WITH A total of 195 municipal councils going to elections this year, the Maharashtra government cleared a decision Tuesday to allow voters in council areas to directly elect the chairman of their council.
The cabinet approved a proposal to amend the Maharashtra Municipal Councils, Nagar Panchayats and Industrial Townships Act to enable the change, following recommendations of a cabinet sub-committee under Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on the issue.
Senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) minister Sudhir Mungantiwar, who was also a part of the sub-committee, said, “We were considering making amendments to allow the direct election of mayors of municipal corporations too. But, considering the size of municipal corporations, we realised it will be a huge exercise, almost the scale of an MLA election, and decided against it.”
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Several politicians and activists have over the years expressed the need for a directly-elected mayor who is more empowered and accountable for taking decisions in Mumbai, on the lines of public heads in mega cities such as London and New York.
In his early days as chief minister, Fadnavis had also expressed his willingness to have an authority that can act like the chief executive officer of Mumbai, a statement that was severely criticised by ally Shiv Sena.
The Maharashtra government had first tested the concept of a directly elected chairman for municipal councils in 2002. It was, however, rolled back in four years mainly due to political considerations. Subhash Desai, senior cabinet minister from Shiv Sena, said, “Getting to directly elect the chairman will empower voters more, but there are several pros and cons that will have to be looked into. There might be situations where the majority councillors in a council are from one party, but the chairman is from another party. In such a case, he will hardly be able to get any work done.”
Based on the recommendations of the same sub-committee, the state government approved changes in the panel system for elections of municipal councils and corporations, excluding Mumbai, and will amend the Municipal Councils Act and Maharashtra Municipal Corporations Act for the same.
For municipal corporations, two panels, each comprising two wards, would be clubbed into a single panel of four wards, Mungantiwar said.
This will enable political parties to field four candidates from a single panel, as opposed to two candidates per panel earlier. This way, the entire voting population of a panel will be able to vote for candidates of the four wards that comprise the panel.
For municipal councils, the state has accepted the reverse — one panel of four wards each will now be broken down to two panels of two wards each. Mungantiwar said the committee recommended the changes after studying suggestions and objections received from local representatives.
A senior state government official said the decision was mostly politically motivated, mainly to overcome caste or gender-based reservation of wards and ensure local political leaders didn’t lose their voters due to their wards being reserved for a particular category.
A total of 195 municipal councils across the state are scheduled to go to polls at the end of this year, followed by 10 municipal corporations, including Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad, Thane, Akola and Amravati, among others, early next year. While the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) too has its elections scheduled in 2017, Tuesday’s decisions will not apply to the civic body, which falls under a separate Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act.