The Delhi municipal elections are around the corner, and yet there is very little talk about the election agenda. The delimitation of wards has also not been notified yet. One wonders what could be possible reasons for such delay, when the elections of April 2017 are likely to be very significant. This is the first time that a major third player—AAP—will put up a strong fight against the BJP and Congress. Secondly, April 2017 will see the second election post the trifurcation of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD). This point needs to be highlighted because the last five years can provide an assessment of how successful the decision to trifurcate has been and how the three new corporations have fared.
The last five years can provide an assessment of how successful the decision to trifurcate has been and how the three new corporations have fared.
A series of three articles aims to shed light on the rationale behind the trifurcation process; its impact; and the outcomes of trifurcation, particularly on service delivery. These articles are drawn from my primary research undertaken from October 2015 to January 2016, for a Master's thesis. Different officials across the MCD, Delhi government and councillors were interviewed to collect primary data.
The trifurcated corporation
The unified MCD covered 94% of the National Capital Territory and catered to about 97% of the city's population. The idea for restructuring this "monolithic" MCD by way of splitting it into smaller bodies was floated many times over the years by the BJP and Congress governments both. Finally, in April of 2012 the process of trifurcation was completed and the unified MCD was divided into North, South and East MCD. There were 12 MCD administrative zones in the unified MCD that got divided into six zones in North MCD, four in South MCD and two in East MCD.
Rationale for trifurcation
It was reasoned by the then Congress-led Delhi government that trifurcation would improve administrative efficiency and make the MCD more accessible to people. However, the actions of the Delhi government and the amendments made to the MCD Act, 1957 to facilitate trifurcation indicate that it was a means of gaining control over the MCD. Through the amendment, the Government of NCT of Delhi (GNCTD) acquired the power to alter wards, power to indirectly appoint the Municipal Commissioners of its choosing, appoint a Director of Local Bodies (DLB) to oversee the functioning of the corporations and coordinate between them.
A commonly stated reason for trifurcation was the need for improving administrative efficiency, and accessibility to the corporation. MCD was considered too big an organisation for a mega-city like Delhi. 'So for better governance and better delivery of services and to provide more focused approach, it was divided into three parts' (former Accountant, MCD).
Improve civic governance and accessibility
'Prior to trifurcation, all complaints from the zonal office were directed to one central HQ office but with the split, the people who were living in less central areas such as East Delhi or Dwarka would have a separate corporation for themselves, thus improving accessibility' (last Mayor, unified MCD). However, whether accessibility has improved is highly contested because South and North MCD are still concentrated in same office building and no new offices have been built at zones or wards.
Trifurcation failed to empower the local government and did not decentralise any functions to the MCD that the 74th CAA recommends.
It was thought that civic governance would become easier as the newly constituted corporations could focus more on the poorly developed areas in their jurisdictions, which the unified MCD tended to overlook. It was hoped that post-trifurcation, the local bodies could be asked to arrange their affairs, discharge duties effectively and efficiently in their jurisdiction and focus on functions which were strictly their domain. However, a financial crunch at East and North MCD has stopped even ordinary functions, let alone the implementation of initiatives for development.
Equivalence of Mayor and CM
The equivalence in stature of the Mayor and Chief Minister in the unified MCD often led to a conflict of powers between them. During most of the interviews conducted, it was argued that Sheila Dikshit did not want the Mayor to have the same stature as her, so she decided to trifurcate because this would mean three Mayors—with none of them sharing the same stature as the CM.
An underlying thought voiced across interviews was that the process undertaken was based on arbitrary criteria, without any assessment of the resources to be divided between the three corporations. The process seems to be limited to separation of the jurisdiction of the government of Delhi from the MCD. The result has been relatively weaker municipal corporations that are grappling with a major financial crunch.
Arbitrary criteria for dividing the unified MCD into three
Various committees, set up prior to trifurcation, to advise on the restructuring of the MCD, had recommended that the corporation should be divided into five or seven smaller bodies. But the final division into three was never adequately explained. Sheila Dikshit defended the decision to trifurcate by saying that five was really not necessary—"...if we split it into five, then we would need so many more offices. The structure of the MCD officials also has to match their area." One wonders why she thought no additional offices should be set up in case of trifurcation because ideally each corporation should have an office in its own jurisdiction.
Trifurcation can be seen as a centralised division where the government of Delhi created a central node through which to keep control over the three divided corporations.
A former accountant (unified MCD) explained that there's no set formula available about what is the right size for a municipality but as a general thumb rule, it should be administratively and financially efficient and viable. A retired bureaucrat of Delhi government felt that the area for a local government should be a reasonably compact territorial jurisdiction and a reasonably large resource base. How "reasonably compact" and "reasonably large" are ascertained is highly vague. If territorial jurisdiction should be well bounded for a corporation to be reasonably compact, then can only the presence of a river cutting Delhi into two be a good enough criterion? Because if East MCD with just about 7% of NCT's area can be reasonably compact, then why was rest of Delhi divided only into two parts, each covering about 44% of NCT's area?
Lack of proper assessment of resources
A proper assessment of the unified MCD's resources, and how they would be adequately divided between the three corporations, was not undertaken. The assessment of finances was left up to the Fourth Delhi Finance Commission but its report was tabled only by the end of 2015. It was accepted by a member of one of the committees set up to determine the rules of functioning of the three newly constituted corporations, that there was no thought given to the fact that the three corporations didn't have the same resource base.
Sheila Dikshit, in her interview said, "We used to give money to the MCD every year and if they said they were short of funds and they couldn't pay their employees, then we gave them that much money. And that we adjusted the next year, for MCD on its own is unable to sustain its financial condition. They are not financially sustainable for the simple reason because they do not implement their means of financial resources." So despite accepting that the MCD always had a financial problem, the government of Delhi chose to divide it into three, instead of restructuring it in a way that would actually help improve its functioning!
Process did not address inefficiencies
Many of the officers interviewed shared the belief that a single corporation had the wherewithal to deliver services to citizens efficiently and it had the strength and power to implement schemes more efficiently, in a more coordinated manner. The MCD (Amendment) Act, 2011 did not introduce any changes that would make the MCD administratively efficient. Sheila Dikshit felt "that is the job of the MCD to do." If the then government of Delhi did not envision ways of making MCD efficient, why did it just split it into three? "Just because a corrupt and inefficient organisation is divided, it does not yield non-corrupt and efficient organisations," noted an RWA member.
Everything that a councillor can do, an MLA can also do also", and each one wants credit for the work done, leading to a power tussle.
The trifurcation also failed to address the issue of multiplicity of agencies. In fact, it added to the multiplicity of agencies by creating three municipal corporations and the DLB. Trifurcation failed to empower the local government and did not decentralise any functions to the MCD that the 74th CAA recommends. The last commissioner of the unified MCD stated that the Corporation was already decentralised into 12 zones and GNCTD could empower them financially and by placing higher authority officers there. 'Earlier there was one Commissioner and 12 Deputy Commissioners for zones but now there is a DLB at the state level and then three Commissioners with the same 12 Deputy Commissioners below them' (North MCD councillor).
Thus, trifurcation can be seen as a centralised division where the government of Delhi created a central node through which it is keeping control over the three divided corporations. However, the DLB cannot be seen as fully aiding a coordinated development agenda because it does not enjoy considerable power and authority over the three corporations.
State jurisdiction co-terminus with the Corporation
Parliament approved constitution of Delhi Legislative Assembly in 1991, decades after the MCD was constituted. So in trying to set up a domain for itself, the Delhi government seems to have slowly taken over the functions of the MCD and "trifurcation was another step in that direction. The Delhi government has always been an important source of funding for MCD but it had no say in the management of the body. Thus, trifurcation can be seen as a way to gain control over the functioning of the MCD," said a retired state government official.
The matter is made worse by a political tussle between the MLA and the councillors in a region. "Everything that a councillor can do, an MLA can also do also," said the last Mayor of the unified MCD, adding that each one wants credit for the work done, leading to a power tussle. This tussle plays out particularly at the time of elections as each councillor aspires to move up the ladder and become an MLA.
Table: Timeline of major events in the evolution of the local government in Delhi
It can be deduced from the table that irrespective of which political party was in power in Delhi, functions have been appropriated from the MCD ever since Delhi got a Legislative Assembly after 1993 elections. It has only helped the party in power in Delhi if the same party was ruling at the Centre as well, because any amendment in the MCD Act, 1958 requires approval of the Parliament. For instance, functions were majorly taken from the MCD in the mid-1990s when all three levels of government were BJP-ruled. On the other hand, when two separate parties rule the MCD and Delhi, then the tussle for powers is acute and takes a political turn. This is observed especially in the present scenario when Delhi is AAP-ruled and the BJP is in majority in three corporations.
The second article of this series will explain the impacts of trifurcation on municipal finances, image of the MCD, etc. The third article will particularly look at the outcomes of trifurcation on service delivery, using the case of solid waste management in East Delhi.