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Tag Archives | urban governance

Online activism viewed through the “exit, voice and loyalty” framework

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

WhatsApp and Facebook action groups, change.org petitions, and online grievance reporting are now commonplace manifestations of citizens demanding better public services, particularly in the urban areas of India. Related questions arise: what are the motivations that lead to formations of such groups? And how effective in reality are such groups in resolving the key issue of under-provision of public goods?

These are questions that demand an in-depth study by themselves. However, we get a few clues about analysing such questions from a framework by economist Albert Hirschman in his 1970 treatise “Exit, Voice and Loyalty”. The main argument that the framework makes is:

members of an organisation, whether a business, a nation or any other form of human grouping, have essentially two possible responses when they perceive that the organization is demonstrating a decrease in quality or benefit to the member: they can exit (withdraw from the relationship); or, they can voice (attempt to repair or improve the relationship through communication of the complaint, grievance or proposal for change).

In the urban context, this framework simply means the following: faced with a decline in the quality of living in a particular urban area, citizens can choose one of the two responses: either exit (move to a new city or another area within the same city) or voice (demand better services in the current areas through complaints and protests). The key question then is: what impact does online activism have on the choice between voice and exit?

Online activism makes it easy for people to choose voice over exit. This is because, as Hirschman says:
success in advocacy groups is uncertain. So, participation in a movement to bring about a desirable policy is the next best thing to having that policy.

This means that the act of getting involved in a public interest problem is seen as en end in itself by a few people because getting the desired outcome is anyways so uncertain. This further means that the costs of getting people to come together on an issue are actually seen as benefits by a few people. Thus, people move away from apathy, towards activism to voice their grievances. With online activism a possibility, the the costs of organising people over an issue become even lower, making it easier for people to rally around new causes.

Thus it is not surprising to find online petitions and action groups mushrooming to resolve urban issues. However, the key question remains: are such groups successful in bringing positive changes in the living standards that they sought to bring? As Hirschman points, since the act of getting together is itself seen as an end, people often see activism as a goal in itself. This is seen amply in the case of online action groups: groups die after getting initial ‘successes’ in the form of assurances from public officials or merely recognition in terms of ‘petition sign-ups’ or  ‘Facebook likes’. Converting this online voice into successful on the ground changes requires mobilising online groups into committed volunteers to chase the root-cause and follow up till the change is delivered. Not an easy matter.

Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas) is a Research Fellow at the Takshashila Institution.

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Blockchains and societies

Some practical and impractical applications and implications of blockchain.


Photo Credits: Flickr

Blockchains are useful when you need to maintain an immutable history of transactions in which both parties do not trust each other as well as the intermediary. It is also useful in maintaining the anonymity of the participants in a transaction. Given these characteristics what does it mean for countries and societies at different levels of development and organization?

Close to dysfunctional government

Honduras recently has an incident where the top level bureaucrats went into the system allocated whole swaths of land to themselves. Such incidents do not inspire confidence in the authority which is supposed to safe guard people’s land rights and resolve dispute. A solution using blockchain to maintain land records was proposed to solve this problem.

Fiscally irresponsible government

When Argentina faced run-away inflation in 1989 people lost trust in the value of the currency. A currency such as bitcoin which is based on the blockchain technology can be a recourse for people in such a situation as no country can alter the supply of a digital currency forcefully.

Societies with irresponsible media

News based on photographs and videos taken on mobile phones are increasing becoming common on social media as well as main stream media. Unfortunately, so is their tampering and obfuscation. A system where all media is put on a blockchain before it is shared will ensure that it cannot be edited or deleted later on. Thus there will always be a permanent link to the that piece of information which can be visited in case of confusion or controversy.

Societies with poor banking services

Since trust is in distributed in the network peer-to-peer money transfers can be enabled with the inter-mediation by banks. The commission for mining will still have to be paid but the transaction can be recorded on distributed ledger and no one will be able to contest it.

Societies lacking unique identity documents

Services such as onename or keybase use blockchain technology to authenticate users uniquely. Other features like bio-metric information or attributes like address, birthdate, etc. can also be added on top of this.

Societies with authoritarian governments

The transactions on a blockchain are anonymous and thus difficult to track. They can be used for conducting transactions when the parties involved do not want to reveal themselves. Though the privacy provided is not as strong as it seems and there have been many instances when actual people behind the pseudonyms and keys have been identified.

Societies where stock exchanges do not function properly

Since a trusted intermediary is not needed blockchain can be used to trade digital assets or assets which can be uniquely represented in the digital form. This can also be applied to betting markets.

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Taming our roads

Traffic cops need to be armed only with a camera.


Technology does not solve any problem if the stakeholders are not serious about solving it in the first place. But technology does make the job easier if the social capital exists. While we have strong debates and opinions about loftier things like Freedom of Speech and Nationalism, rarely do we have national debates on the state of our urban infrastructure. Yet it is the most tangible aspect of the government action (or inaction) which affects more than half of the country now. Urban spaces are different than villages in the sense that they are harder to govern without formal institutions. A village can form a group of elders fairly easily and they can act as interlocutors for disputes and also for matters related to management of community resources. A city works on a different scale. No one knows everybody and everyone cannot agree to anything. Hence, respected institutions and very clear rules that can be followed without much hand-holding is an explicit need of a city.

Traffic in Indian Cities is a beast that needs to be tamed. It is a perfect example of people coming together and causing disharmony instead of cohesion. No one follows the rules even if it will make everyone happier by following them. Behavioral Sciences study these kinds of interactions and place significant weight on initial conditions. With the same set of rules and participants but with different initial conditions, systems tend to move towards very different equilibrium. Hence a mere change in rules like increasing the penalty, etc. will not change the situation much. A focused effort needs to be put in to change the fundamentals and arrive at a new stable point. But who will make the change?

Three agencies need to come together to achieve this. The municipal corporations need to update and maintain the infrastructure. The RTO needs to license and maintain records of vehicles and authorized drivers. And finally the traffic police need to enforce the rules on the road. The key ingredient that is missing in most cities is the ability to track and recover fees. Technology can help in this regard. Bangalore already has a system which can send challans to the offenders at their doorstep or over email. The traffic cops need use this data more effectively. Unless people are convinced that they cannot get away with breaking traffic laws there will not be a change in the behavior.


Siddarth Gore is a Research Scholar at the Takshashila Institution and he tweets @siddhya

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Should autos be allowed surge pricing?

If you don’t restrict the market you don’t need to restrict the price.

The Mumbai auto drivers followed their brethren in Paris and New York and went on a one-day strike against the growing number of cab-aggregator services in the city. The strike itself is a testimony to the popularity of these new and innovative means of urban transportation. It shows that people are interested in trying out new options if it helps them save time and money. The resistance from the entrenched players is obvious but what is not obvious is what the government will do about it. The confusion begins right from the start, is this public transport or private transport?


Source: Flickr

We generally refer to autos and taxis as public transport even if they are privately owned. Perhaps because the government mandates many things that the autos need to do. The color, the fare, the uniform, even the number of autos that can be on the roads is fixed by the government. In fact, the increase in the permit charges from 200 to 10000 is one of the reasons for the strike. But why would a government try to restrict the number of autos (by increasing the price of the permit or not allowing more permits)? If there are more people who want to commute by autos, then shouldn’t there be more autos on the road? The reason generally given is to protect the livelihoods of the auto drivers. Then why are the auto drivers themselves striking against the decision?

The auto drivers in Mumbai are one of the best in the country when it comes to plying by meter. But will they be now tempted to do surge pricing as well? The way to control surge pricing is not by capping it. But by allowing more vehicles and drivers to offer their services. This is beneficial for both drivers as well as passengers. The central government sent out an advisory in July of 2015 and Karnataka State Government has come out with its own policy for regulating the cab-aggregators. Both policies have focused on treating this new phenomenon like traditional auto or a taxi service. Which it is most definitely, not.

Safety should be the chief concern of these regulations. Other operational parameters like prices, hours of service, etc. should not be unnecessarily regulated. Urban public transport is in desperate need of innovation and the government should do all it can to support it. Greater use of such services will result in less vehicles on the road and easing of pressure on the current municipal transport systems. Both would benefit the poor who are dependent on fast and cheap public transport for their everyday needs. Creating a regulatory framework which puts safety and ease of compliance at its heart would be a step in the right direction in this regard.

Siddarth Gore is a Research Scholar at the Takshashila Institution and he tweets @siddhya

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Ministry of Risk Management

By Anupam Manur

An expert committee to forecast risks in the short and long run and suggest measures to manage it.

Delhi’s alarming pollution levels and the ensuing chaos in attempting to mitigate the problem has lessons for all the other big cities in India. That Delhi waited for this long and for the problem to gain such magnitude before attempting a solution is by itself a telling sign of the ineptitude of our state government machinery.

Going by the present growth trajectory, it is not hard to forecast that Mumbai, Bangalore and few other cities will face the same problems that Delhi is presently facing in a few years time. Bangalore is about 5-8 years behind Delhi on all the negative signs: the rate of vehicular growth, population growth, reduction in green spaces, bad urban planning, etc.

Further, urban planning in Bangalore is known to have a terrible record with regard to the ability to foresee problems in the future and taking evasive actions. Officials in Bangalore have typically waited for the problem to be deep set before deciding that something must be done, after which it takes a few years to come up with a viable solution. The extremely slow pace of implementation of the solution implies that the problem would have compounded many times over by the time the solution is in place. The Bangalore Metro is a classic example of this. It is now slated to be completed only by 2032, by which time Bangalore’s population and traffic woes would have increased to such an extent that the Metro will be completely inadequate in addressing the issue. Though the problems of garbage disposal and water management has already reached a critical point, the administrators are just beginning to become cognizant of the problem. Many other issues are already imploding, which still hasn’t appeared on the administrators’ radar.

Can we predict the state of Bangalore traffic in the next 10 years? Can we address that issue now?

Can we predict the state of Bangalore traffic in the next 10 years? Can we address that issue now?

The solution to this is to set up an independent set of experts in risk management. Either the central government or the state government should appoint a ministry of risk management, whose task it would be to foresee possible threats and risk to the quality of life in Indian cities and suggest immediate mitigating and evasive actions. The exact scope and structure can be ironed out later, but the main idea is to attempt being ahead of the problem.

The scope for such a committee/ministry could be huge. It can cover issues such as environment (pollution, disappearance of lakes, green cover, etc), water shortage, contingency plans for natural and man-made disasters, etc in the long run and in the short run it could focus on the immediate issues that threatens the quality of life, such as power shortage, traffic problems, housing, garbage clearance, etc.

Corporations succeed when they are able to manage their potential risks and convert them into opportunities. It is time that Indian cities invested in risk managements as well.

Anupam Manur is a Policy Analyst at Takshashila Institution and tweets @anupammanur


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It’s the governance, stupid!

By Nidhi Gupta and Varun Santhosh

The recent spate of citizen protests in Bangalore is a symptom of the deep governance deficit in the city

The tech-savvy residents of the outer regions of Bangalore are increasingly taking to public protests to voice their discontent with the myriad infrastructure problems that beset their neighbourhoods. These problems are symptomatic of the underlying issues arising out of a myopic vision and a deficit (sometimes bordering on absence) of governance. As long as the state government and the city’s administrators remain mired in a cycle of firefighting, band-aid fixes and peddling ‘white-elephant’ projects as grand solutions, the protests will only spread and improving the livability of India’s Silicon Valley will remain a distant dream.

Residents of Sarjapur and Bellandur, along the Outer Ring Road(ORR), staged a protest yesterday to highlight their infrastructural woes. A fortnight ago, in a protest with a clarion call to “Save Whitefield“, around 10,000 residents of Whitefield, a suburb that is host to most of the IT companies, got together to form a human chain that stretched for 10 kilometres. The tipping point that mobilised the otherwise docile professionals was school children being stuck in traffic for almost 3 hours on their way back home. This followed similar other protests in Whitefield and HSR Layout in the past two months. Such vocal demonstrations by a section of the citizens bring to fore the issues plaguing the city and accentuate the extent of discomfort that people and businesses endure on a daily basis. But the response it garnered from the government is revealing. It ranged from half-hearted midnight operations to asphalt roads, hours before the protest, blaming different agencies for dug-up roads to mooting the idea of tunnel ring roads.

As pointed out earlier (by Pavan and Karthik), Bangalore has not only seen a rapid growth from about 200 sqkm to around 709.5 sqkm, but a failure of infrastructure and governance to catch up with such growth. The recently released BBMP restructuring report prepared by  a 3-member expert committee, points out that the existing 198 wards in the BBMP area demarcated in 2007 were based on the 2001 census. From 2001-11, the city expanded by 44.6 per cent, one of the highest in its comparable class in the world. During the same period, while the inner core areas grew by about 18 per cent, the outer regions expanded by more than 100 per cent. The report further states that 43 wards have a population more than 50,000 (based on 2011 Census) and the largest ward, Horamavu, is well over 1.1 lakhs at the moment. Compare this to the ward size recommended to be fixed ideally between 20,000 for the outer growth areas and 30,000 for the inner city areas.

Coming back to one of the main triggers of the protests – traffic. It is a norm in Whitefield and ORR regions for people to waste many productive hours negotiating traffic pileups. While narrow roads, potholes, lack of pavements, etc. contribute to the traffic jams, the primary issue, especially in Whitefield, is that the suburb has only two access points and no alternate routes. This nightmare scenario could have been averted had the city administration planned a more robust road network with multi-modal public transport options like commuter rail and bus rapid transit systems when it was wooing IT companies to set up shop. Furthermore, the problems not only stop at bad planning, but also extend to haphazard announcements of one-ways and arbitrary banning of U-turns leading to circuitous routes.

Consider the other perennial problem of lethal potholes in Bangalore. There are two parts to this problem — one, why do potholes appear in the first place and two, why are they not fixed? The first problem arises due to poor quality control in road-building practices and the utter lack of coordination between various civic departments such as the BWSSB, BESCOM, BSNL and BBMP that results in repeated mutilation of newly laid roads. The re-emergence of potholes can be blamed on patchwork repairs carried out with substandard materials. It is quintessentially the government’s way of trying to placate its frustrated citizens after each round of rains. To make matters worse, the administrators repeatedly slip on their self-declared deadlines of making the city pothole free. In short, there is neither sound planning nor a well-managed process.

Another classic case of the administration caught napping is the garbage issue that has dogged the erstwhile ‘garden city’ for the past many years.  Since 2012, the protests of villagers against landfills in their backyards, has moved from Mavalipura to Mandur to most recently, Bingipura. The response of the various governments, including spending 329 crores in the year 2013-14, has hardly changed the situation on the ground. The policy-making space has been ceded so much that the judiciary has continuously overstepped its mandate to propose tender rules for new contracts on waste management, to the latest 2-bin-1-bag ruling. The story follows a similar trajectory on the issue of degradation of lakes. Is it any surprise then that protests continue to arise at a frequent basis in Bangalore?

The solutions to these myriad problems exist. Many civic organizations, activists and experts have lent their time, energy and ideas to fix these issues in Bangalore over the years. The implementation of TenderSURE roads in the Central Business District has lit a beacon of hope. The 2015 BBMP Restructuring Committee’s report addresses most of the chronic problems and recommends a credible roadmap towards a more liveable Bangalore for all its citizens. However, it is yet to gather momentum. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, in his famous speech during the Constituent Assembly debates said, “I feel, however good a Constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it, happen to be a bad lot”. Similarly, all the good policies and governance mechanisms are doomed to fail, unless the intent and accountability of our policymakers is fixed. 

Nidhi Gupta and Varun Santhosh are Programme Managers at the Takshashila Institution and tweet at @nidhi1902 and @santvarun respectively.

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Gaps and loopholes in the Smart Cities mission statement

The Smart cities mission statement forsakes a framework for trade-offs.

The purpose of the Smart cities mission statement is to provide and construct infrastructure and technology that will lead to desirable outcomes such as better quality of life. The assumption is that installation of good physical, social and economic infrastructure will create a smart city. This is a methodological problem. The report constantly mentions the ‘what’ and not ‘how’. Among many, one example is congestion.

The report declares that the smart city will reduce congestion, and will therefore reduce commute time. However, nothing is mentioned of how this will be done: will engineering techniques be used? Will congestion pricing be installed? Will the Central Business Districts be located in one area and the resident areas all in one area, thus enabling better management and planning of traffic? As per the mission statement the outcomes are identified as: “adequate water supply including waste water recycling and storm water reuse, sanitation including solid waste management, rain water harvesting, smart metering, robust IT connectivity and digitalisation, pedestrian friendly pathways, intelligent traffic management, non-vehicle streets/zones, smart parking, energy efficient street lighting, innovative use of open spaces, visible improvement in the Area.’’

smart city image
However, the necessary inputs and their combination haven’t been worked out. The governance question is largely missing. The reasoning upon which concepts like efficiency and affordable are used are either not identified or not fleshed out.

The Smart city mission statement is rather unfocused. The mission statement seems woefully unaware of the possible trade-offs. Finance is limited: operated as a Centrally Sponsored Scheme, the Central Government proposes to give financial support to the Mission to the tune of Rs. 48,000 crore over five years i.e. on an average Rs. 100 crore per city per year (apart from equity which will likely not amount to much). Time is limited: 100 smart cities are to be built in 5 years. Both finance and time are therefore scarce resources. No framework is provided in the report on how time and capital will be allocated, given scarce resources. How does one achieve greatest benefit given these scarce inputs?

Further, the mission statement mentions that some smart cities will be a subset of a larger city (retrofitting and redeveloping). This creates a problem. The amount of rent is a function of the distance from Central Business District (CBD). Closer you are to the CBD, more will be the rent, less will be the cost you incur to reach the CBD (in terms of fuel cost, the probability of meeting with an accident, and time that is, opportunity cost). Therefore, if a smart city is built in one part of a larger city, it will increase the willingness of others to move closer to it, hence increasing rent in these areas – thus making the idea of affordable housing in the vicinity of the smart city a farce. It is therefore necessary to recognise trade-offs.

The second problem of building a smart city in just one part of the city is that development in one area will congest all the paths to it, or that lie outside it. Imagine a city which has 5 roads which go a CBD. Assume these roads are clogged, so if the government broadens one out of these five roads. What happens? It gets worse! People from the remaining 4 roads will begin using that particular road, making it even more congested. The same logic applies to the proposed smart city plan. There are real world examples as well: bad traffic at outer ring road in Bangalore because of the Manyata Embassy Business Park.

Adhip Amin and Devika Kher are Research Associates at Takshashila Institution.Adhip tweets @AdhipAmin. Devika tweets @DevikaKher

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Encapsulating the Smart Cities Mission statement

The Smart Cities Mission Statement provides a base for an autonomous and an independent city.

The Mission Statement and Guidelines on Smart Cities released by the Ministry of Urban Development attempts to modify the governance structure and finances such that the cities become autonomous and self reliant entities. Setting up of Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs), devolution of authorities and opening up the options for raising finance are basic steps made in this direction. The Mission statement also emphasises on replication of the learning from the smart cities and on increasing citizen involvement.

The Mission Statement and Guideline gives a comprehensive outlook into the objectives and the focus areas of the Smart City Mission launched a month ago on July 25 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Prime Minister claimed that a selection of cities on competitive parameters will end the top-down approach, and lead to people-centric urban development.

The Smart Cities Mission is a centrally sponsored scheme as per which Rs. 48,000 crore will be provided to 98 local bodies selected after a rigorous process. The purpose of this mission is “to improve the quality of life of people by enabling local area development and harnessing technology”. As per the guideline, the definition of smart city varies “depending on the level of development, willingness to change and reform, resources and aspirations of the city residents”. There are four pillars of comprehensive development identified to develop the urban eco-system- institutional, physical, social and economic infrastructure.

The Mission will be using the compact city concept which is called ‘the compact area’ in the document. Compact city refers to sustainable urban forms which include characteristics like high residential density, mixed land use, redevelopment of central areas and has facilities including hospitals, parks etc. Keeping in line with the compact city approach, the strategy of the smart cities Mission is classified into three components plus an additional feature. The three component are city improvement (retrofitting), city renewal (redevelopment), and city extension (greenfield development). The added feature is a Pan-city initiative which is to be applied to larger part of the city.

The first component of area-based development is retrofitting. Retrofitting is short term strategy. It focuses on improving the infrastructure levels and using smart applications while keeping the existing structures intact. Redevelopment, the second component, includes replacement of the existing built-up environment with an enhanced infrastructure using mixed land use and increased density. The examples provided are redevelopment of East Kidwai Nagar in New Delhi and the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Project in Mumbai. The third component, greenfield development refers to the development of a previously vacant area with more than 250 acres. It’s objective is to address the the needs of the expanding population. Finally, the Pan-city development aims to use technology and data to work on existing city infrastructure. To implement these strategies, a SPV is to be created under the Smart Cities Mission.

The vehicle for autonomy

The primary objective of the SPV is to ensure operational independence, and autonomy in decision making and Mission implementation at the city level. As per the guidelines, “the SPV will plan, appraise, approve, release funds, implement, manage, operate, monitor and evaluate the Smart City development projects”. The SPV is to be set-up as a limited company where private institutions are allowed to take equity on the SPV, as long as, the state/UT and the ULB have the majority shareholding.

The SPV is to be headed by a full time Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and have state/UT, central and ULB representatives on the board. The CEO of the SPV is going to be appointed based on the approval of MoUD, the chairperson by the state government and the director by the centre. The rights and obligations of the municipal council with respect to the Smart City project have been delegated to them. The board of directors have been given the approval or decision making powers available to Municipal Administration. The Chief Executive Officer of the SPV is provided the decision making powers available to the ULB under the municipal act/ Government rules. In addition to the SPV, a State Level High Powered Steering Committee (HPSC) for Smart Cities is to be set-up for the matters that require the approval of the State Government.

To level with the authority provided, the Mission has also assigned conditions for the SPVs to avail the government funds. The conditions ensure that State government and the ULBs have made adequate contribution and the funds are devolved based on the performance.

Moreover, the government funds and the matching contribution by the States/ULBs is going to be provided only for part of the project. The balance is to be mobilised from charges and fees, the resources transferred as per the fourteenth finance comMission, finance mechanisms like municipal bonds, and borrowings from financial institutions. The SPVs can also use the central government schemes and funds like the National Investment and Infrastructure Fund.

Devika Kher is a Research Associate at Takshashila Institution. Her twitter handle is @DevikaKher.

Adhip Amin is a Research Associate at Takshashila Institution. His twitter handle is @AdhipAmin1.

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