Ease of everyday living
There has been a considerable elation having climbed some notches in the ease of doing business index authored by a reputed international agency. In fact, we went up by 55 rungs, an impressive climb indeed. Yes, there was also some muted criticism of the methodology of such assessments or ratings as the inputs were centred around the cosmopolitan cities and hence its countrywide application was questionable. There were oblique remarks about the conceptual flaws of such ratings, but we take the score at its face value, notwithstanding the ground realities of our country.
Actually, at the bottom of this whole idea of ease of doing things, more than anything else in terms of technical skills and sector competence, is an attitude, a mindset where the provider believes that a most convenient and user-friendly way must be created for the user of the service. 'Most convenient' device covers aesthetics, safety and easy to avail in every way. It is a design consciousness which extends to every discipline of human endeavour. There is cordiality, there is art and there is a native respect for humanity in all its imperfections. It is a universal and a democratic instinct and not a heartless one. It is an essential dimension of all art and craft.
The band-aid approach is in contrast, the instinct of the lax mind, the 'jugaad artist' and one for whom it is all about getting 'it' over with. There are people who design a huge airport terminal and win awards and accolades, yet carpet the walkways to ensure that the passenger's accompanying trolley will feel like climbing a mountain. More often than not, the passenger's access to boarding gates is as circuitous as possible and likewise the exit. What happened to the ease of doing simple tasks? In every city of ours, we have done away with the pedestrian's facility to walk safely. Pavements have been erased or taken over by shopkeepers and hawkers. As far as road engineering is concerned, what can one say except the fact that roads are accident friendly and, coupled with our driving discipline, life-threatening most of the times. Why is it so difficult to add an underpass or an overpass to facilitate easy right turns?
Among the various ease indices, the ease of living is fundamental to every other facility. And this index is abysmally low in all our cities. Our cities are badly in need of many things. Decaying infrastructure, poor maintenance of properties, poor quality of water, etc., all because we have consistently been falling behind in meeting the growing urban challenges. There is not a single welcome solution in anybody's sight. Sometimes the judiciary tries, hoping its monitoring and supervision can supplement the robust systems of municipal governance, with a dedicated administrator occasionally cracking the whip on reluctant employees of local bodies, but nothing constructive happens. Our problems of efficient city management arise from the legacy of livelihoods rooted in illegalities. When urban planning was still an idea waiting to be formed, life was happening and small enterprises — toxic industry, medical testing labs and others invaded our urban spaces. There were no controls and regulations and they could easily be diluted with the assistance of the law enforcers.
So today, when we start to regulate what means shutting down illegal spaces, it is, in reality, putting people to tremendous economic hardships. If we change bye-laws and bring them into contemporary relevance, the deficient infrastructure comes in the way and strains the scarce civic services. There is no stopping migration into our cities, there is no stopping the growth of population. The only answer is to increase the supply of urban space by accretion of contiguous areas by redefining state boundaries. We need zone-wise land use plans which should be sacrosanct and inviolable except through a referendum of the residents of the zone. Above all, we need administrators and urban planners with a generous ability to look through the prism of ease of living. Otherwise, we will have more of horrible state-driven architecture with little sense of aesthetics, poor collateral services and senseless addition to the existing urban chaos. We have prime examples of such initiatives in the redevelopment of some areas in the capital city of our country. The less said the better for these outstanding examples of short-sightedness and insensitivity to the future of a city and the people who live in it, now and in the future. We are just not going to learn that governments are not property dealers but builders of assets for citizenship. This just plainly means that public lands must give the best quality of living to the residents of the city in every way. If every piece of vacant land will be developed into a shopping mall or an office space, our future is just not in good hands. Certainly not in the hands that make matters easy for the people.
We build four-lane roads and then litter the same with speed breakers, we create barriers on our freeways, ostensibly in the name of security, only to leave them carelessly manned or generally unmanned, we have allowed all our public spaces to be usurped by all manner of grabbers. We have annually renewable licenses for businesses to operate, which could easily be for five-year tenures, but that would make it easy to do things. We're still missing the attitude of making things easy. This is a dynamic state of mind where every waking moment is taken by the provider to think how much more convenience is possible. This is not a burden that the government carries but an obligation to the people.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)
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