The ‘Ease of living’ survey for 2020 released by the Centre has come as quite an embarrassment for the Telangana Rashtra Samithi government as it has busted the myth that Hyderabad is the most liveable city in India.

Every citizen of the twin cities would wish this were true, but the perception expressed by 92,000 respondents in the survey does not fully bear this out.

Bengaluru emerged as the best city in the government’s Ease of Living Index 2020. Pune bagged the second position on the list, while Ahmedabad ranked the third among 111 other cities.

“Bengaluru emerged as the top performer in the Million+ category [in category of ‘population more than million], followed by Pune, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Surat, Navi Mumbai, Coimbatore, Vadodara, Indore, and Greater Mumbai,” a PIB press release said.

In the category of ‘population less than a million’, Shimla was ranked the highest in ease of living, followed by Bhubaneshwar, Silvassa, Kakinada, Salem, Vellore, Gandhinagar, Gurugram, Davangere, and Tiruchirappalli.

Indore ranked top on the government’s Municipal Performance Index’ in million plus population category.

Barely three years ago, another survey by JLL ranked Hyderabad first, followed by Bangalore (2nd) and Pune (4th) out of the top 30 global short-term growth cities; in other words, cities with short-term momentum relating to urban economies and real estate markets. A more recent survey by the same agency described Hyderabad’s formal economy as one of the ‘most resilient’ in urban India and its real estate growth in 2019 among the strongest.

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The survey by the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs has ranked Hyderabad 24th on the Ease of Living Index among 49 cities with one million-plus population triggering angry reactions from the State Government that the survey was subjective and not transparent. On the economic front, over which there was a lot of song and dance earlier, Hyderabad has been ranked 11th by this survey.

Expectedly, doubts arise about the fairness of both these surveys because of the wide disparity in their outcomes. Those familiar with the working of rating agencies say JLL’s niche area is real estate services, whereas Mercer, whose survey is being quoted to counter the Centre’s, is an HR-related consulting company. They have rated Hyderabad on other parameters that are being touted by others as a certificate for Hyderabad as being the most liveable city.

The Centre’s survey is distinct from them because of its comprehensiveness. It evaluates the performance of a whopping 111 cities that volunteered and the report runs into 234 pages. It is based on diverse sources, particularly surveys by Karvy Insights and is authored by a team from the Institute of Competitiveness led by Amit Kapoor. It is not just a certificate of merit. It is meant to be a report on which action needs to be taken by the agencies concerned to achieve the Centre’s Sustainable Development Goals unlike the Mercer report, which focuses on issues like the availability of consumables, clean drinking water, and traffic congestion.

Much of the outrage by politicians against Hyderabad’s poor ranking stems from the hype that TRS leaders had created around the city through unkept promises of developing it on par with other modern cities across the globe. Not only has it not happened, but haphazard growth and mushrooming of illegal buildings have attracted the ire of the High Court of Telangana.

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The last drop of publicity was milked from the Durgam Cheruvu hanging bridge ahead of the GHMC elections last November, but it yielded limited political dividends. Such projects do not add much to the quality of life when viewed in the backdrop of poor mobility (public transport) and road infrastructure besides high rate of accidents. These factors pulled down Hyderabad to 34th rank in the quality of living against Bangalore’s 3rd rank.

Also, Hyderabad is not ranked by the fame of Charminar, the beauty of its pearls or the mouth-watering biryani however much some may wish. These are good for marketing Hyderabad as a tourist destination. Rankings are based on lived reality as in the case of Chennai (4th rank), a city of aspirations for almost every Tamilian.

Broadly, the survey gives weightage of 35 % to quality of life, 30 percent to citizen perception, 20% to sustainability and 15% to economic ability. Quality of life is broken down into categories like education, water, sanitation and Swachh Bharat but Hyderabad, one of the most prosperous municipal corporations, does not do well here either with a rank of 34.

The city was ranked 41st in the Citizen Perception Survey, despite people being far more generous that the actual performance of the metropolis. Overall, 32 lakh citizens were surveyed across the country, of whom 92,000, almost 89,000 through online, answered questions about Hyderabad. In the category of sustainability, it fared poorly in environment protection, though it scored high in greenery.

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A controversy is raging over the Centre shelving the Information Technology Investment Region (ITIR) project in Hyderabad with IT Minister K. T. Rama Rao targeting the Centre for turning a Nelson’s eye towards development of the city, which has emerged as an international hub for software, warehousing and retail. But the survey ranks Hyderabad 31st in economic development, though at a healthy third when it comes to economic opportunities.

The criticism of the survey by KTR and the new Mayor of Hyderabad Gadwal Vijayalakshmi, is nothing new. Other State governments did the same in 2019 and 2020 when their cities were ranked poorly. But, a deeper study would show that Hyderabad fell behind due to its poor scores on quality of life and citizen perception, areas in which these leaders might have to work harder.

Hyderabad must brace for worse in the Ease of Living report for 2021 when a lot of new factors, principally the devastating floods in October will kick in and may spoil the copybook further due to poor handling of rescue and relief operations. It will reveal the extent to which the quality of life has suffered. #KhabarLive #hydnews