Fifty years ago, the Municipal Corporation Act of 1957 was enacted and thus came into being the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), after amalgamating 10 local bodies already in existence then. Consolidating a fragmented local government structure, the MCD was established, and today, it is once again being fragmented, in the name of good urban governance.
Delhi is perhaps the only one city, with a unique distinction of having three separate municipal corporations to govern it. What are the implications? One of the arguments that is frequently put forward is that when an organisation becomes too big to handle, it needs to be restructured.
Fair enough. Delhi has crossed the 10 million mark long ago. Catering to the service demands of such a huge population is no doubt a challenging task. As a matter of fact, this has been addressed a decade ago when the decentralisation policy was introduced, quite in line with global thinking, and the MCD was divided into several zones so that civic governance could be delivered better.
Today, however, this concept has been taken a bit too far and the organisation itself has been split. The question that stares in the face today is whether this is a good recipe or not, will the trifurcation work, or will it add further to the already huge mountain of civic woes.
East Delhi across the river Yamuna would now be governed by the East Delhi Municipal Corporation, South Delhi by the South Delhi Municipal Corporation and North and West parts of Delhi by the North Delhi Municipal Corporation. Each of these three municipal corporations will have its own Mayor, Commissioner and the other office staff. The Delhi Municipal Corporation Amendment Act of 2011 provides for a Director of Local Bodies to coordinate the functions at the government level. The elections have already been held on the 15th of April, 2012 and has paved the way for the three urban bodies to take over.
There are good reasons as to why this trifurcation is wrought with contradictions and may not work:
The first question that one would ask here is whether we have gone back to the pre 1957 situation when Delhi was governed by several civic bodies. The answer is undoubtedly in the affirmative. One step forward, two backward. There is every possibility for chaos to prevail, since each entity can be ruled by different political parties. Today, we have been witness to difficulties in state-local relations, tomorrow, we are going to see the difficulties in local-local relations. Things can only become more complex.
While the city is one entity, different parts are governed by different bodies. This can lead to problems galore with infrastructure inter-connections passing physically from the jurisdiction of one body to the other. For instance, the garbage of South Delhi Municipal Corporation may have to be carried all the way through North Delhi Municipal Corporation area and dumped in a site located in its jurisdiction. The North Delhi Municipal Corporation would be well within its right to object. This would perhaps the beginning of a series of new litigations that are likely to erupt soon.
The concept of a Director of Local Bodies coordinating several municipal corporations, as is the practice in several states, will not work in Delhi. Here, we are talking of three municipal corporations managing one city, not three separate cities. The Director of Local Bodies would be more of an arbitrator unlike the traditional role expected of the position.
Since each of the three municipal corporations are independent bodies, they will have their own way of working, taxation, etc. and there may not be uniformity in rules and regulations, systems and procedures. This will only add to the complexities of administration.
Intra-city problems would become more complicated. Slum dwellers under one municipal corporation may have to be housed within that corporation limits only as one would not like to take on the problems of the other. Similarly, roads going from one part of the city to the other would also become a bone of contention in terms of who should maintain it.
Some parts of the city may get more property tax collections than the other. This could potentially impact service levels in each corporation. In the earlier scheme of things, it was all going into one central pool. But now, it will remain within one municipal corporation and there could be serious disparities.
Over R1,800 crore of assistance has been given to the three newly-created bodies to develop their infrastructure. A large number of jobs are also to be created in each of the three entities. This is a very expensive experiment in urban local governance.
Normally, one would have expected that such major decisions are debated adequately and the pros and cons are weighed before taking a decision. However, in this case, the Delhi government has taken a decision in haste and pushed it through. Apparently, no exercise in taking a look at the models in existence the world over was ever done.
Are there any examples from where we can learn lessons? Every country and every city has its own peculiarities. Nevertheless, a look at parallel global examples of large metropolitan areas is certainly not out of place.
Tokyo is one of the largest urban agglomerations in the world. The Tokyo Metropolitan Area comprises of as many as 23 special wards, each with its own elected Mayor and an overall elected Governor for the Tokyo Municipal Government (TMG).
In the case of London, there is one elected Mayor for Greater London. The other, Lord Mayor, for the inner central London comprising one square mile, is a largely ceremonial position. For all practical purposes, there is therefore only one elected Mayor. Greater London is divided into 33 boroughs or areas for the sake of proper provision of civic services.
New York has a similar structure. It is divided into five boroughs and there is one Mayor and as many as seven Deputy Mayors to assist in various specific areas for ease of administration.
Nowhere have we seen a situation like in Delhi where there are three elected Mayors representing one city and the three municipal governments being coordinated by one bureaucrat. There is now a shift of power from the people to the bureaucracy, ultimately, just the reverse of what is being globally advocated in terms of democracy and local government decentralisation.
The model adopted for local government in Delhi is wrought with many contradictions and will only create more problems for the common man.
As the partition process continues, citizens are worried as to the fate of civic services. Officials working in these organisations also nurture apprehensions of inherent problems related to provision of civic services given the nature of inter-relatedness of the constituent parts, now being separated out.
While politics has had its way, sooner than later, this model is sure to come into further re-engineering as in its present state of organisation, governance would become only more complicated.
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