Governance is the key to safer cities
Along with effective policing, securing urban spaces needs better healthcare and education facilities
Increasing urbanisation is often accompanied by increasing safety concerns. Safety, in the larger sense, is not the responsibility of police alone, and there are several factors equally responsible, though often ignored, in making cities safe. Urbanisation hasn’t taken place on the principles of social equity, quality health and education for all and participatory governance. And as more and more people move to urban areas, the need to ensure safer urban spaces assumes utmost importance.
This was the theme deliberated upon by a group of experts in a conclave organised by Governance Now on September 30. The conclave was coorganised by Microsoft and Asia Features.
Delivering the keynote address, B S Bassi, commissioner, Delhi Police, said governance is the most important factor for creating a safe city. People can’t be safe if there is governance deficit, he said. He noted that the delivery of quality education, health and employment facilities to all is a prerequisite for a safe city.
Referring to the economic background of people involved in the incidents of chain snatching and robbery on streets, which constitute 20 to 30 percent of the total crime reported to the police control room, he said, “Where do these people come from? These are people without any livelihood. There might be some who are not poor but want to be rich overnight. But most of the people involved in petty crime come from the deprived classes,” he said.
That is why the resources have to reach to the poor. “Social equity is the key to a safe city,” he said. Besides, he said, there is a need to improve the trust of the youth in the system. In the demonstrations on the Lokpal bill and the December 16 rape, youngsters did not follow democratic norms of voicing protest, he felt. This type of articulation could degenerate and could harm the rights of others, he said.
Highlighting the urgency for safer urban spaces, Amitabh Kant, CEO, Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation, in his special address underlined the need to move towards planned urbanisation.
According to a recent UN study, 70 percent of the world’s population will be urbanized by 2030. People are moving from a rural areas to an urban areas every moment and 75 crore Indians will be living in cities by 2050, Kant said.
He, however, said, “If there is no good governance, you can’t create and manage a safe city.” He pointed out that if you go around legalising everything that is illegal, it will not create a safe city. Governance must be tough and absolutely rule-bound. Kant went on to add that in the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor, seven new cities were being planned that will enable India to make a quantum jump in the process of manufacturing. But for that to happen, India must grow at the rate of 7-8% and manufacturing itself should grow at the rate of 13-14% or the next three to four decades, he said.
Making a comparison with the countries that have progressed post World War II including South Korea, Sudhir Krishna, secretary, ministry of urban development, highlighted the importance of a high rate of urbanisation. India hasn’t learned from experiences of these countries, which have overtaken us in terms of development indicators, he said.
He said there is a correlation between per-capita income and the rate of urbanisation. Citing the example of Bihar, which has an urbanisation rate of 55 percent, he said it was also one of the states with a very low per capita income.
Krishna pointed out that there is a need to plan out the basic infrastructure. This will create mobility which will enable people to spread out in a more even fashion. It will also create a level of equality. Citing the example of public transport, Krishna added that his department was pushing towards mass transportation. The department will financially support 10,000 buses in small and medium towns, whose growth need to be encouraged. “The current rate of urbanisation, 32%, is actually not that high. We should be aiming at 82%. This will reduce the pressure on the infrastructure. If people start migrating to the cities, this will also increase land holding (per owner) in rural areas,” he said.
He said that two-thirds of the land holdings are less than one hectare, and most of these are dry lands. People cannot survive with the meager land, he said. This situation, he said, in turn leads to an increase in crime in villages.
“The solution lies in making cities a better and more equitable place to live in, and to allow people to migrate to the cities, with a better quality of life, with higher incomes and better facilities,” he said.
Vikas Aggarwal, chief technology officer, Microsoft India, said technology at some level impacts cities. The biggest challenge, in the current slowdown, is to meet the evolving needs of the citizens. There is a clustering of verticals like education and health, and each of these verticals has a sub-building block, for which technology has a solution.
However, Aggarwal added that the real technology innovation lies in how we integrate these verticals together.
Microsoft has started adopting ‘people first’ approach. It is engaging people, business and the government in a dialogue, in a real-time communication mode, in which the company analyzes the needs within the city. “How do we use technology to transform the operations and deliver what we have discovered,” asked Aggarwal, and said the answer lies in creating horizontal solutions so that intelligent dash-boarding could be done. Safety is not a standalone matter. Safe city comes from a city that is well planned, a city that offers equal opportunities. The law enforcement is one of the elements, but one that requires attention. Aggarwal said that post 9/11 Microsoft has created solutions that connect various components together, solutions that create a dialogue between multiple agencies.
These solutions range from mere surveillance to a nine-member alert force. The company collects data from multiple sources and chalks out a solution using predictive analysis.
Rakesh Asthana, commissioner of Police, Surat, said that public participation and policing played a key role in implementing the safe city project in the Gujarat city. “Surat is the diamond cutting hub of the world and it is also a textile hub. After the bomb blasts in 2007 we decided to use technology to ensure safety. We installed CCTV cameras in various public locations,” he said. Authorities created an organization called Traffic Educational Trust with the police commissioner as its head. “We have collected Rs 12 crore (from the citizens) by meeting people and motivating them for the project,” he said. Asthana said that people from various walks of life were requested to provide their inputs on the safe city project. The tenders were evaluated as per World Bank norms and the work order was issued in August 2012. The project was ready by December 2012 and was launched on January 18, 2013, he said. Currently cameras have been deployed at 23 locations. Asthana said that the plan is to scale it to 1,500 cameras and finally to 5,000 cameras at 500 locations.
“The project has resulted in a decrease in the crime rate by 15-20 percent,” he said. Justice RS Sodhi, former Delhi high court judge, said, “What is a safe city? Is a safe city a surveillance city or a police state? Does it work on exclusion? Safety of a city is no more related to being unsafe from outsiders. It is about your personal safety and today you have to participate in your safety. The average policeman does not have any powers and he can only help quicken the process of law,” he said. He added that when law is slow and justice is delayed, it is dangerous for society. Intolerance in society is increasing which is dangerous for a city and its safety.
“For a safe city we need to have infrastructure, management and governance. We should discourage knee-jerk reactions as we can’t twist laws in our favour to satisfy our emotions for a day. Citizens have to understand that they have rights but also have duties,” he said. Prof. Anand Kumar of Centre of Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University mentioned four points of consensus: a) The police centred idea of governance is not right. b) More of the same in the context of urbanisation should be discouraged. c) People’s needs have multiplied and d) Development authorities have failed to serve the needs of the people.
He added that cities are a part of an urban-rural nexus as free movement between villages and cities is possible in India and people come here for better opportunities. This nexus presents the following contradictions: there is development deficit in different cities. Cities are zones of modernisation; in villages and rural areas the dominant caste democracy is followed therefore cities offer better forms of citizenship. In the cities, he said, we need to understand safety according to the gender and community perspective as a city is differently safe for each of them. “We need to understand it from a class perspective also. For example South Delhi is very different from Seelampur (A Delhi suburb) where even police have to negotiate with the Basti Dada Ram who is all pervasive,” he said. The need of the hour is to move to a citizen centric understanding about safety from that of a police centric one.
KP Maheshwari, inspector general, central reserve police force (CRPF), said that the safety of the city is a combined effort and cannot be one person’s initiative. This calls for customising solutions for every person and institution. “We need to also understand the psycho-behavioural aspects of people. We need to take care of the marginalised segments of society,” he said.