Spirited Discussions at the Conclave on ‘Shaping India’s Urban Agenda’.

On the sidelines of the release of the ASICS 2015 report, a national conclave was held on 16 March at the Imperial Hotel, New Delhi to facilitate meaningful discussions on the state of India’s cities and towns, and on what needs to be done to improve their quality of life. The conclave was organized by Janaagraha and its sister-organization Jana Urban Space Foundation, supported by the IDFC Foundation.

The discussions at the event centered around the key issues unearthed by the Annual Survey of India’s City-Systems 2015 (ASICS), which argued that only systemic interventions on urban issues (rather than quick fixes) would lead to a sustainable transformation of our cities and towns.

The conclave featured discussions on urban India, and saw a wide range of stakeholders participate: elected representatives, city leaders, bureaucrats, subject matter experts, activists and business leaders.

Mr. Venkaiah Naidu, Hon’ble Union Minister for Urban Development was the Chief Guest. He agreed that citizen participation, transparency and accountability are crucial to urban governance. He also stressed on the importance of the credit-worthiness of India’s cities, in order to raise funds for improved service-delivery.

Mr. N R Narayana Murthy, Founder-Infosys, in his inaugural address, said that we need to work towards building ‘just’ cities and not ‘smart’ cities. He believed that ‘just’ cities would be based on an inclusive model, which would consider the needs of all strata of society, and not just those of the affluent.

The keynote address was delivered by Mr. Jayant Sinha, Hon’ble Minister of State for Finance, Government of India. He said that urbanisation should be holistically used to bridge the rural – urban divide in India.

Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Member of Parliament, expressed his view that it is time for experiments in participatory governance and that Indian cities should have directly elected Mayors with fixed tenure and executive powers.

The conclave featured panel discussions on these four themes –

  1. Smart Streets: Leveraging PPPs in Urban Roads.
  2. Cities as Growth Engines: Building Institutional Capacities.
  3. Making Participatory Budget Work: What Will it Take?
  4. Who Speaks for our Cities? : The Role of Elected Representatives in City Governance.