Saturday, June 22, 2024

Thoughts on urban administration

With a total of 418 Wards spread over 39 Municipalities and Town Councils, out of which 142 Wards are reserved for women, hopefully elections to Urban local Bodies (ULBs) in Nagaland, after 20 years (last held in 2004), scheduled for June 26, 2024, will change the State’s urbanscape to usher in a new era for our urban areas. Setting aside the history and politics of the urban administration tragedy of the past 20 years in Nagaland, let’s focus on the role and responsibilities of these bodies, though rather academic but fundamental to understand exactly why ULBs are necessary for urban habitations, seeing how radically urban existence has changed in the past 20 years. Municipal corporations/councils and urban administration are the same things, the primary aim of which is to look after the basic amenities given to people and ensure their satisfaction. The concept of urban administration goes back to 1687 in Madras. ULBs are vested with a long list of functions delegated to them by State Governments, which broadly relate to public health, welfare, regulatory functions, public safety, public infrastructure works and development activities. Generally, the primary objective of these local bodies is to promote local economic development, social justice and infrastructure development. The various functions of the local government include: to build basic infrastructure e.g. transport, roads, power lines, schools, hospitals. There is also what is called urban renewal, the primary purpose of which is to restore economic viability to a given area by attracting external private and public investment and by encouraging business start-ups and survival, the goals of which are: tackling barriers to economic growth, decreasing the level of unemployment, etc. Now, the Nagaland Municipal Act (NMA), 2023, as stated in its introduction, was enacted: “to provide for the administration of urban areas and to establish Municipalities in larger urban areas, smaller urban areas and transitional areas in Nagaland. Whereas, it is expedient and necessary to provide for the administration of urban areas viz.: larger urban areas, smaller urban areas and transitional areas and to introduce Municipalities in Nagaland for the purpose of bringing them in conformity with the substance and the provisions of the Constitution (74th) Amendment Act, 1992 in general and in particular to endow the Municipalities with functions and powers so as to enable them to function as vibrant Institution of Local Self Government with greater people participation in managing their own affairs.” So clearly, the NMA, 2023 was enacted broadly to meet the aims, objective and goals of urban administration. It is, therefore, imperative that those aspiring to contest the ULB elections on June 26 across Nagaland are very clear about why they are contesting and what they hope to achieve towards our urban areas attaining a constitutionally-acceptable level of urban administration and development. It is equally imperative that the public knows exactly why urban administration is necessary in our State and that economic equity and infrastructure development on issues related to public health, welfare, regulatory functions, public safety, public infrastructure works, development activities and social justice, etc., can be brought to fruition only through effective and efficient urban administration. Through the prism of the history of ULB elections and non-elections, and in general the history of all elections here, as also the performance of past ULBs in the State, it is understandable that some of our NGOs and CSOs are appealing for peaceful conduct of these impending elections, especially in Dimapur. However, when the public is fully educated on the need for ULBs, there is a good chance that the public will ensure a peaceful election because these elections are so much more than political parties competing for power ergo the existential stakes are extremely high. Particularly, as Dimapur has always been cosmopolitan, it is also understandable why a student body has focused on indigeneity. But ULB elections are so much more than about ethnicity and indigeneity. As we know, with an area of about 70 km2 (27 sq mi), Dimapur is the smallest district but the largest city and municipality in Nagaland with an approximate population of 122,834 but despite the uneven land-population ratio, it is well-known that who controls Dimapur, controls Nagaland therefore fears and apprehensions arise, which can be put to rest only by an informed public and a pro-active Government working in tandem.