Mumbai urban governance

Antilia, Mumbai

For some comparative research on intra-urban inequality, I started looking at Mumbai’s urban governance structure, and, wow, it’s complicated. While in Tokyo you had and have a fairly clear-cut division between central government, TMG and wards, the Indian megacity appears to have many more layers and parallel structures. Some notes to get my head around this below.

The Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) is primarily a vehicle for the state government (Maharashtra) to affect planning (via its special planning authority MMRDA). Within the territory of the MMR, there are eight municipal corporations and nine municipal councils (based on the population criterion). These are also referred to as ULB – Urban Local Bodies.

Significant de jure reform, primarily via the 74th Constitutional Amendment, has strengthened these lower tiers of governance. However, in practice, as Pethe argues, not much has changed. The chapter is from 2013, so we need to see whether the intervening period has brought about any significant change.

The largest ULB is the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM or BCM), home to most of the MMR’s population and the economic nerve center of the state. The territory of the MCGM is divided into seven administrative zones. Each zone has 3-5 administrative wards (i.e., there are 24 in total). There are also 236 electoral wards (see gerrymandering).

The vertical (multi-level) governance hierarchy described above is complemented by horizontal governance (multiorganizational): Several state parastatals include the Maharashtra Road Development Corporation (MSRDC), the Public Works Department (PWD), as well as the and the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA). The central government also has parastatals, including the Airport Authority of India, Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) and the Railway and Cantonment Board.

This article here sounds a little bit like a satirical take on the governance structure (but is meant seriously); but the message is clear. The many layers of governance create a complicated system; and there are serious questions of efficiency and accountability. The same questions we have discussed in Tokyo regarding “home rule” and the right degree of decentralization are thus significantly more complex in Mumbai.

What is more, the analysis I performed for Tokyo focused on inequality between the special wards. They are both administrative and political units. This allows for a fiscal redistribution scheme to operate within very confined urban space; something that we normally study within regional economics.

The ultimate aim of this research is to compare my indicators and their analysis with Mumbai’s Human Development Index (HDI) which the UNDP calculated in 2011 using ward-level data. Drawing on census and health data, the latter detects significant inequality between the wards.

Both the methodology and conceptual problems make the Mumbai HDI a relatively weak composite indicator to capture intra-urban inequalities. This is especially true as the policy recommendations can have little basis in governance decisions given the plethora of responsible (and irresponsible) bodies tasked with the territory’s administration.

The Mumbai HDI provides a static snapshot of the Indian megacity. As inter-city comparisons are virtually impossible given path dependencies, the major advantage of composite urban indicators and their distribution across a cityscape is when longitudinal data is available.

With that, we can compare the trend (divergence or convergence of subnational administrative entities such as the wards) and couple this with questions of the urban form (e.g., substandard housing districts, public space), urban economic geography (agglomeration economies) and urban institutions.

This is perhaps a worthier comparative study in understanding the drivers of intra-urban inequality and to engage in a city-to-city dialogue on this important topic.

More to read includes several pieces, e.g. on socio-spatial segregation, water provision, emerging ward political identities and representation and middle class politics. Interesting studies for the Indian context also include this one here on Delhi. A more systemic literature review will undoubtedly reveal a rich debate going on, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Lastly, there is also a significant body of research on composite urban indicators that capture inequalities. I had done some work on this for my PhD (social indicators, civil minimum in the 1960s and 70s), but there is a renewed interest in this due to improved mapping options such as GIS as well as better data. A historical overview is here.

Inspirational papers include those of Javier Martinez (whose PhD thesis I drew significant inspiration from) and this more technical piece from a set of Brazilian researchers – I paste below their final statement, which emphasizes my point above.

“A final limitation can be attributed to the frequency at which census data are updated. In Brazil, as in many countries, these census data are updated every ten years. As a result, the indicators built tend not to represent a present reality. Therefore, it is a challenge for future research to develop methodologies that make it possible to update census data and, based on these data, develop longitudinal analyses of multidimensional phenomena.”

One thing I have noted during this cursory review of the literature is that better indicators and mapping of inequality allows for better policy interventions. It should also equip the public to demand targeted improvements for their specific geography inside a city. A large role is usually afforded to civil society organizations, e.g. those working in Mumbai’s slums.

I wonder whether the granularity of the data restricts its usefulness as a political tool – we would need better alignment with electoral boundaries for that, like it was the case in Tokyo. And the lack of long-term data as well as its comparability might limit its usefulness as benchmarks for politicians and public sector officials.

This micro-level data approach might benefit civil society organizations as well as external donor support, primarily via targeted and locally-confined projects. A worthy question might be how the public sector as well as the political process can be brought back into this discussion on intra-urban inequalities.

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