Are smaller cities better?

Apr 25 2014, 03:57 IST
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SummaryGovt should ensure gathering of consistent data for all Indian cities so that they can be compared

In the final run-up to India’s general elections, we note that the manifesto of most political parties includes urban development. What is important to this debate is the prediction that the future of urban growth in developing countries is going to occur in smaller and mid-tier cities, not in the metropolitan areas. Hence, we study mid-tier cities of India, which were selected such that they represent all the geographic regions of the country. In the study, part of a pioneering initiative on the state of our cities, which we’ve completed at the Public Affairs Centre, we compared four mid-tier cities in different parts of the country—Surat (Gujarat), Visakhapatnam/Vizag (Andhra Pradesh), Patna (Bihar) and Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh)—which could have implications for the governance of cities once the new government is voted to power.

The data on Indian cities is poor, which has undermined our ability to do research and formulate sustainable policies for urban growth. In this study, we try to understand crucial urban indicators covering governance, finance, infrastructure, health and education for Vizag, Surat, Patna and Bhopal. The performance of these cities helps us understand their successes and failures, and enables them to be respectively replicated or avoided in other cities, although there is no one size that fits all. Such a study can also promote competition among cities for private investment and residents, provide information to researchers, policymakers and investors, and stimulate targeted urban policies.

Based on our study, what do we learn that has implications for other Indian cities and the new government that will come into power soon? We find Surat to be economically the most vibrant with its industrial base, and a high literacy and workforce participation rate. Surat, already an industrial hub, is also one of the fast growing city economies in the country which ensures most workers find employment for more than six months. This city has satisfied the norms with respect to property tax collection efficiency, has the largest budget in terms of receipts and the highest per capita revenue among the four cities. Even in terms of service delivery, especially solid waste management, Surat is a role model for other cities. However, opportunities for recreation are limited in this industrial city, given it’s the worst in terms of parks per lakh population, among the four cities.

We find Vizag leaves much to be desired since it is home to the maximum proportion of slum households

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