How can corporate CSR funds support more city improvement projects? I was at an event yesterday where this was discussed by some of the CEOs of large companies in the city. The ongoing neighbourhood improvement partnership competition has already helped find the first 1 crore of CSR money for a few city improvement projects, and I’m hopeful that next year there will be five times as much money, so that 40+ community projects in the city can be showcased. That kind of scale would begin to help build a very different kind of city – with citizens actively responsible for managing many local problems.
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This is important because we simply don’t pay enough taxes to our local governments in India. It’s not a very popular thing to say, I realisebut it’s true. Property and other local taxes in India don’t add up to very much because the taxation rates are only about 1/10th of the rates in global cities. Naturally, our municipal governments can do a lot less. At the same time, people are also not enthusiastic about giving money to cities that already seem to be wasting the little taxes they do collect. This stalemate needs to be resolved.
How? Simple – by spending the money, time and other resources ourselves. If we’re unwilling to give more money to governments until we gain some confidence in their expenditure, we have to compensate that by giving more private contributions to the same public outcomes that we care about. And with the new corporate CSR law in place, there’s a nicely close-able loop of sources of money for civic improvements too.
One thing to be alert to is that such civic spending may not address the really large deficits in the country—in education, health and other input areas that can bridge the massive inequalities. That will require a very different kind of intervention, also from the private sector, for the public good.
Offering TDR as compensation is meaningless
The amendment to the town planning laws for introducing a statewide system of TDRs was tabled in the state Assembly today. This is one of those laws that will surely not meet its stated objectives, because it fails some basic tests needed to make TDR work effectively.
(a) The government says there is a market for TDR, and it wants those who lose property to accept TDR as part-compensation, but it is not willing to buy the TDR itself and sell it in the market. Why? Who will believe that there is a market for TDR in such a situation?
(b) TDR is used to violate the limits set by the Master Plan in each city. I don’t think there is any provision in law for this, without an actual revision of the MP, through due processes applicable to the revision of the master plans. In any case, by violating the plan, the only thing that will result is further crowding in already unsustainable areas.
(c) As long as Akrama-Sakrama is promised, why would anyone buy TDR? Why pay for something that is freely available in the illegal market and can be regularised later?
I urge the Assembly to refer this matter to committee, and take the time to make the necessary fixes to the draft bill before passing it. We have already ruined large parts of Bangalore by lack of attention to design, zoning, carrying capacity, etc. It would be a tragedy if the same thing happened in other cities of the state too.