Summary of a meeting with K.C. Sivaramakrishnan, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, India

In a brief seminar on June 4, K.C. Sivaramakrishnan (Sivaram) of the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi discussed the status of municipal governance in India. Sivaram began by explaining the context within which urban issues in India should be examined. According to the 2001 census, which ended a four-decade long hiatus of national censes, a little over a quarter of India's more than one billion people live in urban areas (27.8%). However, in some states, like Tamil Nadu, almost half of the population lives in urban areas (43%). Sivaram also noted that India now contains thirty-five cities of more than a million inhabitants and 4,368 urban agglomerations. For the first time in the history of the Indian census, residents in slum areas in all cities with more than 50,000 inhabitants were included in census counting. Sivaram also noted that although urbanization in developing countries is often attributed to distress-induced patterns of migration, the growth in Indian cities has been mostly due to natural increase.

Within the context of such urban growth, the political aspects of local governance have become extremely important in recent years. The general structure of democracy within India consists of the House of the People with 545 members, a Council of States with 250 members, 27 state assemblies, and 5 state councils. Yet, thirty years of stagnant congressional districts have caused urban populations to be greatly underrepresented at the national level, and often state and national level political institutions overlook the potential effect of effective municipal governance. In 1993, however, the House finally enacted two constitutional amendments (amendments seventy-three and seventy-four), which began a process of decentralization and drastically widened political participation.

Sivaram noted though that despite the oft-cited enactment of these amendments, many barriers to the success of local administrations still remain. Among the impediments to effective governance, Sivaram cited the ceremonial status of mayors, poor training for locally elected officials, high rates of turnover, and a lack of participation below the citywide level.

At the end of the day, the quality of life for most Indian citizens will be determined at the local level. The knowledge, expertise, and competence of municipal officials therefore becomes extremely important, and subsequently, improving training programs for local officials, with a focus on both political and technical questions, would be invaluable.