Friday, June 28, 2013

Hyderabad needs a directly elected Executive Mayor

My piece in the Times of India today (28 June) on the need to have a directly elected mayor with executive powers for Hyderabad. A group of us had a brainstorming session on this in the past and held a press meet also before the Corporation elections. As there was a constraint on the word limit, I could not elaborate on some issues. But the spirit is there. - CR
Hyderabad has emerged as a city of national and global importance and has been contributing immensely to economic growth, employment generation and providing livelihoods for vast sections of people. It is therefore imperative that cities like this are governed well so as to provide high quality civic services like in other cities in developed countries. What we need is an effective and good city government headed by a directly elected executive mayor with a strong political commitment, orientation towards reform in administrative and financial aspects and who is accountable to citizens.
In the present set up, there is no leader the citizens can look up to. The Water Board is headed by the chief minister who has no time for it. Its day-to-day affairs are looked after by a civil servant. Nobody knows who the board members are and when it meets (if it meets at all). Whether it is highly iniquitous supply, poor quality or irregular timings, the citizens have to run from pillar to post. Take illegal constructions. The building regularization scheme (BRS), which when implemented some years ago was supposed to be a one-time measure, was later 'revised' into a building penalization scheme (BPS), thus ensuring that the illegal activity continues.
Water bodies continue to shrink and vanish despite new laws. Less said the better about the high profile metro rail project. Lands are being allocated to L&T beyond the scope of and much more than what is listed in the concession agreement, alignments are altered, heritage buildings affected etc, but there is nobody to answer. Meanwhile, its promoters are on a brand-building bandwagon spreading half-truths (and some untruths) to the people. For instance, the project is known to have got an international award for best design while the fact is that the designs are not yet finalized for several crucial junctions/routes. All that the citizens have is an accounts officer heading the project who is not accountable to the public at all. The quality of public transportation continues to decline with no 'father' for the APSRTC to claim its rightful place in the city.
All these factors are having a debilitating effect on the quality of civic life. The citizens have to build up pressure on the government and the political parties with a long term goal of far reaching changes in the way the city is governed. The civil society has an important role to play in this task. The long term goals should be: 1. Direct elections to the mayor of Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation; 2. Making the mayor an executive mayor with adequate powers; 3. Giving effective administrative and financial powers to the city government; 4. Making all the service providing agencies in the city accountable to the city government (eg. public transport, water supply & sewage, fire safety, environment etc., to mention only a few).

Several experts in the field of urban governance in Hyderabad have deliberated on these issues in the past. The city cannot be governed in the same old ways if the situation has to be improved drastically.