Setting Standards: Ease of Living Index to assess sustainability and liveability of cities

Ease of Living Index to assess sustainability and liveability of cities

Indian cities have undergone rapid urbanisation as the proportion of the country’s urban population has increased manyfold in the past decade. While increasing urbanisation provides an opportunity for fuelling economic growth, it also poses challenges related to overcrowding, increased pollution and inadequate provision of basic services. To address these challenges, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) has launched several initiatives such as the Swachh Bharat Mission, the Smart Cities Mission (SCM), the Atal Mission for Rural and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Housing for All) and the Deen Dayal Antyodaya Yojana (National Urban Livelihood Mission). These schemes have a common objective of improving the quality of life of urban citizens through effective urban governance, proper city planning, and modernising and upgrading basic urban infrastructure facilities such as water supply and sanitation, solid waste management, transportation, etc. However, despite concerted efforts, most Indian cities still fall short in terms of providing basic civic services. This is mainly because of the lack of proper project monitoring, non-availability of data on existing infrastructure facilities, and inadequate capacity and poor financial health of urban local bodies (ULBs). In this backdrop, the MoHUA developed the first-of-its-kind Ease of Living Index for 111 cities in August 2018. The index serves as a diagnostic tool to evaluate the performance of cities on various liveability indicators and draw comparisons using global and national benchmarks.

To develop the index, the MoHUA undertook an exercise of assessing the performance of 111 cities based on 78 indicators. The cities shortlisted for analysis include the 100 smart cities (selected under the SCM), select capital cities and a few cities with a population of over 1 million. The combined population of these 111 cities is about 134 million. For assessment, a defined framework and calculation methodology for according scores to the cities was adopted. Based on the scores, the best performing and worst performing cities were analysed. Moreover, action plans have been suggested to improve service delivery, project implementation and management and decision-making powers of city planners and managers.

Aims and objectives

The index has been developed to assess the progress made by cities under various government initiatives and help municipal agencies in identifying the strengths and weaknesses of cities. The data derived from the exercise will help in future urban planning and implementing appropriate action plans as well as meeting the sustainable development goals. The index can be used to draw a comparison between cities with the overall objective of encouraging a shift towards an “outcome-based” approach for urban planning and management. Besides, it serves as a basis for dialogue between citizens and urban decision-makers.

Assessment methodology

The MoHUA followed a comprehensive framework to measure the ease of living in 111 cities. As part of the methodology, four pillars critical to measure the level of development in a city – physical, institutional, social and economic – have been taken into consideration. Different weights, based on the level of importance, have been assigned to these pillars. The physical pillar, which signifies infrastructure development, has been given the highest weightage of 45 points, while the institutional (governance) and social pillars have a weightage of 25 points each. The lowest weightage of 5 points was assigned to the economy pillar.

Under the four pillars, 78 performance indicators, under 15 thematic categories, have been selected. These indicators have been adopted from various national/international indicators and service level benchmarks and finalised after extensive consultations with the concerned authorities. Of the 78 indicators, 56 carry a 70 per cent weightage and are classified as core indicators (that is, essential for ease of living). The remaining 22 indicators carry a 30 per cent weightage and are non-core indicators which support the adoption of innovative practices which are desirable for enhancing quality of life. The 15 thematic categories to which these indicators belong are governance, identity and culture, education, health, safety and security, economy, affordable housing, land use planning, public open spaces, transportation and mobility, assured water supply, waste water management, solid waste management, power availability, and quality of the environment.

Based on the performance of the 111 cities on each of the four pillars and 78 indicators, ranks and scores from 0 to 100 have been accorded.

Computation methodology

To build the index, the dimensional index methodology has been adopted. Under this method, the scores of cities on various performance indicators have been calculated using two parameters – the maximum score obtained by a city within the comparison group (based on range of population) or absolute benchmark. For deriving the absolute benchmark, national/ international standards have been followed. In case neither of the two standards exist, the city with the best performance in its group (relevant population range) has been taken as the benchmark. Based on the finalised benchmark, marks have been accorded to other cities on a proportionate basis.

Key findings

  • Overall analysis: Based on the findings, Pune has topped the Ease of Living index by scoring a cumulative 58.11 points for the 78 indicators. It is followed by Navi Mumbai and Greater Mumbai with scores of 58.02 and 57.78 points respectively. On the other hand, Rampur is the worst performer and is ranked 111 with a score of 17 points. Kohima and Patna too are among the laggards scoring 18.13 points and 18.67 points respectively.

Other cities that have secured a spot among the top 10 performers are Tirupati (57.52 points), Chandigarh (53.16 points), Thane (52.27 points), Raipur (50.58 points), Indore (50.16 points), Vijayawada (49.27 points) and Bhopal (49.11 points).

  • Pillar-wise analysis: The top rank in each of the four pillars is occupied by the top five cities in the overall ranking. For instance, Greater Mumbai has topped the physical pillar with a score of 28.53 points, while Bhagalpur and Rampur are the lowest performers with scores of 4.03 points and 4.16 points respectively. On the institutional front, Navi Mumbai has scored the highest (16.7 points), followed by Tirupati which has scored 15.68 points. Shillong, due to lack of proper urban governance, has been ranked last with a score of 2.96 points. With regard to the social pillar, Tirupati has once again showed remarkable progress and scored 18.9 points. Rampur, on the other hand, emerged as the lowest performer (5.58 points) owing to the lack of adequate social infrastructure such as hospitals and public health services and primary and secondary schools. On the economic front, Chandigarh has the highest score of 3.78 points.
  • Peer city analysis: As per the overall analysis, mid-sized and big cities have performed better than the smaller ones. Pune was ranked first with a 58.11 score, followed by Navi Mumbai with 58.02 . Greater Mumbai, which is a big city with a population of more than 4 million, is ranked third, scoring 57.78 points. Other big cities that have performed well include Chennai and Surat with scores of 47.24 (14th rank) and 45.44 (19th rank) respectively.

With regard to smaller cities (with a population less than 0.5 million), only Tirupati has managed to secure a spot in the top 10 performers (4th rank). Karimnagar and Bilaspur have secured 11th (48.9 points) and 13th ranks (48.26 points) respectively. On an aggregate basis, smaller cities have underperformed due to a combination of factors such as lack of adequate investment and economic activity and the absence of an accurate database on existing infrastructure facilities.

Recommendations and conclusion

The exercise of evaluating cities on the basis of the Ease of Living Index has not only helped in assessing the quality of life in these cities but has also identified specific areas of improvement. Based on these findings, certain recommendations/strategic plans have been laid out for policymakers to consider while preparing new agendas, policies and schemes.

  • Accurate and up-to-date database: There is a need to develop protocols for the collection of new data sets and create homogeneous standards for existing databases. Therefore, cost-effective new technologies need to be adopted such as drones for spatial mapping, capturing the experience of citizens using mobile-based applications, using crowd- sourcing data platforms to strengthen the measurement and collection techniques and improve data accuracy. Also, improvements in data reporting and proper processing and interpretation of the collected data could yield high returns in a short span of time.
  • Empowering ULBs: There is a need to empower ULBs and encourage decision making at the city level. Since the index assesses the performance of each indicator, city managers can accordingly prepare action plans/ schemes and allocate more resources to areas which require immediate improvement. City managers can also closely study the portfolio of projects under the various centrally sponsored programmes such as SCM and AMRUT and identify the areas for additional investment.
  • Appropriate resource allocation: There is a need to ensure appropriate allocation of resources under various heads based on the key findings of the index. These insights can be used as a measurement criterion for the allocation of performance-based funding by either the central or state governments. Moreover, based on the findings of the index, ULBs can award outcome-based projects which will significantly increase returns on public spending.

To conclude, the Ease of Living Index is a major step towards meeting the overall objective of creating liveable and sustainable smart cities. Going forward, the key areas of intervention will include institutional reforms, cost recovery, capacity building, public sector accountability, private sector involvement, and an emphasis on technology, efficiency and resource sustainability.