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Urban Governance and Its Influence on National Politics

Urban governance is a vital and valuable part of the political spectrum. It matters significantly in the life of city dwellers, influencing their ideas and thoughts with abundant scope of information through print and electronic media.  In fact, urban population is impacted by media messages almost everywhere they turn around.

In fact, politics and governance issues are so deeply centered to urban localities like city corporations and municipalities that can influence national politics. All Mayors and Ward Commissioners of municipalities and city corporations although apparently not nominated by any political party but owe allegiance to a particular party. In municipalities and city Corporations, election of Mayor and Ward Commissioners generate serious political sensation as observed in the City Mayor election of newly created Narayangonj City Corporation

Cities are thus considered as engine of growth and incubator of civilization. Cities and municipalities are crossroads of ideas and places of great intellectual ferment. It is therefore widely believed that population of cities and municipalities can generate a strong movement to change the political scenario and bring significant changes in social and economic perspectives.

Cross-country experiences suggest that a number of cities have created specific mechanisms for participatory governance that enables communities and local governments to forge partnership in achieving stable political system and safer cities to live in.  If a person is really serious about making a real difference in the urban society and likes to contribute in national politics, he should get deeply involved in urban local urban bodies. 

The urban districts, towns or boroughs have their corporate status and power of self government, created in pursuant of state law. It is an identifiable central place where amenities like metallic roads, communication facilities, electricity, gas, water supply, sewerage, sanitation etc usually exist, Municipalities are densely populated area where political sensitiveness persists and people, mostly non-agricultural,  finds interest to interact only on politics and culture.

On the other hand, the rural population concentrates on exchange of ideas on agricultural growth, fisheries, marketing and much concerned about the welfare of community as a whole. In rural areas, community is almost homogenous having identical wave length of thoughts and ideas with common life style, habits and practices.

For this purpose of local government administration, urban local bodies are categorized into (a) City Corporation and (b) Municipalities locally called as Paurashava. Paurashavas are further divided into three categories A, B and C depending on size, population and income. The government, from time to time, notifies in the gazette constituting urban local bodies. There are at present 310 Municipalities with 8 city corporations. On the other hand, there are 4498 Union parishads and 481 Upazila parishads and 64 districts to local administrative settings.

The Local Government (Pourashava) Act, 2009, (Act of 58 of 2009) has been promulgated on 6thOctober, 2009 after repealing the previous Ordinances. It provides that 3/4th of the total population living in Pourashava (Municipality) areas must be engaged in non-agricultural occupation and 33% of the land must be   non-agricultural in nature and density of population per square kilo-meter must not be less than 1500 as against the existing density of population 935 per sq. kilometer (Census -2011).Total population should not be less than 50,000 in total in a paurashava, It means that a municipality must be densely populated urban local body.

The population of urban areas is growing much faster specially in developing countries like Bangladesh. As at present, national population growth of Bangladesh is 1.34%, whereas urban growth is more than 4% per annum and half of the total population will be in urban centers in next 25 years.

It is estimated that of the 42 million people now living in urban areas, 33% live in slum areas. It is projected that an estimated 80 million people will be living in urban areas by 2020, 40%-60 % of whom will be living in improvised housing, slums and squatters.  Dhaka will be the fourth largest densely populated city of the world.

Urbanization has generated major problems in terms of poverty, food security, health, shelter, unemployment, environment pollution, social segregation and security.  Rapid  and unplanned urbanization is also associated with changing  lifestyles, characterized by unhealthy  nutrition, reduced physical activity, drug addiction  etc leading to social risk,  chronic  and communicable diseases.

The governance is the exercise of political authority and the use of institutional resources to manage society’s problem and affairs that perfectly applicable for municipal governance. In fact, politics provides a means by which the governance process operates. People may choose expectations by way of political activity; they may grant power through political actions and they may judge performance through political behavior. This is an important issue in any democratic climate prevailing any where, national government or local bodies.

Some suggest making a clear distinction between the concepts of governance and of politics. Politics involves processes by which a group of people with initially divergent opinions and interests reach collective decisions generally regarded as binding on the group, and enforced as common policy.

Governance, on the other hand, conveys the administrative and process–oriented elements of governing rather than its antagonistic ones. There is thus no distinct way to separate governance and politics, both involve aspects of power.  Fair governance implies that mechanisms function in a way that allows the executives to respect the rights and interests of electorates in a spirit of democracy.

Participatory Governance focuses on deepening engagement through the participation of citizens in the process of governance with the state. The idea is that citizens should play a more direct role in the decision –making or at least engage more deeply with political issues. Government officials should also be responsive to this kind of engagement.

In practice, participatory governance can supplement the roles of citizens as voters or as watchdogs through more direct forms of involvement. In municipal governance, participatory process in administration is the way to improve more interactions among different political groups.

Rural local bodies like union parishad or upazila parishad are less political than the urban local bodies. In Union Parishad, Chairman or Members are very known persons in the locality and many of them are kith and kin or close associates. A candidate having more relatives in the area gets elected whatever might be his political identity but this is not true in case of urban local bodies.

In urban local bodies politics prevails in rank and file. For the payment of holding tax, taxes for water, sanitation, sewerage, street lighting, solid waste disposal and many other taxes for a city dweller compels to interact with Mayor or Ward Councilors. Many tax-payers are senior bureaucrats, reputed advocates, respected educationists and dominating media personalities. At the same time, the sizeable number of slum dwellers, floating population, street urchins, drug addicts, and habitual offenders are almost 30 % of the population living side by side who hardly understand the spirit of governance.
Thus municipal governance is very delicate issue from the point of politics, development initiatives and law enforcement. Dhaka, a metropolitan city is inhabited by population of all districts of Bangladesh. Any news and ideas generated in cities very quickly spreads throughout the country. Equally the culture, concept and pattern of behavior adopted here in Dhaka imitated everywhere.

Similarly, the political thoughts or agitations or movements once grounded in the capital or City Corporation or municipality spread very quickly. A culture of fair governance, if nurtured in municipalities, shall be followed in and around. This is the political sensibility of municipalities.

Therefore, all governments should provide more importance to the politics and governance system in urban local bodies and attach more importance to the welfare of urban population. This is the reason for which many political thinkers prescribe that a democratic political practice with good governance as vehicle adopted in the cities and municipalities can act as building block of the nation.

Author: Dhiraj Kumar Nath
Former Advisor to the Caretaker Government and
Consultant, Asian Development Bank

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