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Friday , 1 March 2024

Interagency coordination for better urban infrastructure

Abdul Malik, Secretary, Greater Cochin Development Authority

As cities grow, the provision for urban infrastructure and civic services become complex both in scale and geographic dispersion. Managing these complex operations by the City Corporation alone shall be cumbersome and inefficient. Abdul Malik, Secretary, Greater Cochin Development Authority talks about the key parameters that determine the needed coordination between various governmental agencies in creating an effective urban infrastructure, especially for traffic and Transport. He shares with us the Kochi experience

As a City Corporation along with other main nodal agencies sets about planning integrated infrastructure, different parastatal agencies start entering the scene with specific mandate for operating one or the other such functions. Besides, the infrastructure that extends beyond the City Corporation limits like trunk roads, water supply mains etc shall neither be owned nor operated by the City Corporation.

The large City Corporations are also the recipients of various special initiatives launched by the State and Central governments like AMRUT, Smart City Program etc. Independent Special Purpose Vehicles which are co-terminus with specific timelines are created for the management of these programs. Some other special purpose vehicles are perpetual in nature. They build, own and operate key infrastructure like metro rail, airport etc.

So, we have the City Corporation looking after the normal civic functions, the parastatal agencies providing basic services like water, electricity etc, and agencies like development authorities creating infrastructure for areas falling under multiple local self governments including village panchayats, municipalities and municipal corporations. We have also SPVs created for the management of time bound special development programs by the State and Central governments and SPVs for critical infrastructure like metro rail, airport etc, all operating in the same geographic space, that is the City.

Even though these agencies have clearly defined mandates of their own, they work in the same broader domain of city governance. So it is natural that some overlaps do occur in their functioning. These organisations are created at various points of time and sometimes by various departments of the both Central and State Governments. So if the arm of the Government creating the City level entity is not careful enough, considerable overlap of functions can creep into the scheme of things which will result in turf wars in the ground. This will bring in unnecessary complications and shall hamper the smooth functioning of city governance.

Once created with a clear mandate and sufficient sources of funds these agencies are going to function in the assigned sector and for the envisaged time frame. However, operating in the same broader domain of city governance, that too within the same geographical space, cooperation among multiple agencies is very much critical for the smooth functioning of the city governance system and citizen’s service delivery. The agencies being interdependent in sharing the resources, especially the landed resources, lack of coordination and cooperation among them could be disastrous. State level coordination is also an issue especially when different entities are created by different administrative departments of the Government. In such cases, involvement from the higher level of leadership in the Government is required to ensure interagency coordination.

In Kochi, the commercial capital of Kerala, there are various agencies operating in the urban development and infrastructure sector. The Kochi Corporation is the Local Self Government Institution responsible for city governance. They carry out all the functions enumerated in the 12th Schedule of the Constitution. The Greater Cochin Development Authority constituted under the Town & Country Planning Act, 2016, has jurisdiction over the areas comprising of the Kochi Corporation, nine municipalities and twenty one village panchayats in the vicinity. The Vyttila Mobility Hub Society which is an entity fully owned by the State Government is formed to build, own and operate the multi-modal mobility hub in the City. Kochi is included in the Smart City program of the Government of India. So a Special Purpose Vehicle is formed to manage Cochin Smart city Mission Ltd ( CSML). This entity is co-terminus with the Smart City Program.

Another entity created for infrastructure development in the city is the Kochi Metro Rail Corporation Ltd. The KMRL is responsible for building and operating the Kochi Metro rail and a water metro besides running a project for promoting non-motorised transport and implementing Transit Oriented Development projects. The district office of the Planning wing of the Local Self Government Department provides technical support to the City Corporation in preparing the City Master Plan and various detailed town planning schemes.

The coordination and cooperation among these agencies in the city is fairly good. The Kochi Corporation and CSML go hand in hand in implementing the projects since most of the projects are in land parcels owned by the Kochi Corporation. CSML has a symbiotic relationship with GCDA too and has funded some of the development projects initiated by the latter.

Further, some projects are undertaken directly by CSML in land parcels owned by GCDA. There is a general understanding of revenue sharing in all these projects on a pro-rata basis. For example, the parks in the city are getting a facelift. Some of these parks are owned by the Kochi Corporation and others GCDA. The whole project is funded by the CSML and executed by GCDA. One reason for maintaining such good relationship among these institutions is the fact that the City Mayor is a member of the Board of CSML as well as the Executive Committee of GCDA. This makes the interagency communication very effective. The KMRL and GCDA also work in close coordination especially in the promotion of non-motorised transport project. The projects are envisaged jointly and with an understanding of revenue sharing. KMRL has also joined with GCDA for raising non-passenger revenue for their water metro project by leveraging landed property owned by GCDA in the vicinity of water metro stations.

The Vyttila Mobility Hub society has also started its operations with financial support from GCDA. The GCDA Chairman is a member of the Board of the Vyttila Mobility Hub Society. Likewise the Senior Town Planner who is heading the District Office of the planning wing of the Local Self Government Department is also closely linked with all these entities. Due to this interagency coordination in planning and development of civic infrastructure, even with a bit of functional overlaps, conflicts are few and are attended to in a very cordial manner as and when they arise. The CEOs of these entities keep a close association and keep each other informed. This ensures cordial relations in the lower levels of management also.

From the Kochi experience in interagency coordination and cooperation in planning and development of urban infrastructure three key parameters emerge. One is proper structuring of these organisations. In the case of these agencies in Kochi most of them are interlinked due to the presence of common functionaries in their respective Board of Directors / Executive Committee etc. The deliberations at the Board level is thus known across the agencies. The second aspect of such coordination is data sharing. Free flow of information across the agencies both through formal and informal channels avoids confusions and brings out conflicts of interests quickly which could be resolved in a cordial manner since interests of individual entities are everybody’s concern due to mutual ownership patterns created. Presence of common platform for sharing information is another important factor.

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