Big Ideas in Small Cities: Sustainable Solutions for Waste Management


States in the United States are occasionally called “laboratories of democracy" because they can try innovative policy solutions, especially when action is slow at the federal level. Beyond states, cities and towns also have the potential to evolve context-specific solutions to overcome challenges. The Indian Constitution was amended in 1994 to decentralize power and decision-making to the municipal level and empower local governments. Today, smaller municipal bodies in cities across India are responsible for important functions related to sustainable development, including waste management.

When it comes to waste management, a 2018 report shows that small cities outperform their larger counterparts. The 2019 Swacch Sarvekshan rankings of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs demonstrate that seven of the top ten cities have populations less than 10 lakhs. Big cities can learn from the initiatives of these smaller cities. Three small cities - Ambikapur, an agricultural and mineral-based city in Chattisgarh, the tourist town of Alappuzha in Kerala and Vengurla, a coastal town in Maharashtra - show us that size does not matter when it comes to innovation. 

Exchange Waste for a Meal in Ambikapur, Chhattisgarh

Image Credit: Nagar Nigam, Ambikapur

Image Credit: Nagar Nigam, Ambikapur

 In July, Ambikapur became home to India’s first garbage cafe where people receive meals in exchange for waste. One kilogram of plastic waste can get you a full meal whereas half a kilogram will fetch you breakfast. Additionally, the plastic collected by the Ambikapur Municipal Corporation (AMC) will be used to construct roads. While the garbage cafe is a novel idea to help clean the city, and plastic roads are a great way to use recycled plastic, this alone is not enough to help the city manage its waste. 

Amikapur’s waste management system is an important part of its cleanliness initiative. For instance, for solid waste management, the AMC integrated non-government organisations (NGOs) and self-help groups (SHGs) into door-to-door collection and waste segregation. The city also set up Solid and Liquid Resource Management Centres (SLRM) to segregate waste. While their centralised approach leads to employment opportunities for the community, experts contend that a decentralised approach to waste management with segregation at the source is more effective and environmentally-friendly. The Solid Waste Management (SWM) Rules, 2016 reflect this in creating a framework for decentralised waste management and mandating segregation at source 

Alappuzha in Kerala Manages Waste through Decentralisation

In 2012 protests of residents living near a landfill in Alappuzha resulted in the shutting of the landfill  two years later. The town began a pilot project in 2014, providing anaerobic composting bins and biogas plants to every family to segregate and process garbage with a 90% and 75% subsidy. . The scheme expanded over time to cover most of the city. In areas where there are no household bins, residents may use community bins. This system operates at the ward level.  Recognising the town’s successful model, the Kerala State government developed a policy to install aerobic bins in 1000 gram panchayats. The decentralised system is not just finding appreciation in the state; the city of Shillong in Meghalaya also replicated it. Alappuzha’s waste management system was also recognised as a success story by the United Nations Environment Program. Alappuzha was one of three cities given the Clean City Award by the Centre for Science and Environment in 2016 and was the cleanest city in Kerala as per the state rankings in Swachh Survekshan 2019.

A Landfill-turned-Park Becomes a Tourist Attraction in Vengurla, Maharashtra

Image Credit:

Image Credit:

Vengurla converted a landfill into a waste management park which has conventional features like fruit trees and an organic farm, but the main attractions include a segregation yard, a biogas plant, a plastic crusher unit and a briquette-making plant. Vegurla separates waste into 23 categories and the park recycles almost every type of waste including plastic, cloth and paper.  In 2017, 7000 people visited the town to see its unique park. This also generates revenue for the municipality. The architect behind the scheme attributed part of its success to public participation. Several other towns in Maharashtra have made significant strides in waste management. 

Though all the three cities faced similar challenges, they used innovative solutions based on their context while also incorporating the common good practices such as enforcement of rules, imposing fines, creating awareness and building capacity of their human resources. Vengurla created a statement by converting its dump yard into a park to show the level of commitment towards cleaning the city. Allappuzha utilised a mix of technological innovation and community mobilisation and produced successful models of low cost household and community composting solutions. Ambikapur nurtured women-led SHGs and made them key to the waste management process. Through their waste management programs, small cities and towns across the country show us how collaboration, innovation, and addressing the context can create lasting change in our communities.


To Cooperate or Not to Cooperate? That is the Question


The image above shows vision and objectives of four banks. While two of them have an explicit focus on the needs of the community, the other two are clear in their focus on a revenue model which ensures profitability. Two of them are co-operative banks and other two are commercial banks. This difference might be more pronounced in written words than in action. The origin of these two streams of banking however was indeed based on the principles these vision statements imbibe.

Modern commercial banking, was introduced to India by the British, to advance their commercial and economic interests in India and integrate them with their financial system in Europe. The first three Presidency banks were on the port cities of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras which were key trading ports and economic centres for the British. In 1921, these three Presidency banks were merged to form the Imperial Bank of India, which became State Bank of India (SBI) after Independence.

Even though SBI has evolved to become the largest lending bank in India it does not feature in the top 50 banks globally. Financial returns, profits and the held capital size are some of the criteria for these rankings. To create such stronger, bigger and profitable banks, Government of India recently announced its plans to merge 10 public sector banks into four, after almost a century of the amalgamation of the three Presidency banks. The acknowledged intent for the mega-merger of Indian banks is to create efficiency, economies of scale and generate higher returns and profits.

Cooperative Banking: An alternative approach

Parallel to the evolution of modern banking, another movement was picking up pace in a different part of England in the middle of 19th century. Many weavers in Manchester were losing jobs due to increased mechanisation of the industry. To guard themselves against the high market prices of consumer goods, 28 weavers organised themselves as Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers. They started a consumer products store. The store was amongst first such attempt towards a ‘cooperative business’. It gave them access to affordable products as well as an income generating business.

Around the same time, Friedrich Raiffeisen and Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch were laying the foundations of ‘cooperative banks’ in Germany. Their efforts were also a direct outcome of the hardships faced by farmers and craftsmen during the 19th century industrial revolution era. Raiffeisen founded a society to provide affordable credit to farmers and Schulze founded a similar society for artisans. Today, almost 1 out of 4 people in Germany, is a member of a cooperative.

Origin and Principles of Urban Co-operative Banking in India

Cooperative movement spread to India shortly after Britain and Germany. Anyonya Sahakari Mandali in Vadodara was the first ‘mutual aid’ society that was formed on co-operative principles in 1889. It later became a co-operative bank (and was recently shut down in 2008). The Cooperative Credit Societies Act was passed in 1904.

India has close to 98,163 cooperative banks, out of which only 1551 (or 1.5%) are urban cooperative banks (UCBs). Rest of the 96,612 banks are rural cooperative banks. 1.5% of the cooperative banks (the UCBs) accounts for 34% of the total asset size of all the cooperative banks.

While commercial banks started with the commercial motives for financing governments and businesses and make profits, the cooperative banks were started to cater to the needs of those who could not afford banking services and needed support.

 Commercial banks enabled the integration of global finances between 17th and 19th century through colonialism. They bind the whole world through complex financial linkages even today. While commercial banks expanded the flow of capital beyond transcontinental boundaries, cooperative banks emerged as the vehicles to generate and multiply the capital within the communities.

Cooperative banking, like most cooperative initiatives is based on the principles of self-help, self-administration and cooperation between the members of the cooperative. Today there are a number of initiatives that help those that would formerly be unbanked to be included in the financial institutions. These co-operative banks were the first institutions providing this credit line and services to those who would not have gotten access to finances at the commercial banks.

Commercialising of Co-operative banks

Today, Cooperative Banking, especially the urban cooperative banks, stand at crossroads between the balance of the cooperative spirit and the competitive commercial interests. While some of the larger UCBs are aspiring to operate on the lines of commercial banks and expand their credit and geographic footprint, the RBI is cautious to allow their expansion.

The RBI Committee on UCBs under the chairmanship of Madhava Rao in 1999 had noted that “the essence of co-operative character is that a cooperative is an institution where there is an identity between the share-holders and borrowers and that the members elect the board of directors of UCBs on the quintessential dictum of ‘one member - one vote’ irrespective of a member's share-holding”. The committee considered that its first objective was to ‘preserve the co-operative character of the UCBs”.

Over the last two decades, the focus has been to ensure that their expanded operations are not detrimental to the financial and monetary system, not so much focus on preserving the principles on which the cooperatives have been formed. The latest high-powered committee’s recommendations in 2015 focused on finding ways through which UCBs could become commercial banks and identifying new areas of business.

The RBI committee in 2015 also recommended the thresholds for the business sizes of cooperative banks beyond which UCBs could convert to commercial banks or small finance banks. It also recommended creation of a Board of Management over and above the existing Board of Directors, as a mandatory requirement if UCBs wish to expand their area of operation or open new branches.

The UCBs themselves have been aspirational and made great strides especially after the liberalisation in early 1990s. RBI’s policy of ‘one district-one bank’ for UCBs was done away with in 1993 and over 500 new UCBs were granted license in a period of 6 years between 1993 and 1999. The fact that only 293 new banks were licensed between 1967 and 1993 i.e. over 26 years, can put this growth in perspective. This growth was later marked with a consolidation phase where well performing UCBs took over underperforming banks. Almost 128 mergers had happened between 2004 and 2017 and their number reduced from 1926 to 1562 in this period.

What does this trend to commercialize mean?  

The recent trends in cooperative banking in India point to a tilt in favour of economic interests over the objectives of meeting community needs. Aspiring for growth is a natural instinct and it is true for co-operative banks as well. However, if this growth leads to the dilution of the spirit with which the institutions were formed, there is a merit to assess this aspiration for the sector as a whole.

In 2016, UNESCO added “The Idea and Practice of Organizing Shared Interests in Cooperatives,” to its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It describes cooperative as ‘an association of volunteers that provides services of a social, cultural or economic nature to members of the community to help improve living standards, overcome shared challenges and promote positive change’. UNESCO identifies cooperatives as a heritage worth preserving.

Cooperatives including co-operative banks have always straddled between meeting economic and social interests. The genesis of cooperatives though was a reaction to the free market economic structures which pursued profits. Cooperatives intended to make the economic outcomes secondary to the social welfare outcomes and serve the members of its communities.

Growth in cooperative banks reflects the trust communities and shareholders have shown in them. Is transforming into a commercial bank part of natural evolution for cooperative banks? Are they merely copying the business models and aspirations of commercial banks? In the face of lack of options, this is the only way for them to grow? Banking sector should introspect and search for these answers such that the growth in cooperative banks is not at the cost of the communities and those who need them.



Nagar Trends: Power of a Nagar


Cities in Indian Constitution
Originally, the Indian constitution did not have an explicit focus on cities or city governance. When the constitution was adopted, the priority was to integrate states and territories in the newly formed country based on the pre-independence governance structures. Later, the states were reorganised linguistically. Local level institutions such as panchayats and Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) gained attention in the early 1990’s when the 73rd and 74th amendment of the Indian Constitution recognised them as the third tier of the government. The 12th Schedule was added through the 74th Amendment with 18 functions meant to be devolved to the ULBs listed in this schedule. These 18 functions were to be the remit of the urban local bodies. Some of the already existing schedules include list of states, union territories; their respective functions (union list, state list and concurrent list); and administration & governance of scheduled areas, tribal areas and panchayats.

Pan-India Study
Nagrika has been conducting a pan-India mapping of the implementation status of 74th Amendment and municipal functions enshrined in the 12th Schedule. This is being done as part of a knowledge partnership project. The project is an urban governance study led by Praja Foundation, a non-partisan organisation working towards enabling accountable governance. Praja's initiative aims to advocate policy changes that will change the way Indian cities are governed. It is multi-year project in nature, with ground research as the foundation being used to form a pan-India network and influence change across the country. The Nagrika team have already visited 16 out of the 29 states, which are part of the study.

The primary objective of the Nagrika component of the larger study is to build an evidence base on the status of decentralisation of municipal functions at the city level by collecting it directly from the cities. The study is analysing that how empowered are the municipal corporations to undertake those functions in terms of staff and capacity, financial resources, legal mandate as well as autonomy in decision making. For each of the states, we have analysed the municipal acts to understand the functions provided to the city governments as per these acts. We have also verified from the city governments directly, as to how many of those functions are performed by them and various other state or national level agencies. In addition, we are identifying the prevalent institutional structures across different states and municipalities, the roles and responsibilities of various departments and officials (elected as well as administrative) within the municipalities and local / regional civil society organisations working on governance issues. 

Preliminary Reflections from the Study
Nagrika presented some of its reflections on its study in a regional level roundtable organised by Praja Foundation in Feb 2019 in New Delhi. The consolidated findings of the study will be presented in due course of time. Our initial findings from first 6 states as well as regional and state level consultations held to validate the findings are available here.

a. Composition of the functions
Though the 12th Schedule lists 18 functions, these 18 functions themselves are actually composed of many more functions. All the Municipal Acts list anywhere between 40-50 functions to be undertaken by the ULBs. Kerala's Act has approximately 150 different functions. 

Within the 18 functions, there are a few functions which contain more than one function. For example, the 'Promotion of Cultural, Educational and Aesthetic aspects' is one function but a municipality requires different resources and skills for promoting cultural activities, running educational institutions and enhancing aesthetics in a city. 'Public amenities including street lighting, parking, bus stops, public conveniences' is also considered as one function but  each of these is a distinct function. Then there are others which might sound as one function but have multiple parts like urban planning. This function includes creation of a spatial plan as well as its execution. The agencies as well as the skills required for the designing a plan versus enforcing a plan are also different. Given the multi-dimensional composition of the functions, there are various gaps and overlaps between the agencies who perform these functions. The study has identified these multi-dimensional functions as well as details regarding their funding and functionaries who perform them.

b. Administrative decentralisation versus Deliberative Decentralisation
The study also analysed the level of decentralisation at city level for both the deliberative as well as administrative wings.  The study highlighted the differences that exist in the relative level of decentralisation between these two wings at the city level. For instance, the difference that exists between the two wings with regards to the implementation of 18 functions in terms of the administrative department or staff assigned to the function versus elected councillors or deliberative bodies (such as standing committees) assigned for them. 

c. De facto vs De Jure: 
There is a wide variation in what is included in the Municipal Act and what is practiced on the ground. The study found the variances between the law and the practice for issues such as ward committees, integration of municipal plans with District Planning Committees' plans, delegation of functions listed in the 12th Schedule  among others. It also highlights the detailed analysis of these 18 functions in terms of what is provided in the Act, what does performing the function entail, who performs them, what are the challenges in performing them and so on.

d. Devolution versus control:  Analysing the Acts against the prevalent practices across the cities we identified the various ways and means through which effective devolution is subservient to control of national/state departments or para-statal agencies. Most Acts give control to state government including the power to dissolve corporations. This control is manifested in various others forms as well, such as appointment of posts in the municipalities, inspection of municipal works, overseeing implementation of municipal activities, granting approvals for works that municipalities undertake etc.  Most of the municipal acts define the municipal functions either as obligatory and discretionary, the former being the essential functions to be performed by the municipality and latter are not essential but at the corporation's discretion.  The study highlights how the control of the municipal functions is spread between the essential and discretionary functions and who holds the discretion to the performance of the function. 

The study is a positive step towards documenting the vast amount of existing but diffused knowledge on the functioning of the third tier of the government i.e. city government AKA municipalities. It is putting together a credible evidence base from across the country, on the opportunities and challenges that exist in empowering this tier of the government, that is closest to citizens.

What 2018 held for Urban India

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2018 was (yet another) year of cities, big and small. It was in continuation of the many previous years through which cities (and citizens) have been resurging as a dominant political, economic and social unit, independent of their regional, state and national level identities. This has been a slow and steady but a definite process with various planned and unplanned factors contributing to the resurgence. These include political and constitutional provisions that gave greater powers to cities and citizens; evolution of government programs, their funding mechanisms and institutional structures; an increased sense of civic participation from citizens; limited capacity of centralised governance institutions to monitor and deliver; technological enablers such as internet and mobile phones. Bottomline-Cities are here to stay! Pun intended.     
In the past, various ex-post-facto policies on important urban issues have been framed by Union government, such as transit oriented development policy, metro rail policy, policy on faecal sludge management among others. This year discussions and action on a national level ‘urban policy’ gained traction. The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) is undertaking its preparation through a group of experts and organisations. The policy is said to be aligned with New Urban Agenda that was adopted at Quito, Ecuador during the Habitat III Summit.

In the last year, many state governments also formulated state level policies pertinent to urban issues. There were various policies issued by the relevant state urban depts (as listed below) along with policies of other departments, that had a direct bearing on the cities such as ban on use of plastics, use of electric vehicles among others.

  • Gujarat Government notified a sanitation policy to streamline collection and disposal of all kinds of waste in urban areas. Bihar Government also notified a solid waste management policy.

  • Maharashtra Government notified a green building policy for promotion of environmental friendly buildings. It also has revised regulations for integrated townships in the state through which developers can get 3 to 3.6 times the existing building rights on green belts.

  • Tamil Nadu is finalising its Urban Housing and Habitat Policy while also working on Development Regulation and Building RulesPunjab also came up with a new set of building rules to boost construction activity. A land pooling policy was notified and approved, for Delhi under the Master Plan 2021, which allows private sector and landowners to pool their land for development. Haryana government notified a policy for regularisation of illegal buildings and land use

  • Madhya PradeshHaryana and Bihar (for Patna) drafted policies on Transit Oriented development. This is not an entirely new development, especially since urban development is a state subject. However, their formulation reflects the fact that states are adopting a policy lens to address critical urban issues, either in the form of creating new policy processes for their regulation or revising the existing ones.

Modes of financing in Indian cities continued to evolve in the last year. In the beginning of 2018, National Urban Housing Fund was set up, to provide extra budgetary resources (EBRs) especially for the affordable housing program. EBRs are government borrowings from state owned enterprises/institutions such as, Housing and Urban Development Company (HUDCO), National Social Security Fund (NSSF) among others. It also includes grants and loans from multilateral and bilateral agencies. The use of EBRs for capital expenditure especially for cities, was a visible trend in the last year. Mexico and few other cities have used non-bank, social security funds as a way to finance housing, though in the form of mortgage finance directly to (prospective) homeowners.
Project funding for cities under Smart Cities was converted into a challenge process last year. An all India challenge process (CITIIS) was launched where smart cities are applying and competing for project funding supported by French Development Agency (AFD) and European Union (EU),
2018 also put cities of India in stark contrast with its villages, further highlighting the rural-urban divide. This divide had both a real and a digital version. It was manifested in real terms through multiple farmers' protests across the country including the almost 200 km long march of farmers between Nashik and Mumbai. There was an organised farmer strikeacross 10 states (though call was for a nationwide strike), which restricted supply of essential items such as vegetables and milk to the cities. The digital version of this rural-urban divide was also prominent in the last year. A company’s expansion plans seem to be based on this alleged divide between urban ‘India’ and rural ‘Bharat. Also, not only was there a wide gap assessed between urban and rural populations in terms of mobile ownership (even larger gap than Pakistan, Bangladesh and Kenya), rural areas also seemed to have much lesser share of Internet users. However, the rural counterpart consumed a lot more TV entertainment and bought lot more automobiles than the urban. 

2018 was a year of many surveys and rankings. Indian cities are now getting used to being pitted against each other. Till a few years ago, lay citizen only heard of India as a country being ranked under various rankings- e.g. India’s rank in corruption, HDI etc. In last decade, governments began efforts to undertake city based competitions and rankings. However, these rankings were created internally by government departments. It was a competition between different (levels and regions) of government with little or no citizen feedback. Now the competition has opened to the public. Some of the city rankings in recent years have factored the voices of citizens. Consequently, citizens relate with the rankings as well. For e.g. Swachh Survekshan gives almost 1/3rd weight to feedback by citizens. That these rankings are taken seriously, can be inferred from the efforts of multiple cities to perform better in the upcoming rankings. For e.g. efforts of ChennaiPuneBhopalGuwahatiThoubalAurangabadKozhikode and many others. All these cities are making efforts to engage with citizens and other stakeholders to create awareness about the survey and achieve a better ranking.
Indian cities have also started making to various global rankings where they have been evaluated along with other international cities. In a recent ranking of global cities, the top ten fastest growing cities are from India. Another ranking where Indian cities held majority of top slots was the global ranking in bad air quality where India had 14 out of 15 most polluted cities in terms of PM 2.5.
Year 2018 also saw multiple international partnerships in the domain of urban development. There was also a Memorandum of Understanding that was approved between India and Singapore for cooperation in urban planning and other city level services. A partnership was signed between India and Germany in the field of sustainable urban development. Another pact was made with France to help cut greenhouse gas emissions in urban transport and a Memorandum of Cooperation was signed with Japan in areas of technology, railways and urban transport projects. Many of these agreements were bilateral, between the national governments. 
While the cities stayed at the forefront, citizens also made themselves heard last year through various citizen led initiatives. A citizen led effort in Delhi ensured that almost 16,000 trees were saved from felling.  A Managaluru based civic group filed a writ petition in Karnataka High Court to hold the state's urban local bodies accountable for not forming ward committees as per the 74th Amendment. Another win for a citizen led initiative was the inclusion of Mumbai's Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles of Mumbai in the UNESCO's world heritage list. Out of the 37 heritage sites in India, this is the first where nomination process was led by citizens and citizen groups. Some citizens of Pune also came together and launched a movement for a green Pune. 

There were many more such initiatives that saw citizens take up an active role in matters of city's infrastructure, environment and to a certain extent, in governance. 2019 is ahead of us and we hope that it will be another year where cities and citizens will continue to build stronger relationships with each other.


Finding Citizens!

Finding Citizens

Finding Citizens


Communities have evolved through multiple forms of political organisations where source of power is either in hands of one (monarch), a few (oligarchy), or many (democracy). Democracy, which literally means ‘power to the people’ was one of the early forms of political organisations that intended to give power to the citizens.

Magna Carta Libertatum or the Great Charter, was signed in the 13th century by King John of England to broker peace with his rebel barons and control his unequal powers. In simple terms, Magna Carta laid the principles for guaranteeing rights of those not in power. Some of these rights pertained to issues such as taxation, marriage, property ownership, inheritance, personal liberties, rule of law for criminal proceedings and so on. Though not devoid of conflicting opinions about its role, the Charter and its various revisions are seen as the historic fountainhead of modern democratic principles.

From the 63 original clauses of the Charter, only 3 remain in the English Law. One of those 3 clauses include the preservation of ‘liberties and customs’ of the ‘City of London and other towns, cities and boroughs’. These liberties and customs for the city essentially meant the rights of the people living in those cities as well as officials governing the cities.

Over the centuries, this clause has been eroded by various legislations that have prevailed over the clause or by the obsoleteness of the sub-clauses themselves such as archaic taxes, tolls, penalties, officials and so on. However, the continuity of this clause and its survival over almost seven centuries, brings forth two important points.

1.     Rule of law is essential to guarantee (city’s/citizen’s) rights

2.     Role of cities (and citizens) is important in any Rule of Law

As an independent country, India chose be a democratic republic i.e. it gave power to the people through their chosen representatives, while guaranteeing certain inalienable rights via a Constitution. For us, the rule of law stems from the Constitution, which gives power to the legislature as well as executive.

Where does the role of cities feature in our rule of law? After being ruled by British for over two centuries, our system of governance as well as rule of law was largely influenced by that of Britain. We still have many laws dating back to pre-Independence. Role of cities in our rule of law also has been in evolution since British times. And since then, we have gone back and forth from acknowledging the role of sub-national units and giving them power. To govern (or rule) India, British Parliament started with the Governor General of Bengal who later became Governor General of India and then the Viceroy. The process, in effect centralised the British rule. The reforms initiated by Lord Rippon in 1882 and subsequent Government of India Acts in the period before Second World War, were all aimed at making local governments stronger. Next year will be 100 years of the Govt. of India Act of 1919, which (for a short while) created the system of ‘diarchy’ which devolved certain powers to the provinces while keeping others with the Viceroy (central government). Subsequently in 1935, greater autonomy was legislated for provinces and power was divided between the centre and the provinces through a Federal List, Provincial List and a Concurrent List (but no City List).

Post-independence, we seem to have undertaken a similar journey of effective centralisation and then yearning for decentralisation. After almost four decades of being a Republic, the role of local bodies was acknowledged constitutionally, and an amendment was made to make panchayats and urban local bodies a third-tier of government. The 74th Amendment to the Constitution, made in the year of 1992 (enforced by 1994), redefined the role of urban local bodies in terms of their functions and powers, revenue sharing with state governments and stable representative government at the city level. It has been 25 years since the amendment but the evidence of the efficacy of the amendment is mixed.

We are currently the knowledge partner of a pan-India study to collect this evidence and have already visited 12 states studying the Municipal Acts in conjunction with the constitutional amendment and mapping it with actual implementation in cities. Though the amendment clearly designated 18 functions (perhaps similar to a City List) to be performed by the municipalities, the evidence on actual implementation is mixed. In some states, the fire services are with the municipal bodies, in others with the state fire department or home and emergency services. Some cities control the water supply while in others para-statal departments are still providing the connections and collecting water charges.  The institutional structures are also varied where some cities have a directly elected mayor and others have indirectly chosen mayor. Few have a 5-year term for the mayor and others have 2.5 years or 1 year.

In most of the states, the role of citizens is city affairs is not institutionalised. Power to the people at city level was envisaged directly through citizen participation via Ward Committees and indirectly by providing democratically elected governments where every citizen could vote (as per the eligibility). More than a decade after the 74th CAA, the ‘Community Participation Law’ (CPL) was made a (state level, not city level) mandatory reform under the Jawahar Lal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM). However, municipal elections in many states/cities still don’t take place every five years and municipal bodies continue to run without any elected body. Ward Committees have not been constituted or are not functional in many cities even today.  

However, now the onus of citizen participation is not solely on the constitutional provisions but also on the present context in which city specific programs are being implemented.  As the flow of information has increased, it is not possible to implement major programs without taking inputs from the citizens. New forms of participation, including those enabled through technology, have emerged. Citizens themselves are realising the importance of their voices in steering the future of their cities.  Resident Welfare Associations in Secunderabad recently demanded a statutory status for themselves. Municipalities also have come a long way in understanding and enabling citizen participation as compared to almost a decade ago when JnNURM required City Development Plans to be formed through citizen participation.

It is interesting to note that it was communities and cities that provided the initial template for democracy that got translated at national level. Now we are coming back to conforming these templates at a city level. We indeed have come a long way where courts have to intervene to allow citizen's participation in functioning of urban local bodies from the times when the first urban local bodies in India could only be formed if residents of the city made an application for their formation. 


Urban Sanitation: In the Driver's seat

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The present conjecture that our future is urban has a long past. In the modern era, perhaps as old as the Industrial Revolution or at least since the turn of the 19th century. 

By the Local Government Act of 1894, Britain created a system of urban and rural districts with elected councils. Before the Act was passed, UK had sanitary districts, which were formed under a separate Public Health’s Act, an act that specifically aimed at reforming the public health and sanitation conditions in the urban areas. The reform in 1894 ended urban and rural sanitary districts and merged them with the Municipal Corporation. The turn of the 19th century was perhaps foreseeing an urban future in which greater responsibilities were needed to be entrusted with the local bodies instead of issue based jurisdiction. However, there was an undercurrent for these reforms - the looming disease outbreaks due to deplorable public health conditions. The reforms were aimed at containing these epidemics and stopping them from spreading in urban areas.

During the British rule, India also saw similar institutional structures for public health and sanitation. There were sanitary boards and later sanitary commissioners and then dedicated sanitation departments in all the provinces. Through the Local Self Governance Act of 1885, local bodies were formed and they became responsible for sanitation in the cities. After independence, public health and sanitation largely stayed with the state governments. With the 74th Amendment, public health was devolved as one of the 18 functions to the local bodies, affirming the importance of public health as an urban priority. Twenty five years have passed since the amendment and a century since the Local Government Acts, and now the public health issue seems to have come to the forefront in India. And the undercurrent is again the same-the worsening public health situation in cities. Sanitation and sewerage projects form the majority of the projects in the centrally run AMRUT scheme. While AMRUT is being implemented in 500 Indian cities, Swachh Bharat Mission, a scheme focused on sanitation, is being implemented throughout urban and rural India. It covers all the statutory towns in India.

Public health and Sanitation are the key drivers of urban change catching the imagination of wider public as well as authorities. In the past year, in our visits to multiple small and mid sized cities,  we found that they had one thing in common - new approaches to sanitation. Cities of all sizes and vintage are making efforts of door to door waste collection, segregation and disposal. We have heard at least dozen different sanitation related songs that were played by the waste collecting vehicles in different cities. And also heard various innovative clean-city caller tunes. These are small changes but are representative of a bigger shift in the perception of local bodies’ role, especially small cities, in achieving larger public health outcomes.

Cities like Ujjain, Chas, Ambikapur and others are in top 20 national rankings of Swachh Sarvekshan. Cities like Bhadson, Panchgani, Bundu, Siddipet have topped the zonal rankings. Chances are that many of us wouldn't have heard of these cities before. So while sanitation is coming to centre stage, it is also bringing those cities to centre stage with it. 



How can good O&M regime make provision of Public Toilets in Small Cities Effective?


An increased focus on sanitation in urban development and its role in public health have thrown the lack of adequate public toilet facilities into the limelight. Public Toilets (PTs) are undergoing an evolution, where their role is being redefined to enable outcomes of dignity, empowerment, health and hygiene, business and tourism and good governance. Individual household toilets as well as community sanitary complexes (CSCs) were part of union government funding under previous schemes. Public toilets and Urinals which were not under the purview of such assistance earlier, are now included in the Central share under Swachh Bharat Mission’s (SBM) urban component.

Perceptions of public toilets from a user’s perspective, however have been poor. From a gendered perspective, poorly maintained public toilets engendered violence against women, as a study in Mumbai showed. A 2006 study carried out in the twin cities of Hyderabad-Secundarabad suggested that 47% of women who need to use the toilet would wait until they got home. 64.2 % of the women said they had a bad experience and 92.5% of the women gave unhygienic conditions as the reason for not wanting to use public toilets. Other reasons given included the lack of water (69.2%) and bad smell (62.8%). This points to the fact that poor Operations and Maintenance of facilities has led to underutilisation of these facilities despite them being available.

SBM has initiated construction of household, community and public toilets at a rapid pace across more than 4000 statutory cities. Since more than 90% of these cities have population less than 1 million,  SBM covers a significant proportion of urban population living in such cities. 63 Smart Cities with populations of less than one million also fall under the Swachh Bharat Urban Mission. As per PAS study based on Census 2011 results, almost 12% of urban household’s resort to open defecation (OD) and another 8% use public or shared toilet facilities. In cities with population below 100,000 OD rates are even higher around 22%. It has also been stated that 20-49% of rural households which have toilets within the house, at least one member defecates in the open. The reasons for OD are poorly operated and maintained toilets, lack of water supply and the non-availability of toilets themselves. Taking a cue from rural experience, the supply through construction in these cities will not convert to sustained uptake of these toilet seats, especially public toilets, unless it is coupled with good O&M practices.

As the Restroom Association of Singapore (RAS) recognises, even the best designed restrooms which are used by users with a better civic sense, will get dirty and unusable without a robust operations and maintenance regime. Compounding this challenge in India is the assertion that “Most of the people who use public toilets lack civic sense” according to the erstwhile Ministry of Urban Development endorsed findings of an online survey. While political will (branding of Swachh Bharat), awareness in pop-culture (films like Toilet: Ek Prem Katha) can go a long way in addressing behaviour and attitudes, ULBs and Sanitation Departments must invest in and develop best practices of O&M of Public Toilets.

The presence of a robust O&M regime can bring a positive change that is cyclical – as studies conducted in public toilets in Hong Kong and parts of Africa have shown. For example, people were found to be more likely to handle things with care if it was clean and well maintained. On the other hand, people are more likely to press a flush handle with a shoe if they found it to be dirty. ULBs and/or operators must be able to cater for a high footfall in terms of sustained O&M and keep the public toilets clean and functional to invoke and sustain positive change in behaviour.

O&M costs vary widely. A study in Austria stated that it would cost 3.26 million euros to maintain 327 public toilet blocks which in 2017 terms would work out to 12538 euros (9.93L) per toilet block. This is despite most of the toilet blocks not being manned. Moreland City Council, in Australia puts forward a cost between 2.6L and 5.2L per year as O&M costs for unmanned blocks. The Pune Municipal Corporation stipulates a cost of 4.20L per year to maintain a manned 2-4 seat toilet block for 16 hours a day. O&M costs of a manned Sulabh facility in Delhi are 4L, for a 20-seat toilet facility. In Andhra Pradesh, the projected costs as per the government guidance for a 7-seater toilet are 3.66L and the human resources cost projections are almost 50% of this cost. On the basis of these limited cases, it can be seen that Indian public toilets are budgeting almost the same amount for manned public toilets as those in the West with unmanned toilets. Ultimately, the O&M costs will vary according to the contextual factors – what must be recognised is the realistic need to budget for these costs when these toilets are constructed. SBM (urban) envisages public toilets to be constructed under PPP mode where O&M is part of the concession for at least five years. There are no projections provided for O&M costs and it is left on the concessionaire to propose the same. In order to get the bids for constructing, the potential operators should not cut corners on O&M budgets and ensure adequate O&M budgeting is provisioned. New Zealand and the UK have been experimenting with PPP arrangements in catering to public toilet needs. Many of the ‘public’ toilets in their city councils are privately owned and operated as part of existing businesses, sometimes charging users a fee. City Councils in these countries have thus successfully utilised pre-existing supply of toilets in establishments to cater to demand while effectively reducing the burden of O&M.

To help with an intensive O&M requirement, operators can maximise the advertising potential. If these toilets can be kept clean and functional, it will attract more users, which will in turn bring in more advertising revenues / revenue from Value added services. It will have to be complemented with innovative strategies to deter and change user behaviour. A scheme where a user fee which can be returned partially in the form of a voucher (for the city bus service, for example) for responsible use too can be put in place. On the other hand, penal approaches that may encourage responsible toilet use could include a ‘Name and Shame’ wall for people who urinate publicly or vandalise the toilet in addition to a heavy fines. For example in Beed district, controversial means have been used to deter people from open defecation.

 As India heads towards increased urbanisation, the battle for sanitation in small cities gives ULBs and potential operators an opportunity to redefine the role of public toilets-enabling mobility of women, children and senior citizens, drawing tourists, providing value added services or emerging as key public spaces. The ‘hubs’ of activity in small cities may be still few and footfalls may be still manageable – unlike their metropolitan counterparts where most parts of the city are crowded. But the challenge is still enormous – innovative design, institutionalised improvisations that change public behaviour also need to be complemented by a thorough and O&M regime that strives to turn the perception of Public toilets on its head.


Nagrika is the knowledge partner of Gujarat State CSR Authority (GCSRA) in an innovative project that aims to create trendsetting public toilet blocks across multiple small cities. The knowledge component encompasses design guidelines, revenue models, O&M guidance,  enabling partnership between local actors among others. 

Are urban policies aligned with city hierarchies?


India presently uses multiple definitions to classify its urban centers. The first and most  prominent definition is the one by the Census of India. It classifies towns in two categories, one based on legal statute and other on a mix of population size and economic functions. All places with a municipality, corporation, cantonment board or notified town area committee are termed as statutory towns. All other places with a minimum population of 5,000, at least 75 per cent of the male main working population engaged in non-agricultural pursuits and a density of population of at least 400 persons per sq. km are termed as census towns.

Another definition is used by the Ministry of Finance (MoF) to determine on financial liabilities of the Union government to its employees. Based on the recommendations of Pay Commission, the MoF puts forth its classification of cities/towns to grant House Rent Allowance (HRA) to central government employees. The cities are classified as X, Y and Z based on their population. 


Table 1: Pay Commission’s City Classification

Classification of cities



50 lakhs and above


5-50 lakhs


Below 5 lakhs


Finally, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) also classifies Indian cities on the basis of population and ranks cities as Tier-1 to Tier-6. They are also classified as Rural, Semi-urban, Urban and Metropolitan. RBI uses this classification for various decisions relating to allowing the opening of full branches, mobile branches, administrative offices, back offices and other activities related to the banking.


Table 2: RBI’s Classification and Census classification


Centre Classification

Tier Classification

1,00,000 and above

Urban (10 lakh and above classified as Metropolitan)

Tier 1

50,000 to 99,999


Tier 2



Tier 3



Tier 4



Tier 5

Less than 5,000


Tier 6


Urban Hierarchy and Urban Policy

These three classifications are also used for decisions related to various government schemes including those relating to urban development. For e.g. Ministry of Urban Development is implementing the urban component of Swachh Bharat Mission in all the statutory towns (based on the Census). The number of cities per state to be covered under Smart Cities mission also took into consideration the number of statutory towns in the state. 

In order to understand the relevance of classifications with respect to the Smart Cities Mission, we examined how the original list of 98 Smart cities match up to some of the hierarchies being used in India and two urban programs.


Table 3: Overlap of Hierarchies with Smart Cities


Percent of smart cities that are also





Affordable Housing


Tier 1 cities (RBI)


Metropolitan Centers (RBI)


X +Y Cities (MoF)



There is a wide variation in the overlap of the original 98 cities under the Smart City Mission with other schemes and definitions.  While juxtaposing the various urban schemes and hierarchies, in the above table, one can see that the selection of cities is not consistent on any one set of definitions. Most programs do not rely on any one specific classification system, usually creating their own selection criteria.Smart City Mission used its own weighted selection method and hence was able to have a broad coverage of cities across the states.

In such a scenario, the hierarchies and its categories can serve two important purposes in India’s case. First, if updated periodically and correctly, it should capture the fast paced process of urbanisation. Second, its urban hierarchy should inform its urban policies.

Cities differ from each other on many accounts including social, economical and cultural.  To make meaningful policy decisions, it is important to classify cities in a way that can allow for such differences to be recognised in proposing policy based solutions. The decision on where a given urban centre lies within a hierarchy and whether it can be promoted to a higher level (or demoted to a lower level) of urban hierarchy has significant influence on the dynamics of growth in future periods.  It also has a bearing on the policies and schemes that it can attract.  

It is important that we think of rational, scientific and Indian context specific classifications of urban centres for consistent urban policy design and decisions.


Is comparing Shimla to Nagpur like comparing Apples to Oranges?


In terms of population, Nagpur is almost 14 times the size of Shimla. Nagpur is known for oranges and Shimla is known for apples. Shimla is a hill city and Nagpur has tropical climate. Yet both are municipal corporations and will classify as Tier-1 cities as per definitions classifying 1 lakh and above cities as tier-1. Why is that so?

Not all cities are equal. Cities have different structures, different demographic make-up, different competitive advantages, and different sizes. Yet, the salient features of these cities – a system of production, distribution and consumption, infrastructure for connecting people, resources and markets, and economies of scale they create, may be similar. All cities provide a reason for people to be in that city but the reasons are different. To make meaningful policy decisions, then, it is important to classify these cities in a way that can allow for such varying reasons to be recognized as well as the ability of the government to provide for these reasons and needs. Having a logical classification of cities then can also help better design or modify policy to best suit the purposes and needs of a group of cities.

Why is it important to categorize places? 

A system of classification provides a method for efficient communication, a set of definitions, and a system of relationships among these definitions (Atchley, 1967). Classification of urban centers through typologies meets multiple objectives under different contexts. Governments typically use such hierarchies or typologies to allocate resources, undertake planning and to strategize regional development. Classifying helps recall the most common characteristics of the group. In the case of a city, a detailed classification could potentially help predict characteristics of a cities belonging to that group. It would also provide a unique nomenclature making it easier to refer to a group of cities with common characteristics. 

Currently, in India, the classification used by the government mainly refers to a population-based classification, also known as a hierarchy classification. However, given the diversity in cities the some of the city’s characteristics such as age, location, morphological (spatial configuration), and function, get left out when classifying cities on the basis of their population. 

Classification and categories are used to signal to the world that a particular place exhibits particular characteristics – so one might know what to expect from that place. A category might illicit an image of what a city might be, for example, geographical categorization as a coastal town, hill station, land locked city, or functional characteristics such as tourist city or industrial center. Yet, in policy terms, we tend to categorize cities as Tier I, Tier II and Tier III or X, Y, and Z cities.

It is important to look at a range of factors when trying to work out policies for a city or a group of cities. Making policy decisions based only on population not likely to be efficient or effective. One potential way around this is to consider population as a super-category. Population helps get a sense of the magnitude of challenges, and the administrative and political boundaries. Then compare various cities by age, location, morphological configuration and function in each population bracket.  Using a mix of population and other characteristics could be an intermediate approach  between a cookie-cutter, one-size fits all policies and individualized city specific solutions.