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Kochi has Very High Levels of Service Delivery and Associational Life: Prof Heller

In Kerala
February 04, 2021

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM:
A survey of 15 Indian cities, conducted by a prominent group of academicians from USA, has found that Kochi in Kerala has very high levels of service delivery and associational life at a time the challenge of empowering and democratizing cities remains one of the country’s greatest developmental dilemmas.

“Kochi, one of our case studies, does well. But there are still gaps in the quality-of-service delivery, particularly sanitation,” said Prof Patrick Heller, Professor of Sociology, International Studies and Public Affairs, Watson Institute, Brown University, USA.

Prof. Heller, who led the survey, revealed its findings during his talks at the ‘Decentralisation and Local Governance’ sub-session of the ‘Kerala Looks Ahead’ (KLA), a global virtual conference and consultation organised by the State Planning Board, here last evening.

“Another finding that is striking is that overall associational life in Indian cities is robust. The cities that do best are those where the local councillors are powerful and active and we see this in Kochi in particular,” said Prof Heller, who has authored the acclaimed book ‘The Labor of Development: Workers in the Transformation of Capitalism in Kerala’.

However, rapidly emerging cities in Kerala need to be ‘states within states’ by granting them tremendous autonomy, more legislative powers and making them engage in more long-term strategic planning.

Prof Heller has published articles on urbanization, comparative democracy, social movements, development policy, civil society and state transformation. His most recent project, Cities of Delhi, conducted in collaboration with the Centre for Policy Research, explores the dynamics of governance and social exclusion in India’s capital.

“One of the richest and most fascinating real-world experiments in decentralising democracy anywhere in the world was in Kerala under the Chief Ministership of E M S Namboodiripad,” he noted.

“The focus then was on the panchayat. It is time policymakers shifted focus to cities. The uniqueness of cities lies in the fact that they are force multipliers. Cities are capable of leveraging massive returns from increasingly developed and differentiated divisions of labour,” he explained.

Prof Heller said it is wrong to assume that the powers associated with the densification of associational life and density of market life are spontaneous. “That is absolutely not the case. They can be exclusionary and can produce involution rather than dynamism,” he said.

The increasing informality that one witnesses in many Indian cities, the capital city being a case in point, underscores the fact that when these forces are not properly coordinated they are anything but dynamic.

While noting that institutional power in India is at a higher level, the academician said cities may grow but the growth that comes without inclusive growth is not sustainable. Making a strong case for decentralization, he said it would empower the frontline workers, help them develop their capabilities and give them the resources and authority to solve problems on the ground.

Prof V K Ramachandran, Vice Chairperson, Kerala State Planning Board, in his welcome address, said local governance in Kerala is unique, and it was amply reflected while tackling the COVID crisis.

The session was moderated by Ms Sarada G Muraleedharan, Additional Chief Secretary, Local Self Government Department, Kerala, who called for a holistic approach to tackle the issues like making a balance between development and responsibility towards the environment.

Prof Prabhat Patnaik, Professor Emeritus, Jawaharlal Nehru University, said competition is anathema in a socialist society. Panchayats should have community ownership of the source of production and adopt the model of the Chinese communes, an idea not dissimilar to what Gandhiji thought about production.

Prof Harry Blair, Visiting Fellow, South Asian Studies Council, Yale University, said participatory budgeting and decentralization have survived in Kerala because of good governance, good track record and high human development indices.

Others who took part included Dr S S Meenakshisundaram, Visiting Professor, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore; Aruna Roy, Founder, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan; S M Vijayanand, former Chief Secretary and Chairperson of Kerala’s 6th Finance Commission; Dr J Devika, Professor, Centre for Development Studies; and Prof K N Harilal, Member, State Planning Board.

Josephine J, Chief, Decentralised Planning Division, Planning Board, proposed the vote of thanks.