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Strengthening municipal governence through GIS: A decentralised West Bengal model
GIS Documentation team, Kolkata
Geographical Information System, in short GIS, has evolved a great deal since its inception in early eighties. From an essentially macro application model limited to database management, over the years it has become more of a revenue oriented decision support system . In India, the gamut of GIS application generally follows the same trend. Even the GIS in Mirzapur municipality, though following micro application mode, was basically aimed at revamping a sagging municipal system with revenue generation as the prime motivation. With all its potential, until late last century GIS still remained to be a technology cocooned to handful of software companies, corporate sectors, technocrats and administrators , having no relation to general mass as such.
However it just took a constitutional amendment and a sensitive government to change all that. An willing set of technocrats coupled with focussed funding agencies provided the proper launch to facilitate the transfer and decentralization of technology to development sector and to cater to the need of common people. Well, we are talking about the application of GIS within municipalities of West Bengal by 'State Urban Development Agency' (SUDA) and 'Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority' (KMDA) with the financial support of agencies like UNICEF.
West Bengal , known for its penchant to decentralized governance character with widely discussed panchayeti raj system in place , somehow seemed to have partially lost its way to build up on the already existing decentralized urban setup, read municipal system. The municipalities , financially and otherwise , always looked up to the state government for its sustenance and at best , used to work as an agency of the same, thus defeating the actual purpose of their installation. As a matter of fact , the situation was similar or worse in rest of the country. Though there were number of reasons behind this development, the lack of independence with respect to planning and making decisions; generating and utilizing resources were believed to be major obstacles in realizing the decentralized character of the municipalities. The 74th constitutional amendment provided the adequate remedy. However the doubt remains. Are the municipalities capable enough to handle the new responsibilities?
Government of West Bengal quickly identified the requirement of dependable, sensitive and user-friendly database as the major prerequisite to facilitate the proper implementation of the newly acquired rights for urban local bodies (ULB). Lack of transparency, corruption, inefficiency normally associated with run of the mill modus operandi of majority of ULBs, are attributes, which thrive on the absence of such database.
GIS or 'Geographical Information System' has been introduced in West Bengal since 1999 to suit this 'new' requirement of urban local bodies. The technology has undergone tremendously both technically and more so, in context to its social relevance. Actually the latter proved to be the catalyst to former. Determined effort has been made to generate socially sensitive database including health; education; socioeconomic condition ; status of woman and child etc , to facilitate proper decentralized planning for improving such aspects of common people's livelihood, which until now did not normally find a place in municipal planning. Database, both in terms of both locations and information relating to holdings ; roads; water bodies; vacant area; water supply; sewerage flow are also being generated mainly to improve quality of various municipal services. Improvement of municipal tax collection is also an obvious derivative, which provides adequate motivation to involved municipalities. Interestingly the apparent limitations like financial crunch; time at disposal for execution; unavailability of fully correct maps in certain cases ,have worked as the catalysts which brought about the innovations like change over to point plotting method from time and cost consuming polygon plotting; more utilization of locally available human resources including municipality's own staff and working with municipality's own base maps (with more or less 70% accuracy) in the model, which would not have otherwise possible.
It is not that the West Bengal model does not have its gap areas. Questions were raised about its accuracy; database quality in certain areas and many other attributes. Even during documentation of the GIS application within municipalities throughout the state, we were rather sceptical about certain aspects of the process. We found that the biggest advantage of the model lies in its flexibility which imbibes all those apparent 'gray areas' into consideration and elicits an immediate response. Introduction of geo referencing through GPS system as recently done successfully in Siliguri or arrangement of more training and dedicated GIS staff in municipalities, are testimonies to this fliexible structure. However all technical innovations will lead to nothing if the policy makers including politicians and administrative staff do not show sufficient will to change over to a new system. In our country , various attempted courtship within introduction of new technology and implementation of the same in ground level, never blossomed into marriages due to the absence of such initiative. The West Bengal GIS model for municipalities prove to be an welcome exception. During our interactions with political people of various tiers and beliefs and also with the municipal workers from different hierarchies , we in general, found a sense of acceptance for the new technology from both categories . As a matter of fact the common people in general, have a feeling that the technology will make their life easier and perhaps smoother. Many tend to believe that this will form the cornerstone of e- governance in state within not too distant future. I will beg to differ .E- governance is not the end, it is rather a mean to an end. We should rather look ahead to a future of 'S- governance' (sensitive governance) and strengthening municipal governance through GIS technology may prove to be an useful tool to achieve that goal.
The project : Application of GIS in municapilities of West Bengal Implemented by SUDA and KMDA Funded by UNICEF and others
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