facets of situations faced by civil servants – for example, recriminations in the 2G case, the Adarsh case, the NHRM case – so that their role can be assessed from different angles.

Different perspectives can be developed on what was correct and what went wrong, how different results could have been achieved had different courses of action been adopted. Harvard Business School teaching is entirely case-based, and while there are no conclusive answers as to what strategy was the perfect one, a thorough analysis of a case generates a high level of debate. It also throws up diverse approaches which are beyond what any textbook can prescribe for managers in the real world.

Encouraging team-building and project-mode working can lead to greater efficiencies in delivery. Team-building would be an antidote to the current hierarchical approach to problem-solving, which is antiquated because it does not encourage effective communication and goes against the modern ideal of flatter decision-making. As matters stand, postings and transfers are not based on expertise but require approval by the political executive. This discourages teambuilding and fosters cronyism, given that senior civil servants are expected to take cold calls and then explain their competence to unknown political superiors.

The potential of civil servants has been undermined by keeping them out of the ambit of PSUs which are sitting on huge resources and have the potential for becoming even bigger global players. It is imperative today to steer them to invest more in infrastructure as part of the overall process of nation-building. Currently, the managerial pool available within the PSU community is limited and lacks diversity and dynamism. Allowing civil servants to join them at the highest managerial level on deputation basis, rather than permanent absorption basis, will lead to a wider choice of candidates as well as enhance competitive advantage.

Another way of preserving institutional memory and ensuring that civil servants do not hanker after post-retirement sinecures even while they are serving is to create administrative think tanks. The stipulation would be that as Fellows, within the first six months they would have to prepare a report on the area of their expertise and submit it to the government. After six months, the use of space would be extended only upon the Fellow securing a consultancy assignment from any department through a formal application process; no extra emoluments would be given to him, other than TA/DA in case travel is necessitated.

Modern management theory recognises that employee motivation is not just about pay and emoluments (extrinsic motivation) but as much about praise and respect. Add a congenial working environment and you have an intrinsically motivated civil service – productive, efficient and an enabler for good governance.
The writer is additional secretary, ministry of road and surface transport.

Issues in tribal governance : The Economic times

Raghav Chandra, Sep 4, 2010, 05.08am IST
The Fifth Schedule of our Constitution prescribes how to administer scheduled areas and scheduled tribes. There is a provision to set up a Tribes Advisory Council (TAC) and the governor has sweeping powers to make regulations for the peace and good governance of any scheduled area, prohibit the transfer of tribal land and regulate the business of money lenders. The governor may, after consulting the TAC, recommend to the President repealing or amendment of any law made by the Centre of the state as applicable to ascheduled area.

Another provision in Articles 243M envisages a special dispensation for scheduled tribes. Thereby, normal devolutions of Panchayati Raj brought about by the 73rd Constitutional Amendment are also held in abeyance for the scheduled areas, "Nothing in this Part shall apply to the scheduled areas."

While the 73rd Constitutional Amendment mandates elections to panchayats in five years, in the case of scheduled areas, it is envisaged that government will give due consideration to the special needs of the tribal areas and mandate a unique methodology for their development . "Parliament may, by law, extend the provisions of this Part to the scheduled areas and the tribal areas subject to such exceptions and modifications as may be specified in such law..."

Such unique dispensation could mandate that no non-tribal can work in tribal areas, extract minerals or take away tribal land. As regards panchayats in the scheduled areas, eligibility for council membership and for heading a gram sabhacould be restricted to membership of a tribe, a tribal could be spared electoral disqualification for minor offences under laws relating to excise/forest, tribal local bodies could be vested with powers to validate relief and rehabilitation measures as well as to impose octroi/export tax/cess on mining royalties/minor forest produce and so on.

The Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, better known as Pesa Act, was born in 1996 in this light. However , the fact that this Act has a tardy history of its application has something to do with its confusing name; the emphasis currently being on Panchayati Raj methodology and not on special provisions for scheduled areas.

As per the Fifth Schedule and Article 243M, the Centre could have deliberated and mandated minimum special treatment that it wanted to deliver to the tribal areas. For instance, to merely take the context of panchayats, does it perceive the need for elections in tribal areas or recommend local tribal councils? Pesa could have been fashioned into a proactive instrument of national tribal policy, but it is only an enabling Act.

If a state chooses not to equip its laws suitably to safeguard tribal interests, Pesa is silent, as long as no provision is inconsistent with the low threshold hinted by it. Pesa requirements are reservation of 50% seats for tribes in panchayats, consultation with — not consent of — the gram sabha before land acquisition/grant of mining lease/permits over minor forest produce, etc.

Download Articles

Connecting India: It’s still a long, bumpy road ahead : The Economic Times

Sep 14, 2013, 04.40AM IST
The last three years have been remarkable for Indian road infrastructure: projects of 15,000 km were awarded during 2010-13. Yet, there is ahuge task ahead. A decade ago, the bulk of the programme was done via the public funding route, today, 90% of highway development is undertaken via public-private partnership (PPP): on a design, build, finance and operate basis, where the private sector is involved in the entire project life cycle and shares commercial risks.

Surprisingly, many bids received did not ask for viability-gap funding and, instead, went for a hefty premium. While such flamboyant bids were a recognition of the unforeseen and untapped multiplier and induction effects of highways networking, they underlined the importance of private funding and effective implementation of contracts.

Some of the most strategically important cities of India are being connected now: for instance, Ahmedabad-Vadodara and Kishangarh-Udaipur-Ahmedabad would connect with Delhi-Jaipur-Ajmer- Kishangarh-Mumbai-Surat-Vadodara to complete the Delhi-Mumbai corridor. Similarly, Gwalior-Shivpuri and Shivpuri-Dewas would fill critical links for another alternate corridor connecting Delhi and Mumbai via commercial Indore. Similarly, Amravati-Jalgaon-Dhule would help connect Hazira port in Gujarat to Paradip port in Odisha and eventually mirror the East-West corridor along India's economic hinterland of Gujarat and Maharashtra all the way to Kolkata.

But when the economy hits a speed breaker, the projected network externalities appear exaggerated and committed financiers pull back. When a single project languishes, it has a domino effect on all others whose viability suddenly becomes suspect. In normal times, there are challenges of financing because of an asset-liability mismatch and exhaustion of exposure limits of banks. Today, highway development requires stronger commitment to tide over wavering macro fundamentals. Besides, there are many roads of low-commercial viability in economically-backward areas that can only be undertaken through public funding.

But the most critical challenge today is on the implementation side. The National Highways Authority of India is overloaded and focused largely on award of projects. Contract management and oversight to ensure quality construction, maintenance and completion has taken a backseat under the PPP model. The private sector faces a dearth of managerial resources that can competently handle complex issues involved in coordinating with a multiplicity of governmental and local agencies.

While PPP models are useful to support fiscal constraints, they are not perfect panaceas. The government cannot afford to depend on the efficiency of the PPP developer. The former needs to nudge, cajole and guide the concessionaire and work with him to make him fulfil his commitment without compromising on standards, quality and timeliness. The regulatory capture of the independent engineer is a reality that cannot be ignored and discounted.

Further, the involvement of state governments has been missing despite their key role in facilitating acquisition of land, shifting of utilities and providing security and encroachment-free passage for uninterrupted right of way. States, along with their city governments, need to build their own connectivity corridors and spruce up main district roads and municipal roads by adopting innovative methodologies that leverage land and development rights. States should establish Road Development Corporations and vest them with adequate authority and resources. Having the chief minister as the chairman and the chief secretary as the vice-chairman, a model adopted in Madhya Pradesh in early 2004, will ensure highway development gets strategic support.

The challenge is speedy award of remaining highways and effective implementation of already awarded ones. Development of high-speed corridors between important urban centres and specialised connectivity projects is the need of the hour. It is not enough just to have a highway that connects two important points.

When commercial competitiveness is defined by the speed and reduced cost of transaction, it is imperative to have safe access-controlled travel and effective last-mile connectivity.

(The writer is an IAS officer. Views are personal)

>>Download Articles

Uniform norms for acquiring land : The Economic Times

Raghav Chandra, Aug 16, 2006, 12.00am IST
One problem that impedes infrastructure development is the difficulty in acquiring land. Apart from issues of displacement, valuation, compensation, and even propriety, in India, zameen is perceived as a source of dispute, rarely as a tradable economic asset.

One of the key issues in land acquisition is the issue of valuation. Section 23 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, stipulates that compensation should be awarded based on the market value of the land on the date of Section 4 notification.

However, the methodology for fixing market value varies from state to state. Sometimes it is based on sales in the previous year, sometimes the average of several years. In one case, because construction of a dam was pending for several decades, no sales, whatsoever, of land in the villages to be submerged (and therefore acquired) had taken place.

This resulted in a market-failure! As a result, the rates of compensation worked out to very low levels. Sales in the same village could be taken as benchmark, or more villages could be included. Sometimes, the guidelines rates fixed by the registrar of stamps are the basis. Often only the current use of the land is considered; sometimes its prospective use is also considered to determine market value. Clearly there is no uniformity.

The Supreme Court in Jawajee Nagnatham vs RDO, Adilabad, 1994, has clarified that the collector guidelines are only for the purpose of stamp duty and not for determining market value. There is case law to indicate reasonable factors to bear in mind while determining market value-average sale rates, benchmarking, discounted cash flows based profitability. However, the wording offers little comfort in the absence of nationally recognised policy and rule making.

The Bangalore-Mysore Expressway Corridor and the Reliance-Haryana SEZ in Gurgaon are fresh in the mind. In both cases there is concern over the rates of compensation to farmers, and hefty profits to private promoters.

Not incorrectly, especially in the first case, since excessive and advance compulsory acquisition robs the farmer of the benefits of market-price discovery. Also, such controversy is traumatic for the private infrastructure developer who couldn't have anticipated the afterthought by the state government.

States have Town Planning Acts; development authorities (DAs) arbitrarily notify huge swathes of land for acquisition for future development schemes. Little effort is made to implement the actual acquisition process, which has to be carried out only under the LA Act. And completed in two years.

>>Download Articles

Infrastructure Management and Urban Governance, how the miracle is being sustained; An analysis of Thailand, Malaysia & Singapore Published on Eurasia Magazine 25 July 2005

South East Asian nations ; Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand have been in the forefront of the East-Asian economic miracle. Some of the common factors for this amazing growth and phenomenal turnaround have been the high level of public spending on education, health and social policy, an export-led growth and a conscious attempt to upgrade their economy by attracting foreign investment and involving the private sector to become globally competitive. Economic and political analysts have referred to this development as the "wild geese" pattern of growth – the successive industrialization and economic boom in Japan and South Korea, followed by Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, and later in China and partially in India. Geopolitical and macroeconomic factors notwithstanding, one compelling reason for the sustained success of these nations has been the presence of enlightened leaders who have emphasized the need to upgrade the creaking infrastructure to world standards and to systematize their archaic systems of governance. The solid basework done has been borne out by the fact that these economies have completely shrugged off the memories of the Asian currency crisis of 96-97 and are once again fit and roaring. There is at least one salient facet of each country that merits being highlighted:

Raghav Chandra

Enjoying the Best of Both Worlds:Published on Indo-us Business Magazine Feb.-March 2006

Raghav Chandra

Kishore Kumar:

"Remembering Kishore Kumar"

Like many other geniuses of his time, Kishore Kumar was a lonely man. In professional life – as an actor, singer, director or as a producer. Even in personal life – as a father, a husband, a brother, and as a lover.

Kishore was always the mercurial maverick. Rolling on, winning to lose and losing to win. Leaving behind a trail of folly and despair. Traits that have been charitably described as "method in madness" by critic Derek Bose. Facets that could impel us to ignore him. Yet, his indelible and overpowering artistic genius goads us to commemorate him.

It is with a sense of déjà vu that I note yet a new attempt to build a memorial for Kishore Kumar in Khandwa. In fact, if there was anywhich way to bestow celebrity status to this district in which I was posted as a Collector between 1988 and 1990, it was with the epithet "Khandwawaala" that usually suffixed with Kishore Kumar’s name. It was a godsent opportunity, thus, to have Kishore Kumar’s brother Anoop, fourth wife Leena Chandawarkar and son Amit in Khandwa town to pay homage to him on his first death anniversary in October 13, 1988 in East Nimar, Khandwa. As Collector, I invited them over for a hastily rustled up high tea in my sprawling bungalow. While my wife lavished them with crunchy canapés, I floored them with the piece- de-resistance. How about a Kishore Kumar Museum? The first of its kind music memorial in India. For this colossus of modern times. Like the Stratford-upon-Avon Museum for the Bard in Warwikshire, England. Or the Graceland Museum for Elvis Presley in Memphis, Tennessee.

All that I needed to execute my plan was a suitable building to house such a museum. What would be better than to refurbish the decrepit ancestral Ganguly home in downtown Bombay Bazaar? I would manage to convince the Government to give me funds to do up this Museum with unique Kishore memorablia, music,

films and even a son-et-lumiere kind of show. And Khandwa would be on the international music-tourism map. While Amit plumbed for the idea, Anoop Kumar grumbled. In comparison to Ashok Kumar and Kishore, who had hit the pot of gold with their films, he was left with only this property. How could he possibly be asked to give it away? He was aghast at my sense of expansiveness. Only after I promised to compensate him properly, did he somewhat relent. Amit Kumar, of course, appeared excited. He marvelled at the brilliance of the concept and offered to send me all the Kishore stuff they had assiduously preserved. Thousands of released and unreleased songs. Also the famous car from “Chalti ka Naam Gaadi”, the first film starring all the three brothers. All that I needed to do was to send someone to Bombay to fetch it all.

My emissary visited the Kishore Kumar family several times in Bombay in the ensuing months. Only to be avoided and finally spurned.

Not ready to give up so easily, I then enticed Amit Kumar and Leena Chandawarkar into my next effort. The “Zindagi ka Safar” Award was conceived. An open competition along the lines of the Master Madan contest. The elimination round was kept in the local Nilkhantheswar Mahavidyalaya. Only 15 singers were to be chosen for the finals. The response was terrific. Overall 253 entries were received for the contest in which only Kishore Kumar songs were to be sung. The oldest participant was a 73 year old farmer from Chhegaon Makhan in dhoti-kurta. The youngest was a 14 year old school girl.

I had invited Kishore Kumar’s family as our guests. After a relaxed dinner at my house, Leena, Anoop Kumar and Amit accompanied me to the audition. The last of the singing was getting over. The Assembly Hall was teeming with hundreds of students and spectators, some even perched up on terraces and balconies. In rapt silence. Never before had this educational institution witnessed such avid student congregation.

The finals the next day were heart warming. The open-air and unbounded Khandwa stadium. Twenty-thousand citizens. No tickets. Three Judges – the Indore AIR Chief, Anoop Kumar and Leena Chandawarkar. Homage was paid to Kishore, with Amit Kumar evoking nostalgic memories like “Aa chalk e tujhe mein leke chaloon…” and some with a typical Khandwawaala flavour, “Mere dada dadiyon ….. mere naana naniyon…” Leena took the mike and actually sobbed………. Never before, neither in Bombay, nor in Goa (her former husband was the son of the Chief Minister) had she been showered with so much love and affection. Khandwa was indeed her “sasural”. The audience shrieked for their offspring Sumit Kumar to sing a few lines. This small child of six salaamed the people of Khandwa in his father’s typical style and sang before an ecstatic audience, “Zindagi ek safar hai suhana, yahan kal kya ho kisne jaana … .”

We had earlier that day commissioned a makeshift Kishore Kumar Sangrahalaya in a rented space in Anand Nagar after earlier issuing a public appeal for collectibles. For weeks, school-teachers and students, paanwaalas and photographers, citizens of Khandwa and beyond, rummaged through albums and attics and culled out an invaluable collection of Kishorablia that we put up in separate sections – Kishore the Actor, the Singer, the Composer and the Man. This last section drew the maximum response. There were naughty stories from parched yellow magazines of the 60s and 70s of his romantic interludes. And quirky ones about his genetic predisposition to miserliness that had, for instance, caused him to scrounge even on his beloved Madhubala’s medical treatment. We had also installed a music system with every known tape of Kishore songs. To provide the authentic flavour, for the ribbon cutting by the family, we had secretly salted away a huge portrait of Kishore Kumar from the Ganguly house and put it up on a table with a vase of roses in front. As soon as Leena and Anoop came to cut the ribbon, while Leena’s chest swelled with pride, Anoop couldn’t conceal his dismay and exclaimed, “Collector Sahib, you have removed our Kishore’s portrait … oh, please return it to my house!

This story is not meant to discourage Shri Vithalbhai Patel, a former Minister, colleague of Kishore Kumar, eminent lyricist and more, who has launched a laudable drive to collect for Kishore. But, to spur him to redouble his efforts in view of the indifferent legacy. The Gangulys of Khandwa may well fade from public memory, and that quaint Victorian house with four-poster beds in Bombay Boulevard may well be gone, but the blithe spirit of Kishore Kumar will always invigorate and inspire Khandwa.

Perhaps that is why, even while he unabashedly searched for glamorous new experiences in the tinsel world, Kishore Kumar willed unequivocally that he should be consecrated only in rustic Khandwa.

(The author is an IAS officer who has been Collector Khandwa. The views expressed are personal).

The Narmada, Unabridged. :Published on Hindustan Times 18 July 2004"

In the holy chronicle, the Skanda Purana, Markandeya Rishi, narrates stories to extol the virtues of Ma Narmada, "…….In each Kalpa, let alone rivers, even oceans disappear. However, that River which never dies and remains Na-Mrata (undying) through all the Kalpas is Narmada, that which remains lasting forever… It came on Earth for the salvation of all Mankind”.

It should appear then, that with the onset of the Monsoons, the imminent submergence of an entire township, Harsud, in Khandwa district of Madhya Pradesh, by the catchment of the Narmada Sagar Dam, has belied this belief.

Harsud Nagarpalika has a population of about forty thousand. There are about 300 other villages surrounding it that would be submerged. Overall, it has been anticipated that more than fifty thousand villagers are being displaced by the dam that is being built.

So, is the Narmada bringing joy? Or is it bringing sorrow?

As the Collector (District Administrator) of Khandwa district in the critical February 1988 to July 1990 period, when environment clearance had just been awarded and construction of the dam begun and proceedings preparatory to displacement had been started, this was an issue that deeply agitated me. It led me to debate with myself whether displacement of a few was justified for the larger common good. Was the intervention of peoples’ organizations (NGOs) justified and beneficial? Were there not development alternatives that could substitute for this monumental construction? Or colossal travesty!

In the course of my Khandwa tenure, I made innumerable tours to Harsud, the town that would be submerged, and Punasa and Omkareshwar, the sites of the Dams. All along the meandering trajectory of the picturesque Narmada, as it gambolled and gallavanted across the sylvan contours of my district, I interacted at length with villagers, farmers, tribals in the rich-teak forests, petty traders and politicians. I attempted to get a sense of their involvement with the river and their take on being displaced. Could they reconcile themselves to losing their ancestral homesteads?

That was when on 28th September, 1989 the famous environment rally, the “Sankalpa-Mela”, against allowing Harsud to submerge, was organized by the Narmada Bachao Andolan. Dubbed the “Woodstock of Environment”, it drew participation by (perhaps for the first time on a common platform), Medha Patkar, Baba Amte (on a stretcher), Shabana Azmi, Menaka Gandhi, Sunderlal Bhaguna, and a whole phalanx of animated environmentalists and NGO’s from all over the world. Tribes trudged from different parts of the country and largely from the submergence villages. Time, Newsweek and BBC’s Mark Tully and visual and print media from all over the world covered the event. That was the first time that the travails of Harsud were highlighted firsthand to the World.

To understand the dilemma of Harsud, I should recount an unknown episode connected with this show. The State Government was so concerned about the law and order impact of this much-hyped environment rally that it had decided to dispatch by helicopter the Chief Secretary and Director General of Police from Bhopal to immediately conduct an aerial recce of the venue where thousands of tribals had reportedly begun to descend. It was only with considerable persuasion that I managed to get this visit abandoned, explaining that the sight of a helicopter would arouse so much curiosity that even those who had no plan to visit the rally would do so. On the day of the rally, Frontline magazine, in its alluring photo-feature described it as being pleasantly surprising that the district administration was so very discrete and unobtrusive in their presence. The total head count at the rally by the LIB (Local Intelligence Bureau) was barely 12,000. Not a single villager complained about non-receipt of compensation. Nor did a single environmentalist talk about inadequate compensation. Yet, the national and international press exaggerated the attendance figure considerably, reporting presence of over 50,000 people, mostly tribes, “in support of their ill-fated brethren”. Therein lies the tragedy. The elaborate hype of anti-dam opposition confounded and even deceived those who were to be displaced, and also those who were to administer the R & R. Would the dam ever be built?

A few months prior to this event, while passing orders, as the designated authority under the Land Acquisition Act, compensating villagers whose land was being acquired in public interest, we realized that the villagers were being compensated at absurdly low levels. Further scrutiny revealed that since no sales of land had taken place for three decades (in apprehension of the area’s, imminent submergence), there were no transactions of property on record. There were hardly any registered sales in that or even neighboring villages to provide a fair benchmark for the prices of the land government was acquiring. Hence, a real-estate related market failure had clearly occurred. Villagers were thus going to be compensated in places at less than Rs.1000 per acre!

We had then quickly undertaken an exercise to justify widening the definition of geographical contiguity used for determining the benchmark for awardable compensation, and for making out a reasonable case for it’s acceptance by the government. We did succeed. But, only after impressing on Government that such issues would be raised by the anti-dam rallyists, and the State would appear exploitative, unless the principles were made more flexible. As this case illustrates, certainly the NGO’s, and their activities, helped to queer the pitch for a more enlightened settlement of compensation package to the villagers.

The irony is that for people inhabiting this area, knowledge about their impending displacement is actually nothing new. Ever since independence they have been hearing about this dam. They have all been mentally prepared to shift. In fact, nobody had ever undertaken any significant up-gradation in his or her agricultural land or even homes, recognizing the futility of any such effort. Similarly, hardly any sale of land had taken place. Adult sons had gone out in search of jobs elsewhere. Hence, postponing the shifting process was like a Chieftain keeping the sword hanging over the heads of his subjects. Most submergence area villagers were keen that the issue should be settled once and for all. If their land was to go, so be it. Let them be given land for land and start a new life. Which is why it was odd that more than the villagers themselves, it was the NGO’s that were clamoring on their behalf.

A senior officer in a neighboring district, a colleague of mine, had in a confidential letter to the Government, expressed his sympathies with the NGO’s cause. His much-publicised advice was that small dams were better than big ones because they did not cause displacement and prevented large-scale corruption. This is true only to some extent. As any technical expert will explain, the total quantity of water retained in stop dams is not significant, since the depth of water-body is insubstantial. Over the last fifteen years, a very focused exercise has been undertaken, to build check-dams, wherever feasible, in MP, particularly in East and West Nimar, Jhabua and Dhar. And a large part of all rural development devolutions have been used for this purpose. In fact, all rural development agencies, Irrigation, Forest, Agriculture, Soil Conservation, Block Development and Rural-Engineering have been deployed for this task. And yet, the spectre of drought and water scarcity has scarcely been banished from the face of Western Madhya Pradesh. Demand for water and energy continues to increase manifold.

Those were the formative years of Relief and Rehabilitation (R&R) work. There were no established guidelines or benchmarks. The State was floundering for inputs for policy making in this area, so as it could soften the impact of those displaced in their new social milieu and facilitate quickest integration.

Today, R&R work has got institutionalized. Standards have been set, and this has generally passed muster at various levels of scrutiny.

As one reflects on the impending deluge and submergence, and the judgment which paved the way for fully completing the Narmada Dam, as a former Collector, one can not but feel sad at the passage of events. Sad at the timing. The end of Harsud. But, there is also a sliver of relief. Relief for those guileless villagers, who have, for the last half-century, been awaiting almost, on a daily basis, their transfer orders; only to be counseled by some outsiders that they will not have to shift. Had the NGOs agitating this issue, relented in 1989, and trained their energies on R & R instead, they could have saved the villagers of Narmada area, at least fifteen agonizing years of uncertainty and agony.

Reengineering our Cities:

Reengineering our Cities: The author is an IAS officer . The views expressed are personal

It is indeed heartening that at the very highest level the nation is focusing so much on urban renewal. Huge amounts of money are being earmarked for this enormous and critical task. Are we certain that we will revitalize our cities and make them the wonderful, livable places we dream of? Or, will we have only a smattering of modern infrastructure and a dazzle of stylish buildings? The announcement of various urban initiatives by the national government is historic. It would be tragic if this momentum were not productively harnessed.

No doubt, one has to tackle the urban conundrum by targeting the symptoms of urban decay: redressing key infrastructure bottlenecks- surface drains, water-supply schemes, roads, flyovers, solid-waste-disposal and collection systems, slum-improvement, etc. However, simultaneously, one has to traverse farther and confront those root issues that are basic to urban development.

Consider, for a moment a walled township developed by a colonizer, spread over say 100 acres, with neat and orderly housing, its own social and leisure facilities, clubhouse, parks, lawns, security, shopping area etc. The basic infrastructure-physical, social, services etc are all there. Everything is hunky-dory. But when the developer begins to expand by acquiring more land and rips open the boundary wall to start a new colony, and changes the rules of the game, new issues arise. The existing infrastructure is now being shared with new occupants? The residential protocols have been unilaterally altered. Will all residents enjoy the infrastructure and services equitably and share the costs of extra-load ? Can the basic comfort level of the earlier residents be sustained? When this analogy is extended to an entire urban agglomeration, suddenly there are questions of equity and governance.

The key conceptual issues that need to be addressed lie in the realm of political economy. They are the issues of exclusivity, externality, expansion, utility and efficiency. While it would be naïve to offer simplistic answers, it suffices that their criticality is brought into the public domain. Let us examine these issues one at a time with some provocative thinking.

Are our cities not meant to be spheres of excellence in which those who contribute to the revenues of the city are afforded a unique experience of comfort and convenience? Should cities be demographically elastic and accommodate all, irrespective of whether they get paid for the civic services that they provide? Intel Corp. shall, to take one example, have to pay the local body of Portland, Oregon $ 1000 per year per extra person it hires to pay for the extra load on the city.

Do we regulate fresh influx into the city? Or do we encourage anyone to migrate (“premature urbanization” in UN-Habitat parlance) to the city- in the absence of adequate employment opportunities elsewhere? Is in-situ slum management the right thing? Are we aware that encroachments today are incubators of crime, not because the poor live here, but often because they are unregistered and unrecorded. It is even profitable to run shops here because no taxes need be paid and hence the overheads relative to an organized shop are less (also a reason why Mom and Pop retail stores are never really threatened in the Indian context).

Do we want our cities to serve as funnels that attract investment? Or, are we looking at bridging the urban-rural divide by making our cities extensions of the rural areas? Do we increase the infrastructure of cities only to allow new waves of urbanization? Should cities have a distinct brand-identity? Should cities be for all, irrespective of their ability and willingness to pay for the services provided? In short, where does the line between inclusion and exclusion get drawn?

Some urban personae impinge relatively more on the common infrastructure and services in the city than others. How do we bridge this externality? Are we prepared to charge differential tariffs based on the principles of social cost-of occupation of common space, cost of pollution, cost of service delivery, etc. The cost of parking a bigger car in a public parking and for a smaller car is presently the same. But the bigger car takes -more space and, causes more pollution. Thus, the marginal private cost of keeping a bigger car is less than the marginal social cost that can be attributed to it. Likewise, the number of cars a household maintains also has a similar impact on the available space and the overall pollution caused to the colony. Should there not be differential incremental car license fees, akin to the certificates of entitlement that are auctioned in Singapore?

Another area of externality is the use of low-cost services in the neighborhood. Whenever it suits us, we speak disparagingly about the existence of jhuggis in our vicinity. Yet when it comes to getting domestic help or getting our clothes ironed cheaply, or buying fresh fruits and vegetables we don our socialistic hats and voice the need to create employment opportunities for the urban poor. There are modern cities today that have periodic public markets or haats that are located right in the heart of the city. It is fun to shop and bargain for vegetables and fruits there, but there is an urban problem if they become shops for furniture, packaged food and gifts, right at stones-throw from regular retailers who are paying for all their overheads.

Poor civic policing is another cause for various civic violations-building laws violations, occupation of public spaces by extending private lawns, pitching tents for weddings and functions, parking of vehicles in public spaces, etc.- this causes a separation- between law-abiders and the law-violators, and a asymmetry of economic incentives. Should we not streamline use of economic instruments to bridge this asymmetry and thereby homogenize our cities-as areas of high-security, environmental-equity and civic-discipline?

Another crucial issue is that of growing city sprawl. Today our cities have spread far too wide. This is unaffordable for a poor country as it severely constrains the competence of the civic authorities to deliver services across the ever-expanding geographical boundaries. And yet, every Elected Body includes new villages within the city boundary on the pretext of wanting to stabilize land prices and making living more affordable. However, every inclusion of new villages in one direction leads to a new impetus for inclusion of yet other villages in another direction. Often the expansion is driven by real-estate developers who have acquired agricultural land on the outskirts of the city at a throwaway price. It is likely that they will deliberately ignore costs of external road connectivity, long-term water supply and other services while marketing their housing colony, with the intention to later load these costs onto the unsuspecting Municipality. Conventional wisdom seeks to legitimize low-density urban spread in preference to high density construction on the mistaken premise that low-rise allows for more greenery, is more cost and energy-effective and hence is good for the environment whereas high rise is bad. But, it is overlooked that cities usually spread in a radial fashion. Hence, for an increment to the existing radius of 20 Kms of a city A by a measure of, say, 5 kms, leads to an increase in the area of city A by 675 sq Kms! This is 50% increase in the area of the city. Thus an innocuous increase in the spread leads to a huge urban sprawl. Can the quantum of civic services, roads, drains, street-lighting manage to keep pace with this sudden surge in demand, with each new colony built along the new radius demanding water, roads, lighting and municipal services-janitors, waste-collectors etc. Wanton expansion in the limits of a city is also the cause of higher level of traffic density along the arterial roads and traffic congestion, especially when with rising incomes people are able to afford more and bigger cars and don’t hesitate in commuting long distances to flaunt their cars. Increase in the number of passenger-miles and congestion are an issue even in the developed West today. In fact, this is also one cause for urban-alienation, where a resident on the periphery, with limited ability to commute, is not able to build harmony with the core, and feels marginalized. On the contrary, a tighter spatial core of city leads to greater community feeling, closer social interaction and cultural identity. With economic convertibility of time, such planning is more cost-effective as it saves on time-to-travel. Barcelona, a great city, for instance, has a density that is about 10-50 times that of East Manchester. Municipal services can be better maintained and delivered and overall a higher level of satisfaction delivered to the citizen.

Zoning, Master-Planning and Building-Laws are the essence of city-management. Both in terms of structure and functionality, they breathe life into planning. Yet this critical task is the most poorly handled in the States and this is the bane of urban planning. Most Town Planners actually do not have adequate training in urban matters, let alone in urban planning. Often, there are allegations that each senior planner is aligned to some section of builders. Most second-tier cities do not have approved Master-Plans. Where they do they are under review or litigation. Either they are too inflexible or too easy to be manipulated. The Town Country Directorate, which exercises powers of interpretation and implementation of the Town ad Country Planning Act, works not in a statutory manner, but as an extended arm of the Housing and Urban Department of the State Government. The Commissioner of the Town and Country Department reports to the Principal Secretary of this Department and is therefore totally dependant on him for existence. Even if this Directorate were to be made a part of the Local Body there would be abatement in political and local interference in its working. Should the Central Government not create general guidelines to harmonize and standardize Master-Planning and building laws while leaving prioritization and reform within the competence of the State Governments and the Local Governments? Should we not make the Town and Country Planning Directorate an autonomous body headed by a 3 Member Bench of experts serviced by the bureaucratic support staff, and most importantly, adequate number of technical experts- architects and town-planners. The Bench can be insulated from narrow local interference and mandated to hold office for a period of at least 3 years. Our Master Planning and land-use regulations suffer from the key weakness that they do not integrate transport planning into them. We are at first organic creatures that need a habitat- but we are also social beings that need to commute and interact socially. Issues like amendments to Master Plans and making transport management as a key ingredient of city planning and zoning are critical to this overall task as the economy grows rapidly. Do we encourage more density so as to reduce the need for vehicular travel? Should we not allow higher FARs? If that allows for better transport planning, why not?

Another issue is that of effective municipal governance. Should we have a strong Mayor and a not-so-strong City CEO (Municipal Commissioner) or should it be the other way round with the Mayor being essentially a cut-ribbons figurehead. As of today most Mayors are strong but share their powers with their Mayor-in-Council of Corporators who function like a Cabinet with charge for individual subjects being allocated to each of them. Rarely do we come across a strong Municipal Commissioner, and when that rarely does happen it is with the express support of the Chief Minister of the State, no less. Thus we have had a successful Nagpur and a successful Surat, in each case because a CEO who was able to establish excellent rapport with the political powers that be while he headed the local body. But this may not always be possible. So should not the correct systems be put in place so that even an average officer is able to make a reasonable impact?

One major area of neglect is the lack of public parking and public utilities. Most of the time Municipal Corporations are not able to create the requisite utilities because there is no free land available and the cost of creation of multi-storeyed parking suitable for a relatively congested area is prohibitively high. It must be remembered that parking should not be treated as a building-specific issue but as an area-specific one. Our obsession for parking space to be provided in each building is misplaced. This is why such private parking almost always gets converted, often inadvertently into commercial usage. Ideally, there should be adequate space reserved for public parking in each congested area, and the local authority should develop this, whether directly or under public-private partnership. Roadside parking should be made prohibitively expensive, and priced very much more than formal designated parking that is created for that area. Conversely, underground or multi-level parking should be priced less. For creation of such facilities the Municipal Corporations should develop economic instruments so that a sufficient corpus develops for purchase of land by the Municipal Corporation for public facilities. For instance, each building owner should have to pay to the civic body according to the built-up space that he occupies, rather than having to necessarily create a basement parking. There can be different multiplication factors for residential and commercial areas and these can vary from area to area. Most of the time in the absence of strong templates and past convention, land acquisition is frowned upon and the effort is only to secure available Government land for these facilities. But it is not always possible to obtain government land in commercially important areas and hence exclusive private lands will have to be acquired, either through the Land Acquisition Act route or through the private negotiation route. Such land will invariably be expensive due to its high opportunity cost. Should not there be a corpus of fund available (War Chest) that can be leveraged for land acquisition for urban facilities at any given time?

There are no easy solutions, but we need to discuss and deliberate on these issues if we are to sustain the economic growth agenda and to make our cities to responsibly shoulder and support the national endeavor.

(The author is an IAS officer The views expressed are personal).

Tackling Encroachment : Published on The Economic Times 10 June 2000

Raghav Chandra

Partnership in Infrastructure : Published on "The Economic Times 12 November 2005"

Raghav Chandra

Article on Information Technology for Madhya Pradesh Civil Supplier: published on Dainik Jagran 7th january 2000

Raghav Chandra

Preparing for Agriculture Negotiations in the WTO : Published on The Economic Times, 22 Oct. 1999

Raghav Chandra