Thursday, April 28, 2016

Geng Yanbo and the transformation of Datong

NYT has this brilliant documentary made by Qi Zhao and Hao Zhou that captures the tenure and life of Mayor Geng Yanbo of Datong municipality, who transformed the city over a five-year period by relocating nearly half million people and overseeing the redevelopment of the city's ancient quarter.
The script is strikingly similar with at least a handful of municipal commissioners and corporations in India - intense and committed, rough and abrasive, impatient with ambitious timelines, slow-moving bureaucracies, endless inspections and reviews, haul up slacking contractors, threats to bring around defiant property owners, petitioners and endorsements, heavily overworked with early mornings and late nights, tough on families, and finally transfers, protests, and successor syndromes. Not to speak of the paraphernalia and accompanying staff. The difference is that the squatters would have a court order, the defiant citizens not so meek and have the support of some political party or other, the telephonic instructions to get work done not anywhere as effective, the instant decision making to change a pipe size impossible, the contractors still be unable to hasten beyond a point, the threats to fire or shift officials blunt, and the tenures limited to 2-3 years (so fly-overs or road widenings are more likely than relocations). More often than not such leadership goes hand in hand with controversies, which in turn increases the likelihood of faster transfers and even shorter tenures!

The outcomes are reflected in the state of Chinese and Indian cities! Whatever the enabling policy frameworks, it is the dynamics of field level implementation that makes the difference. And it is in getting stuff done that the Indian state, for whatever reasons, pales in comparison.

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