28/02/2017 9:24 PM IST | Updated 01/03/2017 12:29 PM IST

Thiruvananthapuram Is India's Best Governed City According To A Survey, But That Doesn't Say Much About Our Cities

Even India's top-ranked city cannot hold a candle to the best in the world on governance and planning

Danish Siddiqui / Reuters
A view of Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram, capital of the southern Indian state of Kerala, February 20, 2012. The documentation of the treasure unearthed at the famed Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple last year began Monday morning with a joint meeting of the two committees appointed by the Supreme Court. The temple is believed to have a treasure trove of precious jewels which is estimated to be worth more than lakh crore, making it the richest temple in the world, the Hindustan Times reported on Monday. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui (INDIA - Tags: SOCIETY RELIGION)

Thiruvananthapuram, Pune and Kolkata rank as the top three cities on an annual survey of city-systems, but even the best-ranking city scores a grade of 4.4 out of 10 as against 9.9 for New York. Dragging Indian cities down is their score on governance and planning indicators.

The Annual Survey of India's City-Systems (ASICS) 2016 conducted by the Bangalore-based urban research and advocacy group, Janaagraha, scores 21 cities in 18 states on 83 parameters divided into four main components - Urban Planning & Design, Empowered & Legitimate Political Representation, Urban Capacities & Resources, and Transparency, Accountability & Participation.

Thiruvananthapuram was the top-ranked city last year as well; the city scored particularly well on citizen interest in local elections and on its ability to address citizen complaints. In 2016, Mumbai was ranked fourth while Delhi ninth, both megacities' ranks worsening by two ranks since 2015. Even India's top-ranked cities, however, had moderate scores compared to the best globally; the highest score an Indian city got was 4.4 out of 10 as against 9.4 for London and 9.9 for New York on the same indicators.

Across the board, cities scored the least on governance indicators; all cities scored 0 out of 10 on effective mechanisms to deal with City Plan violations (compared to 10 for London or New York). Delhi ranked the best on planning and design, Mumbai on capacities and resources, and Thiruvananthapuram on political representation and transparency.

Delhi ranked as the only city with adequate staff for its needs; barring Delhi and Mumbai, cities have an average of less than 350 municipal staff for every 1 lakh residents. Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai are also the only cities with at least 1 planner for every 1 lakh citizens.

There is also wide variation in how much city's spend on their citizens. Mumbai alone spends as much on its 12.4 million citizens (Rs 33,168 crore in 2014-15) as the next ten most populous cities put together on their 54.4 million citizens. As a result, Mumbai's per capita expenditure on its citizens (Rs 26,657) is over four times that of the next ten cities. At the other end of the scale, Patna spends just Rs 1,114 annually on each citizen.

The report also points to the shambles that city finances are in. Many cities do not even generate enough revenue to cover staff salaries; in Patna, salaries accounted for 320% of the city corporation's revenue in 2014-15. Even Mumbai funded only 66% of its expenditure from its own revenue, a figure that falls to as low as 17% for Patna. Others appear not to know how to draw up budgets; Bengaluru overestimated the size of its budget by Rs 1,821 crore or 30% of its budget.

The report recommends a slew of immediate and medium-term reforms. Among those that Janaagraha recommends immediate action on are implementing a system to monitor and prevent plan violations, set up a Metropolitan Planning Committee, institute updated financial management systems for cities, update hiring requirements, give corporators adequate resources, make all mayoral terms five years and implement an effective complaint management system.

"The fact that Municipal commissioners do not report to the mayor but to the relevant state government department, and the lack of powers of the mayor and councillors or corporators reflect the failure of the three-tier system of governance, Anil Nair, deputy head - advocacy and reforms at Janaagraha, said. "In addition, it isn't money alone that makes a city run well; Mumbai is a perfect example of having the resources and capacity, but still failing to deliver an adequate quality of services. One area that cities particularly lag behind in is transparency and accountability; even basic information about cities and their budgets for example is not easily available," he said.