By Amar Yumnam
Urbanisation is now one of the most important global phenomena. Cities are increasingly the places for driving national growth, technological innovation, new employment generation and what not. Countries are pushing for faster growth of cities rather than concentrating on rural dynamics. This emphasis is highly visible in the policy evolution in the two highly competing global economies today, United States of America and China. China is aggressively following a policy of making people migrate to the urban areas. In the United States of America, the cities are now increasingly run as business with the Mayor more like the CEOs of business firms. Efficiency in urban governance is the buzzword today. Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York, speaks of the pressure on cities to “tackle our economic problems largely on our own. Local elected officials are responsible for doing, not debating. For innovating, not arguing. For pragmatism, not partisanship”. We may recall here what Joseph Chamberlain, an ex-Mayor of Birmingham, compared in 1892 the government of cities to a “joint stock or co-operative enterprise in which every citizen is a shareholder, and of which the dividends are receivable in the improved health and the increase in the comfort and happiness of the community”. Now when this perspective dominates the thriving cities around the world, we cannot remain a silent spectator to what is happening in our own and only city in Manipur, Imphal.
In Imphal we are yet to witness the emergence of the shareholder (we may call it the stakeholder) perspective in any citizen present in the city. This absence of a city sharing and city-fostering view among the citizens covers every type of citizen, right from the commonest of the common to the citizens with responsible social standing and positions. Everyone tries to exploit the chaos and indulges in behaviour of excluding others for harnessing the available facilities. This is in sharp contrast to what prevails in the best run cities around the world where efforts are being put in place for attracting “knowledge workers”. In Imphal both governance and the public indulge in competitive harassing of any other so that the little that this city offers can be exploited in a non-sharing way; exclusion, exploitation, and violence have become the core characteristics of this city today.
The critical promise emphasised by Chamberlain in 1892 for “improved health and the increase in the comfort and happiness of the community” to be ensured by a city needs to be evaluated in the context of Imphal today. The tussle between police and women vegetable vendors, the sanakonung controversy, the Ram Lal Paul School debate and all that we encounter in Imphal on any single day are testimony to the absence of any system, any vision, any governance in the real sense of the term, and the core values and capabilities of a city.
In all the interventions in the Imphal city, we see an absolutely partial look at the issues. Every intervention is being perceived as stand-alone interventions; there is no attention to the connectivity of issues and the relatedness of the varied functions of a city. The Ram Lal Paul School may be converted into a girls only institute. There is no harm in this. But we have a problem here. This conversion should be done within a framework of school education policy and not just to address an immediate problem; new challenges being faced should be taken as an opportunity to evolve a long term policy and not confined to temporary solutions. School education is not just about admission of students, but goes much beyond that. We have to think of the society we visualise decades down the line, the global scenario of education at similar levels, the culture we wish to imbibe through the education at this level, and many other issues that impinge on the culture, technology and development of the people and the place. The present decision does not seem to possess any of these ethoses of school education.
Similar is the case with the nationalisation of the sanakonung complex. Here too we would first expect the complete package of cultural, educational and tourism policy under which such a step is being undertaken. It should not be that we take a decision now and the overall policy framework is evolved later.
The women street vendors issue establishes that there is a problem of acute accessibility in the city. This is chronic as well consequent upon the very nature of the economy of Manipur. We only try to solve it as a tussle between the police and the women, and there are no signs of addressing the accessibility issues from the side of governance.
Imphal as of today does not possess any characteristic of a thriving city and successful city. A city is not just about a place where some people sell some items and a large group of people purchase the items. The recent killing of people in an explosion in a crowded rented room exemplifies the crisis the city faces. A hidden city marked by poverty and crime (in every sense of the word) is now visible in Imphal. Time has come to immediately and inevitably think of the city from the angles of health, education, facilities, comfort, technology, innovative capacity and every item that matters in social life of the people. While evolving policy on any of these components, we have necessarily to think of the correlates with other components; partisanship and exclusivity cannot be the foundations for city policy. The increasing mess and chaos in Imphal are to be addressed from this package approach. Imphal is no longer mono-centric and we have to develop its capacity to perform the functions of a polycentric city, particularly in the context of the emerging relationship with South East and East Asia. If we allow the present to continue as it is, we must prepare our people for rising violence, crimes and ultimate demise of this urban centre.
(Amar Yumnam is the Director of Center for Manipur Studies and Prof. of Department of Economics, Manipur University)