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Why Delhi Would Be Better Off Without Its Municipal Corporations

24/08/2016 9:00 PM IST | Updated 29/08/2016 8:21 AM IST
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The daily squabbles between the central, state and municipal governments over everything from cleaning drains to appointment of bureaucrats has crippled administration in Delhi.

"Non-cooperation" between different tiers of government in Delhi recently reached a crescendo when the North Municipal Corporation passed a resolution advising its officials against accompanying Delhi government ministers and MLAs on inspection work in the city. The resolution was ostensibly passed because the Delhi Jal Board and Public Works Department, under the state government, stopped attending field visits led by municipal councillors.

What is required is a total overhaul of Delhi's governance maze, of which municipal corporations are a big part.

In this situation, the demand for full statehood seems all too appealing. Full statehood would mean that the Chief Minister and his council of ministers will not constrained by the central government-appointed Lieutenant Governor. Matters relating to law and order, policing and land will be transferred to the state government.

However, full statehood is not a panacea to the city's governance woes. What is required is a total overhaul of Delhi's governance maze, of which municipal corporations are a big part. This should involve transfer of powers over policing and land from the Centre to the state and dissolution of municipal corporations with the responsibility of providing basic services being transferred to the state government.

Centre for Policy Research, Cities of Delhi Project

Central, state and local government agencies operating in Delhi. (Source: Centre for Policy Research, Cities of Delhi Project)

The case for transfer of power from Centre to the state has been made by all political parties at different points in time and is more a matter of political will than consensus.

What is less talked about is the role of municipal corporations and the value that they add to governance in Delhi. I argue for merging the municipal corporations with the state government.

Can municipal corporations be more "local" than the state government?

The idea of municipal corporations and a state government coexisting in a region as small as Delhi is absurd. Essentially, municipal corporations or urban local bodies are supposed to provide basic civic services and amenities at a local level by interacting closely with the residents. The existence of municipal corporations can be justified in larger states where the state government is responsible for development of several urban centres as well as vast rural areas, as this makes it difficult to render effective delivery of civic services.

However, in a city-state like Delhi, the municipal corporations can hardly be any more "local" than the state government. Delhi is not like Maharashtra or Uttar Pradesh, which have several cities vying for the government's attention apart from numerous small towns and villages. In Delhi, the state government is enough to provide basic services as well as legislate.

The fact that the state government is establishing a system of mohalla sabhas to carry out citizen-driven local area development further makes the role of municipal corporations dispensable.

When everyone is responsible and no one is accountable

Delhi's current three tier governance architecture, with responsibility for provision of inter-linked services resting with different authorities, means that there is no accountability in the system.

Delhi is not like Maharashtra or Uttar Pradesh, which have several cities vying for the government's attention apart from numerous small towns and villages.

The recent monsoon-fed water logging is a classic example of evasion of accountability due to the poorly designed governance architecture in the city.

The Indian Express quoted a Delhi government official saying that, "The problem of waterlogging... occurred because of the flow of silt/sludge from MCD drains, which are upstream of PWD drains. Despite tall claims by all three municipal corporations, which said they had completed pre-monsoon de-silting work, a lot of silt came from municipal corporations' drains. This reduced the capacity of PWD drains, causing them to overflow and resulting in waterlogging at many places."

The South MCD mayor responded along expected lines and said, "Most of the PWD-maintained roads were badly flooded. The government is shirking its responsibilities. It has failed its first monsoon test. The Chief Minister and his ministers are just interested in politics."

Multiple authorities, multiple visions for Delhi

The existence of multiple authorities has led to a failure in articulating a common vision for the city's future. City governments all over the world are outlining a vision for fostering sustainable cities and communities under the United Nations Development Program, while Delhi continues to waste its time wrestling with needless political battles. The incongruity cannot be starker when the already well manicured Lutyens' Delhi is set to receive ₹500 crore in investment to be transformed into a smart city while rest of the city rots and crumbles.

Economic case for a simple and unified government

The integration of municipal services under the state government would translate into significant financial savings by making the office of mayors and municipal councillors redundant. Just obviating the need to hold municipal elections, which cost ₹50 crore and require 70,000 personnel to conduct would free up resources for development.

Just obviating the need to hold municipal elections, which cost ₹50 crore and require 70,000 personnel to conduct would free up resources for development.

Governance will also become simple and efficient in the health and education sectors. At present, both the state government and the municipal corporations run hospitals and schools in the city. By unifying the administration, these facilities could be better managed while cutting down on the administrative costs and providing standardized health and education services across the city.

There is a need to rethink the governance architecture of the city. A shoddy arrangement where all authorities responsible for the city's development are at loggerheads with each other, or are constantly trying to undermine each other's powers, is hardly the perfect model for governing a large metropolis like Delhi.

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