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The Municipal Corporation(s) of Delhi has been ruled by BJP since a decade now. And the BJP is all set to rule another 5 years with a whopping majority in all three municipal corporations. Despite the mismanagement of funds, inability to maintain cleanliness in the city and to control spread of vector-borne diseases, the citizens of Delhi have reposed their faith in BJP to run the MCDs. It is difficult to determine with certainty the reasons behind the Delhiites voting in such a manner. Perhaps it’s the ‘referendum’ on Arvind Kejriwal for his theatrics, for abandoning Delhi to campaign in Punjab and Goa, or perhaps it’s the citizens’ faith in a party that was able to remove all ‘corrupt’ incumbents, or perhaps it’s the Modi wave trumping over all possible reasons.
BJP’s Sankalp-patra (manifesto) for elections to the local government had images of PM Modi and Amit Shah towering over the image of their Delhi Chief Manoj Tiwari. It even called upon Delhiites to transform Delhi into Modi ji’s ‘sapno ki dilli’. BJP’s manifesto, similar to other parties, listed multiple populist measures. It is dotted with a lot of tall promises like food thalis worth Rs.10 under the Deen Dayal Antyodaya Rasoi Yojana, regularisation of temporary safai karamcharis and other staff as well, in a phased manner, services to JJ colonies and slums having standard equivalent to those of authorised colonies, among others. In effect, the focus of the manifesto is more on the discretionary functions of MCD (as listed in the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, 1957), rather than the obligatory functions.
It would be safe to say that manifestos are mere promises that do not always translate into action. But if BJP truly wants to keep a hold on Delhi and is eyeing to replace AAP in the Legislative Assembly, then it needs to tread cautiously and not destroy the faith that Delhiites have placed in the party. With a clear mandate, it is imperative that BJP works towards improving local governance in Delhi through structural transformation. Based on their own pre-poll promises, there are 3 areas that BJP must seriously deliver on.
Firstly, citizen participation needs to be encouraged and institutionalised through ward committees. The sankalp-patra promises that meetings of councillors, MCD officers and RWAs will be made mandatory. This tri-partite arrangement may not be enough as all residents of a ward may not be affiliated to an RWA. To truly follow the mandate of the 74th Constitutional Amendment and empower citizens, it is important to regularly hold ward committee meetings and deal with local issues in a localised manner. This will decentralise governance and provide avenues for citizens to meaningfully engage with the MCD. This should bridge the gap between citizens and government while providing some clarity to citizens about MCD’s functions. Presently with multiplicity of organisations, majority of Delhiites are unaware of the functions of different levels of government and a platform for civic engagement could augment good urban governance. In this regard, digitalisation will prove to be helpful and BJP should act on its promise. The website itself is quite poor and does not provide adequate and updated information. The MCD should take some lessons from Pune Municipal Corporation, for instance and make its website more accessible and user friendly. Mobile applications for grievance redressal could also be introduced.
Secondly, the three civic bodies need a fool-proof plan to steer over the financial crisis and ensure financial sustainability. The promise of not levying any new tax or hiking rates comes in the way of that. The property tax which is the highest source of revenue for the civic bodies, has not been revised since 2002 and there are many properties which now qualify for a higher tax slab, some even in East Delhi post the Commonwealth Games development and spread of the metro. So the BJP councillors need to take a cue from PM Modi and be progressive. They must not block any move to raise property tax and should in fact promote it. Parking fees are minimalistic and promote use of personal vehicles even for short distances, leading to congestion even in residential areas. These too could be hiked or levied on hourly basis to match international standards, and advertisement base can also be exploited further.
Thirdly and very importantly, the MCDs need to ensure cleanliness, put in place an efficient chain of solid waste management and prevent vector-borne diseases. The sankalp-patra contains no radical proposal on how to transform the state of waste management in the city. It continues to promote C&D waste treatment plant that lies dysfunctional and waste-to-energy plants that are criticised worldwide. Waste management is one key responsibility of the MCDs and it’s in a total mess from collection all the way to disposal at landfills. Some concrete steps like amending the Cleanliness and Sanitation bye-laws of 2009, in sync with the 2016 Solid Waste Management Rules; promoting source segregation and decentralised composting are the need of the hour. Alleppey (Kerala) and Tirunelvelli (Tamil Nadu) are successfully segregating and treating their waste and if Delhi is to become Modi ji’s sapno ki dilli, then Swachh Bharat Mission needs to be taken more seriously in the capital.
There is no escaping the fact that AAP is still ruling the Delhi government and has been a roadblock in local governance due to political differences. Thus, ensuring good governance would require that the BJP-ruled MCDs work alongside AAP-ruled Delhi government and avoid a confrontationist approach.
Views expressed by the author are personal. The author is a Research Associate (urban governance) with Vision India Foundation