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Editorials/Opinions Analysis For UPSC 20 January 2022 | Legacy IAS Academy

Editorials/Opinions Analysis For UPSC 20 January 2022


Contents:

  1. Democratise and empower city governments
  2. Technology tangle

Democratise and empower city governments

Context:

The general approach towards urban empowerment, including financial capabilities, has remained piecemeal in India

Relevance:

GS Paper – 2: Local Self Governance, Issues Arising Out of Design & Implementation of Policies

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) report:
  2. Significant Findings of the report
  3. Problems with city governments in India
  4. 73rd and 74th Amendment Acts, 1993
  5. Need for Functional autonomy
  6. Way Forward

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) report:

  • RBI in a report, “State Finances, Study of Budgets of 2021-22” wrote: “With the third-tier governments in India playing a frontline role in combating the pandemic by implementing containment strategies, healthcare,… their finances have come under severe strain, forcing them to cut down expenditures and mobilise funding from various sources.”
  • The RBI further commented that the functional autonomy of civic bodies must increase and their governance structure strengthened.
  • This could happen by ‘empowering them financially through higher resource availability’.
  • The RBI did echo the recommendations of the 15th Finance Commission report on local bodies that emphasised city governance structures and financial empowerment.
  • However, there is only partial truth in the report. The emphasis is resource availability, but how this will happen is not highlighted.
  • At the most, it speaks only about generating more resources at the local level.

Significant Findings of the report:

  • Draining of Resources: While correctly identifying the role of the city governments in meeting the challenges the pandemic has thrown up, the report also points to the draining of resources.
    • An RBI survey of 221 municipal corporations (2020-21) revealed that more than 70% saw a decline in revenues; in contrast, their expenditure rose by almost 71.2%.
  • Inadequate Revenue: The RBI report also highlights the limited coverage of property tax and its failure in shoring up municipal corporation revenues.
    • Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) data: The data show that India has the lowest property tax collection rate in the world — i.e., property tax to GDP ratio.

Problems with city governments in India

  • During the pandemic, while leaders from the Prime Minister to Chief Ministers to District Magistrate were seen taking a call on disaster mitigation strategies, city mayors were found missing. Why?
  • Because under the disaster management plan of action, cities are at the forefront to fight the pandemic; however, the elected leadership finds no place in them. It is not just in disaster mitigation.
  • The old approach of treating cities as adjuncts of State governments continues to dominate the policy paradigm.
  • Background:
    • The general approach towards urban empowerment has remained piecemeal in India.
    • State subject: Urban development is a state subject, which is more linked to political and democratic movements in the States.
    • National Commission on Urbanisation: The first intervention to understand ‘the urban’ and plan with a pan-Indian vision took place in the 1980s when the National Commission on Urbanisation was formed.
    • Another important intervention was in the first half of the 1990s with the Constitution 73rd and 74th Amendments.

73rd and 74th Amendment Acts, 1993: 

  • The 74th Amendment Act refers to urban reforms — empowering urban local bodies to perform 18 functions listed in the 12th Schedule.
  • But this was also the period of neo-liberal reforms, so the generation of own resources and a slow withdrawal of the state could be witnessed.
  • Though the democratic transfer of 18 subjects was notable, there was no mention of financial empowerment.
  • It was linked more to the idea of “competitive cites” to attract investments in the urban centres by making their structures and land laws flexible.
  • However, not much investment has happened, and cities have not really been able to enhance their financial capabilities.
    • The only exception to the rule has been the people’s plan model of Kerala where 40% of the State’s plan budget was for local bodies (directly) with a transfer of important subjects such as planning, etc.
    • This paved the way for a new dimension to urban governance.

Need for Functional autonomy:

  • The RBI report has been right in highlighting that functional autonomy of city governments must be allowed.
  • But this should happen with three F’s: the transfer of ‘functions, finances and functionaries’ to city governments.
  • There are nearly 5,000 statutory towns and an equal number of census towns in India. Nearly 35% of the population lives in urban centres. And, nearly two-thirds of the country’s GDP stems from cities and almost 90% of government revenue flows from urban centres.
  • Octroi- a significant source of Revenue:
    • Before value added tax and other centralised taxation systems, one of the major earnings of cities used to be from octroi.
    • In fact, Pimpri-Chinchwad and Pune are examples of two very high revenue-earning municipalities dependent on octroi, as both cities have strong bases of industrial production.
    • But this source of revenue collection was taken away by the State and the central governments.
      • Instead, finance commissions recommended grants to urban local bodies based on a formula of demographic profile. 
      • The grants cover only 15% of total revenue expenditure compared to 55% earlier.
      • In such a situation, it is difficult for the towns to sustain their ability to perform their bare minimum functions, especially with the latest Pay Commission recommendations.
    • This has resulted in a vicious circle of burdening people more with taxes and further privatisation/outsourcing of the services of the municipalities.
    • This is a pan-India phenomenon and the grading of cities and urban policies are linked to this.
    • Now with Goods and Services Tax, the ability to tax has been ‘completely taken away’. Cities find themselves in a worse state than States.
  • Income Tax:
    • The Scandinavian Model: The Scandinavian countries manage their functions well — from city planning to mobility to waste management.
      • But the truth is that a chunk of the income-tax from citizens is given to city governments.
      • Imagine cities such as large urban agglomerates in India getting a percentage of income tax for managing the affairs of urban places. It would be phenomenal!
    • A committee formed under the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development to review the 74th constitutional amendment recommended that 10% of income-tax collected from the cities was to be given back to them as a direct revenue grant from the central government.
      • However, this recommendation was never taken into consideration.

Way Forward:

  • Democratic decentralisation: Cities must be treated as important centres of governance, where democratic decentralisation can bring in amazing results (as seen in Kerala).
    • It brings in transparency and adequate participation of the people.
  • Planned development of Cities: Cities should not be considered as entrepreneurship spaces where the sole driving force is to make them competitive to attract investments.
    • They must be considered as spaces for planned development by giving adequate attention to resources.
  • Adequate Resources: The resources required for quantitative and qualitative data must be immediately provided to the cities to ensure a disaster risk reduction plan (especially Climate Change) keeping vulnerable communities in mind.
  • Make people part of Decision Making: A piecemeal approach such as the concept of ‘smart cities’ must be shunned altogether. This approach further widens the gap between different sets of people.
    • Rather, the grants from the Centre must be enhanced and cities asked to draw up their plans themselves based on priority seeking from city residents.
    • Cities are people and people must be a part of the decision-making process.
  • Leadership: Leadership in the cities must be elected for a term of five years. In some cities, the term of the mayor is for a year!
    • Likewise, the third F, i.e., functionaries, must be transferred to the cities with a permanent cadre.
  • Thus, in this exercise by the RBI, the good part is that there has least been a mention of cities, with local bodies as important centres of governance.

-Source: The Hindu

Technology tangle

Context:

The roll-out of 5G services near airports is posing a challenge to airlines

Relevance:

GS Paper – 3: IT & Computers, Scientific Innovations & Discoveries

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Concerns
  2. 5G Technology and Airline Safety
  3. Roll-out of 5G telecom services
  4. The U.S. and France-Key differences
  5. Way Forward

Concerns:

  • Almost 11 months after the United States’ leading telecommunications companies won bids for $81 billion worth of C-band radio spectrum to roll out 5G services, the much-awaited introduction hit a major snag this week.
    •  The country’s leading airlines warned of massive flight disruptions if the wireless technology was put into operation, especially around the nation’s airports.
    • In a compromise on the eve of the planned roll-out on January 19, AT&T and Verizon agreed to delay introduction of the new wireless service near key airports.

5G Technology and Airline Safety:

  • The two major telcos’ commitments notwithstanding, several domestic and international airlines flying to the U.S. have announced major rescheduling as well as the possibility of cancellation of flights to several destinations
  • Warnings: Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and aircraft makers warned that that accurate functioning of radar altimeters in some aircraft may be affected by the 5G radio frequencies.
  • Altimeters:  The altimeters provide information on an aircraft’s altitude and are a crucial part of flight operations for pilots, particularly while seeking to make low-visibility landings in inclement weather.
  • C-band radio spectrum: Both the 5G services and some flight equipment operate on the same C-band radio spectrum, with only the frequencies varying.
  • The FAA has said it is working with altimeter manufacturers to evaluate data from the wireless companies to determine how robust each model is, and, if required, have the devices retrofitted or replaced.

Roll-out of 5G telecom services:

  • The fact that the world’s largest economy is now faced with the risk of large-scale domestic and international air travel disruptions as a result of the relatively belated roll-out of 5G telecom services points to the peculiar problems of the U.S. market, including the particular frequencies allotted there for 5G.
  • South Korea, China and Japan and several European nations have already successfully rolled out 5G services.
    • The U.S. telcos have cited the lack of problems in these jurisdictions as evidence that the FAA and airlines need to do more to find solutions to the deployment of the wireless technology near airports.

The U.S. and France-Key differences:

  • The FAA on its website has pointed to the specifics of the proposed 5G roll-out in the U.S. with a comparison to the situation in France and asserted that some key differences pose challenges.
  • For one, the aviation regulator contends planned buffer zones for U.S. airports only protect the last 20 seconds of flight, while in France the last 96 seconds of flight are protected from any interruption from 5G signals.
  • Also, 5G power levels are lower in France, with even the planned temporary nationwide lower power levels in the U.S. still expected to be 2.5 times more powerful.

Way Forward:

U.S. President Joe Biden and his administration will have their task cut out in pushing to hammer out a long-term solution to this impasse so as to minimise any further disruption to the already pandemic-hit global travel and trade sectors.

-Source: The Hindu

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