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Vol. XXVIII No. 14, November 1-15, 2018

Are conditions for ‘Ease of Living’ poor in State?

by A Special Correspondent

A healthy practice is in place over the last three years or so to measure the efficacy of public services in terms of outcomes. The latest one in the series is the Ease of Living Index at the initiative of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, of the Central Government. The survey, commenced in January 2018, is a bit too early to test the status of Ease of Living when governments are still grappling with this problem of many ramifications.

The survey covers 111 cities in the country, the evaluation based on four pillars, as they are called, namely, institutional, social, economic and physical facilities. Under this main classification there are 15 parameters and 78 indicators. Based on data received for these main and sub-main parameters scores are assigned and aggregated to rank cities for performance.

On a prima facie reading of scores/ranks, Tamil Nadu’s performance is as follows. No Tamil Nadu city has made it to the top ten out of the 111 cities assessed. Among the first 50 cities ranked, 12 Tamil Nadu cities have come in, but that may not be saying much. Only Tiruchirappalli and Chennai are in ranks 12 and 14 respectively, which is some consolation, ranking within the first 15 out of a field of 111. The overall score is set against a maximum of 100 and Chennai scores 47.24. This is not a high score. Pune is declared the best city for ease of living, but with a score of only 58.11. It is a sad commentary that for Ease of Living in the country the best score is only 58. This means that the country, as a whole, is not doing well for Ease of Living. Chennai can console itself by claiming that its score of 47.24 is as high as 81% of the best performer! Another doubtful consolation is that Chennai is Number 2 in position among larger cities with over 4 million population, below Greater Mumbai at number 1 with a score of as low as 57.78. The survey shows that most things are bad in most places and most things in most places must be improved. Didn’t we know this already?

Often physical data, in terms of numbers, reflect a good picture while actual experience of beneficiaries turns out to be disappointing because of poor delivery. The outcome must, therefore, be evaluated by direct access to a large enough sample of beneficiaries to determine whether numerical compliance matches beneficiary satisfaction. This part of the evaluation is important to know the “real” situation and must be highlighted in future reports.

The survey, being in the early stages, suffers from inadequate data. Some of the respondent cities were unprepared to provide the necessary data. Those who did not give data, penalised by zero mark, are losing in the race. It is quite probable that good performers, who did not have data to provide, have been relegated as poor performers in the findings. Delhi ranks 65 because of its failure to provide data. Delhi’s rank would, arithmetically, have been surely better had they provided the data.

The results of this survey are of limited practical value at this stage as States are still trying to clear the cobwebs of the past. Ease of Living calls for reforms in many areas that touch our daily needs – gas connection, power supply, clean water supply, driving licence renewal, school vicinity, school admission, condition of our own street, sanitation, bank access, mobility, play space, sense of security and so on. Building the data base over such a vast range of services is a task that states are grappling with.

Of all the sub-indexes of this survey, the physical component is the most important and has been rightly assigned a weightage of 45 per cent. The Report on the internet does not provide break-up of performance in respect of 46 indicators on the physical supports for Ease of Living. These should also be provided for city administrations to recognise specific deficiencies in performance. The physical component encompasses housing and inclusiveness, power supply, transportation and mobility, assured water supply, waste water management, solid waste management and reduced pollution. Some of these are the focus of important initiatives like AMRUT (Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation) which covers water, sewerage, stormwater drainage, public transport and amenities, the Smart Cities Mission with covering redevelopment, green-field developments and pan-city application of smart solutions, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, envisioning housing for all by 2022, and Swachh Bharat Mission for better sanitation. Future reports of the Ease of Living Survey would throw more meaningful information on the progress of these major initiatives.

Such a survey, carried out annually, would highlight good and bad performances, acting as a mirror to city administrations. The National Achievement Survey 2017, based on a study of education in 700 districts in the country, the 2017 Report of Swachh Survekhsan by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA), and the Social Progress Index by the Institute for Social Competitiveness, India, are other studies focusing on different aspects of welfare. All of them should be coordinated to avoid duplication and should adopt a common consistent yardstick.

To the question – Are conditions for Ease of Living poor in Tamil Nadu? – the answer is ‘yes’, but we are in the company of low performers all round, reflecting a countrywide need for accelerating measures to make Living Easier.

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