City-Systems Reform Network

I. What are City-Systems?

Visualize an iceberg; what you see above the water are these quality of life challenges or issues millions of citizens face every day.

Even as our governments remain pre-occupied with Band-Aid solutions to the visible issues on the surface beneath the surface lie the City-Systems that are often ignored and unaddressed.

As identified in the Economic Survey 2016-17, ULBs, that are primarily responsible for providing infrastructure and services in our cities, face a governance challenge. ULBs face major and inextricably linked problems: poor governance capacities, large infrastructure deficits and inadequate finances. Janaagraha's ASICS survey has identified these specific gaps in City-Systems across cities:


Weak spatial planning, absence of design standards

  • Outdated Planning Laws
  • Lack of Spatial Development Plans
  • Weak institutional capacities for effective implementation of plans

Lack of adequate finances, and lack of adequate skilled workforce

  • Cities unable to generate adequate revenues
  • Weak financial management
  • Inadequate poorly skilled human resources

Weak political leadership at a city-level, in terms of both powers and legitimacy

  • Local governments are not empowered with short mayor terms, weak devolution

Opaque administration, lack of accountability and no opportunities for citizens to participate

  • Lack of institutional mechanisms for citizen participation
  • Lack of financial transparency and information on service quality

II. The Intervention

Janaagraha proposes to form a pan-India network of organizations working in the area of urban governance to collaborate on "Transforming Quality of Life in Indian Cities and towns". Janaagraha's flagship advocacy initiative, the Annual Survey of India's City-Systems (ASICS) covering 21 largest cities in India, will form the cornerstone of the intervention's engagement strategy with decision makers. ASICS is a comprehensive diagnostic of the state of India's city-systems based on Janaagraha's City-Systems framework. It is intended to serve as a bellwether of the degree and direction of systemic reforms being undertaken by governments in respect of cities.

The City-Systems framework provides a comprehensive systems approach to diagnose and address these governance and institutional reasons. The framework consists of the following four components:


  1. Urban Planning and Design
  2. Urban Capacities and Resources
  3. Empowered and Legitimate Political Representation
  4. Transparency, Accountability and Participation

Through a collaborative approach that will leverage Janaagraha's expertise in governance reforms and involve city partners with local knowledge and expertise, the proposed Network will engage political and administrative decision makers at the Central, State and City level to advocate and implement systemic reform in each of the above four areas that make up the City-Systems framework.

III. Collaborative Approach for City-Systems Reforms

Through a collaborative approach that will leverage Janaagraha's expertise in governance reforms and involve city partners with local knowledge and relationships, the proposed 'City-Systems Reform Network' will focus on the 23 largest Indian cities* covered in the ASICS survey to engage political and administrative decision makers using ASICS findings, and advocate and implement reform agendas to improve urban governance.

Though City-Systems reforms is a core area of work Janaagraha, a network based approach is the context of urban governance reforms is an innovative approach to address the diffused responsibilities for local governments across states. A network approach would facilitate sharing of best practices and on-ground application of experience and learnings among partners. The cities and states proposed to be covered are as under:

 S. No City State
 1  Ahmedabad Gujarat
 2  Bengaluru Karnataka
 3  Bhopal Madhya Pradesh
 4  Bhubaneswar Odisha
 5  Chandigarh UT
 6  Chennai Tamil Nadu
 7  Dehradun Uttarakhand
 8  Delhi Delhi
 9  Guwahati Assam
 10  Hyderabad Telangana
 11  Jaipur Rajasthan
 12  Kanpur Uttar Pradesh
 13  Kolkata West Bengal
 14  Lucknow Uttar Pradesh
 15  Ludhiana Punjab
 16  Meerut Uttar Pradesh
 17  Mumbai Maharashtra
 18  Patna Bihar
 18  Pune Maharashtra
 20  Raipur Chhattisgarh
 21  Ranchi Jharkhand
 22  Surat Gujarat
 23  Thiruvananthapuram Kerala
 24  Vishakapatnam Andhra Pradesh

The 23 cities chosen include the capital cities of the 19 largest states in India and the next four largest cities subject to availability and ease of gathering data. The cities have been chosen for engagement to ensure the maximum traction in terms of advocacy. The cities have been chosen keeping in mind their political and economic significance.

Though the recommendations for the reforms, would be based on the diagnosis of the state capitals, the reforms, in the form of amendments to Act, changes in policy and processes would be applicable state wide, since the laws and policies are framed at the state level. Therefore, though the network will primarily focus on the state capitals the reforms proposed and their impact would cover all the ULBs in the state.

IV Rationale for the Network

Under the Constitution of India, Local Government, including Municipalities fall under the jurisdiction of the states. Therefore, state Governments are the principal stakeholders for implementation of urban governance reforms. Two essential attributes for successful advocacy of institutional reforms include:

  • Long term sustained engagement with governments and other key stakeholders and
  • On-ground local expertise to inform the engagement

Given the long gestation period in implementation of systemic reforms, local partners are essential to ensure sustained engagement. City-systems reforms would require continuous engagement and advocacy with the local authorities and the state governments. Local organizations, with on ground presence, familiarity with local issues and who have experience and expertise in advocacy and engagement with local and state governments.

V Network Objectives and Scope

The proposed network shall use the findings and related data from the ASICS survey to:

  • Engage key decision-makers in order to enact or amend laws and policies
  • Implement new and improved institutional mechanisms or processes and
  • Establish accountability frameworks in municipalities, civic agencies and state government departments dealing with cities.
  • led and implemented by Janaagraha in cities / states where a network partner could not be identified or on-boarded for implementation

VI Network Deliverables

The deliverables for the Network would be as under:

  • Detailed State / City level diagnostic evaluation of urban governance based on the City-Systems framework with an actionable reforms roadmap
  • State level engagements through workshops, roundtables and conclaves to engage elected representatives (councilors, MLAs), city officials, Urban department officials of states, and other key stakeholders including business heads, citizen groups, CSOs, etc.
  • Implementation of city-system reforms in areas as covered in the areas of Urban Planning, Urban Capacities, Empowered and Legitimate Political Representation and Transparency, Accountability and Participation

Policy Areas for the Intervention

  1. Amend Town and Country Planning Acts of States, so as to implement a Spatial Development Planning framework that results in equitable, environmentally sustainable and economically vibrant and viable habitats
  2. Work with States to empanel Chartered Accountants to audit annual accounts of municipalities, and to institutionalize the same
  3. Establish Performance MIS framework at State level to review financial and operational performance of municipalities OR in municipalities directly
  4. Aid States and Cities to improve performance of municipalities especially in respect of revenue collections and financial management, through process improvements, automation, staff reallocations and outsourcing
  5. Implement online complaint management systems in municipalities and other civic agencies
  6. Advocate for and have states enact laws and rules that facilitate community participation, participatory budgeting
  7. Put in place a process/framework for objective measurement of quality of life, public disclosure of civic data and data-driven decision making in respect of budgeting
  8. Advocate for and have states enact laws that mandate empowered local governments with a directly elected mayor with a 5-year term
  9. Advocate for decentralization in local governance through formal institutional platforms for citizen participation such as Ward Committees and Area Sabhas

VII Reform Outcomes

  1. Publish audited financial statements for urban local bodies in partner states
  2. Revenue enhancement of municipalities, through process improvements including establishing a Performance MIS framework, automation, staff reallocations and outsourcing
  3. Online integrated complaint management systems in municipalities and other civic agencies in partner states / cities
  4. Institutionalized process for participatory budgeting in partner states / cities
  5. Amendment to Municipal Acts to include provisions on empowered mayors with a 5-year term
  6. Updated Cadre and Recruitment rules incorporating modern HR practices in respect of recruitment, performance management and disciplinary action
  7. Publish service level benchmarks for services rendered by the urban local body and actual service levels

VIII Janaagraha's Role

Janaagraha will establish a team led by a Network Coordinator, to identify, sign up network partners and coordinate the activities of the network to achieve its objectives. The project will be overseen by a Project Director based out of Bengaluru. Responsibilities for Janaagraha would include, but not be restricted to, the following:

  1. Identify and sign up partners in the 24 cities / 20 National ASICS states
  2. Prepare detailed State/City level diagnostic evaluation of urban governance in collaboration with the city partner with an actionable reforms roadmap
  3. Lead Dissemination of data and insights to key decision makers, nationally and at the state / city level in collaboration with partners
  4. Explore opportunities for partnership with city/state government on undertaking city-systems reforms
  5. Lead implementation of city-system reforms in partner states / cities in the absence of a network partner
  6. Support engagement with city / state government for signing up to city-system reforms
  7. Play an advisory role in the selection and recruitment of the partner staff to lead the city-system reform implementation
  8. Provide technical support in implementation of city-system reforms
  9. Review progress on implementation of reforms in partner cities and suggest corrective action

IX Role of Network Partners

Network partners will allocate staff to undertake activities to help the network meet its defined objectives. Responsibilities would include, but not restricted to, the following:

  1. Provide data and support in preparation of the state/ city level diagnostic evaluation
  2. Disseminate data and insights to key decision makers at the state / city level
  3. Create engagement platforms and engaging with key decision makers to advocate for reforms
  4. Lead implementation of city-system reforms in partner states / cities with support from Janaagraha
  5. Recruit and train appropriate staff to lead activities of the network to meet defined objectives