May 18, 2018 @ 2:00 am

18 MAY 2018

Arbitrary, capricious

The Governor has banked not so much on the count the BJP had, as what it could engineer

In summarily ignoring the claim of H.D. Kumaraswamy, Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala abandoned both propriety and common sense, acting in a politically partisan manner unbecoming of his office. Mr. Kumaraswamy was elected leader of the Janata Dal (Secular) Legislature Party and, with the declared support of the Congress, had the backing of a majority in the newly elected Assembly. The leader of the BJP Legislature Party, B.S. Yeddyurappa, offered no demonstrable proof of majority, but was invited to form the government, and given all of 15 days to prove he had the confidence of the House, solely on the basis of being the leader of the single largest party. Far from ushering in a stable government, the Governor unbolted the doors to allow room for the BJP to try to engineer defections. In situations such as these, the Constitution allows an element of discretion to the Governor, but this power was never meant to be used arbitrarily and capriciously. In defence of the Governor’s action, BJP leaders have cited the Bommai judgment, which ruled on the course open for the Governor in the event of a Chief Minister losing majority in the House, but offered no opinion on a post-poll situation, where it said the Governor had to “invite the leader of the party commanding majority in the House or the single largest party/group to form the government.” Nothing in the judgment privileges the single largest party over the largest group when it comes to being given the first shot at forming a government.

The BJP leaders have now staked out positions that are at odds with those they adopted after the Assembly elections in Manipur and Goa, when the single largest party, the Congress, was denied a chance to form the government. Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had a weak defence on this turnaround: the Congress, he claimed, had not staked a claim in those two States. The Congress has taken the fight to the Supreme Court, which has asked the Attorney General to produce the letters written by Mr. Yeddyurappa to the Governor in support of his claim. When the members of the Congress and the JD(S) together constitute a majority in the House, it is unclear what letters Mr. Yeddyurappa could have presented to the Governor. No matter how things turn out from here on, the BJP has emerged as a bad loser. The party played a smart hand in Goa and Manipur to deny the Congress, but is unable to accept defeat in Karnataka when beaten at its own game. Politics is not always about reaching for power; sometimes it is also about learning to sit in the Opposition. After all, power is only one of the means of politics, not one of its ends. The BJP may have bested the Congress in Karnataka, but it may not have paid the price for this victory yet.

Growing cities

A fresh look at urban governance is necessary as migration from rural areas picks up pace

Cities are economically vibrant spaces around the world and draw a large number of rural migrants looking for better prospects. This is a sustained trend, particularly in developing countries now, as production, jobs and markets get concentrated. More evidence of this comes from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, which has released its 2018 Revision of the World Urbanization Prospects. Forecasting for the year 2050, the UN agency estimates that the percentage of urban residents in India would be 52.8, compared to 34 today, while Delhi would edge past Tokyo as the world’s most populous city by 2028. India, China and Nigeria are expected to lead other countries and account for 35% of the projected growth in urban population by mid-century. This forecast frames the challenge before developing countries, India in particular. Urbanisation in the country is a complex process, since it is defined not by a constant migration of rural residents but by the flow of workers, mostly men, and the expansion of big cities through the addition of neighbouring towns.Among governments there is a strong policy emphasis on improving facilities in rural areas, indicating a political preference for reduced migration to urban centres, although there is a natural economic magnetism to cities. The imperative before the Centre and State governments is to come up with policies that provide adequate services in the villages, while investing in cities to ensure that their high levels of productivity and efficiency are not compromised.

Even with only a third of the population living in cities, civic anarchy is rampant in the country. Housing deficits have led to the proliferation of slums, lack of enforcement of building norms has left the metros heavily congested, and poor investment in public transport has fuelled unsustainable levels of private vehicle use. Moreover, as recent data released by the World Health Organisation show, 14 Indian cities are among the top 20 worldwide with the worst air quality profiles for fine particulate matter of 2.5 micrometres. Most cities are also unable to collect and dispose of municipal waste scientifically, and simply dump them in the suburbs. Such a dismal scenario can only get worse with higher population concentrations, unless city governments come into their own. Even two-and-a-half decades after municipal laws were reformed, elected Mayors lack the stature and authority to introduce urgently needed reforms. Now is the time to take a fresh look at urban governance. While the Centre’s goal of homes for all by 2022 is laudable, it is unlikely to be realised without a push from the States, and the launch of schemes driven by innovation and low-cost approaches. Augmenting rental housing should be a priority within the plan. Integrating green spaces, open commons and wetlands will make cities cleaner and aesthetically richer.

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