A study sponsored by the Confederation of Indian Industry has done a ranking of 36 Indian cities — 34 cities with more than 1 million population according to the 2001 census (Nashik was excluded because of data problems), together with Goa and Chandigarh. Any such ranking depends on the variables used, and given the study’s emphasis on doing business in India’s cities, the categories used are communication, private finance, road transport, professional education, tourism (leisure and business) and relative growth. These six categories are then aggregated to generate an overall index. Data are for the late Nineties, so the index captures a static snapshot of how cities are performing. Barring the category of relative growth, dynamic change is not captured. And since any such ranking is contingent on variables used, it is possible to argue that with a different set of variables, an alternative ranking might result. However, one should acknowledge that with the exception of metros, city-level data are not always available and one of the positive aspects of this study is the attempt to extend coverage to non-metros. In the overall ranking, it is non-metros rather than metros that spring a few surprises. While Delhi, Greater Mumbai and Chandigarh are at the top of the pecking order, Coimbatore is fourth, ahead of Bangalore and Chennai, and Ludhiana and Pune are ahead of Hyderabad.
Calcutta is 11th, behind Kochi. If anything, the overall index illustrates marginalization of the East, with Dhanbad coming in at 36th. Calcutta is first in relative growth, albeit on a low base; rather surprisingly, Faridabad is ranked second in relative growth. Calcutta is about average in professional education and private finance. What pulls Calcutta down is communication and road transport. Especially for metros, the study does not tell us what was not already known. The issue is the use state governments make of this and similar studies. Social and physical infrastructure is critical to growth, and given the precarious state of the state-government and municipal finances, most states are unable to improve either. Nor is a state like West Bengal willing to facilitate private sector entry, even in the form of public-private partnerships.
Add to this the problem of West Bengal not being able to develop a second city worth the name. Since road transport is a category used, it is worth mentioning the national highway development programme. While the NHDP has improved connectivity for cities happily located on the Golden Quadrangle or the two corridors, it increases disparities for cities located off these segments. Unfortunately, feeder roads are state- or local-body subjects and those are not being built.