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Housekeeping Indian Cities

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Costs And Challenges Of Local Urban Services discusses key issues in city management and urban growth in India. Using data gathered from six cities — Bangalore, Chandigarh, Jaipur, Lucknow, Pune and Surat — the authors, Kala Seetharam Sridhar and Om Prakash Mathur, tell how cities can recover the costs for the services they have to provide. These services, such as water supply and solid waste management, are being stretched to the limit, as cities and towns grow due to increasing migration. So, what could be the solution to this? Shall we close off cities to migration — something that we know is impossible — or figure out ways to recover costs through various mechanisms, including high user charges and sorting out governance issues?

The book looks in great detail at the vital issue of water supply and its costs. The authors look at instruments and methods used to price water, the kind of subsidies in place, wastage and alternatives. The book also has a section on solid waste management, a key function urban local bodies are required to fulfil. Much of this part details technical nitty-gritty and would be of value to urban planners and economists. What could be useful for general readers of urban issues are two case studies — of Ludhiana and Rajkot. The authors use these examples to investigate the hypothesis that better finances could lead to better delivery of urban services. Another hypothesis probed is whether institutional arrangements impact the delivery of services. Overall, a good read.

Kalpana Sharma is a Mumbai-based independent journalist and author of Rediscovering Dharavi: Stories from Asia's Largest Slum

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(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 19-10-2009)