The power pyramidhttps://indianexpress.com/article/cities/chandigarh/the-power-pyramid-chandigarh-municipal-corporation-5567591/

The power pyramid

At a time when political leaders in the city are increasingly calling for giving greater powers to the civic body, Newsline takes a look at the laws that govern the MC and finds that power flows from the bureaucracy down to the elected mayor and councillors, not the other way round

General House meeting in progress at MC Building in Sector 17, Chandigarh. (Express Archives)

THE CHANDIGARH Municipal Corporation is the sole political platform in the City Beautiful. All basic amenities in the city are attended to by the civic body. From streetlights to water, parks to sewerage, internal roads to stray dogs and cattle, the Municipal Corporation manages everything. As many as 26 elected councillors represent residents of their wards in the corporation and put forward their concerns in the House. But do they really have the powers to get work done? Well, that’s only if they get along well with the UT officers.

Executive powers with the bureaucracy in Chandigarh have reduced the political leadership to a mere spectator.

The powers and functions of the Municipal Corporation of Chandigarh are governed by the provisions of the Punjab Municipal Corporation Act, as extended to Chandigarh. Under this, the MC Commissioner is all powerful. He is in turn governed by Home Secretary, Secretary (Local Government), who in turn reports to the Adviser.

There have been instances when the General House of elected councillors rejected an agenda, only to have the UT Administration use its powers to go ahead with the rejected agenda. The House had several times rejected the agenda of imposing property tax on remaining five villages, but the UT Administration went ahead and imposed it.

Advertising

Real power lies with the commissioner

All executive and financial powers in the Municipal Corporation vest with the commissioner, an IAS officer from the Punjab cadre.

Although the mayor is said to be the “first citizen” of the city, he has little power in his armoury, and is often limited to ribbon-cutting.

A commissioner exercises all the powers and perform all the duties specifically conferred upon him by this Act or by any other law for the time being in force.

From even withdrawing the water supply at any time if it is necessary to do so in order to maintain a sufficient supply of water for domestic purpose, to deciding which development work needs to be executed on the ground first, a commissioner is all powerful.

Under Section 52, the executive powers vest in the commissioner. The commissioner also prescribes the duties of and exercises supervision and control over the acts and proceedings of all corporation officers and other employees and disposes of all questions relating to the services of the said officers, including the conditions of service.

Here in Chandigarh, the annual confidential report (ACR) of any corporation official is written by the commissioner which makes the officials answerable to the IAS officer only. There is no provision for the mayor to write the ACR of the corporation officers.

The commissioner also has the powers to, from time to time during the year, to reduce the amount of a budget grant, or sanction the transfer of any amount within grant. Recently, the commissioner decided to release only part of the ward development fund to councillors as the civic body was running in financial losses.

The commissioner also has powers to undertake the execution of any work certified by Secretary (Local Government) to be urgently required in public interest, and for this purpose may temporarily make payments from the corporation fund.

But none of this can be done by the mayor.

Mayor: The House monitor

A mayor in Chandigarh has a one-year term. As the House is elected for a period of five years, the mayor’s selection from amongst the elected councillors is from general female category, general male category, SC, general female and then general male category.

The mayor has no executive or financial powers in Chandigarh. The only power he has is to regulate the House meetings. He also has the powers to reject and include the agendas in the House meeting sent in by the officers.

But when it comes to implementation of any project on the ground, the mayor can just follow up with the officers concerned to get it executed. As the mayor has no power to write ACRs, his words are seldom taken seriously.

For instance, incumbent Mayor Rajesh Kalia claims he kept waiting for hours to discuss the budget but no officer turned up leaving him embarrassed. In a way, the officers are all accountable to the commissioner.

In the House meetings, it is the mayor who chairs the House meeting and has powers to disallow any question which is, in his opinion, in contravention of the provisions of sub-section (3).

The mayor also has powers to access the records of the corporation and may issue directions to the commissioner or call for reports from him with a view to ensuring proper implementation of the decision of the corporation. However, he has no further powers on it and can only follow up with them.

However, even in the House meeting, the commissioner is not bound to answer a question if it asks for information which has been communicated to him in confidence.

The mayor also has discretionary powers to spend his mayor development fund of Rs 2 crore anywhere in the city, other than his ward.

Govt can dissolve the MC

If in the opinion of the government, a corporation is not competent to perform its duties or exceeds or abuses any of its powers, the government may, by an order published, along with the reasons therefore, in the Official Gazette, dissolve such corporation. However, the corporation shall be given a reasonable opportunity of being heard before its dissolution, as per the Act.

Councillor only in name

A councillor in Chandigarh is elected for a period of five years. He represents his ward in the General House. No powers vest with a councillor and he has to request the officers even to get his agenda item put forth in the House for discussion. A letter is written to the Chief Engineer who then gets a technical vetting done as per policy. The agenda is then sent to the secretary and the commissioner who have powers to see if the agenda item be taken up this time or not. After vetting by the commissioner, it is then sent to the mayor, who has the power to reject the agendas he considers are not required to be discussed in the forthcoming meeting.

This may explain why councillors frequently complain about their agendas being ignored.

However, a councillor gets ward development fund of Rs 40 lakh every year and he can spend it in his ward. However, here again, the commissioner has powers to withhold certain funds for a certain period, in the interest of the corporation, if he deems fit.

Last year with the civic body facing a financial crunch, the commissioner had directed the release of only Rs 20 lakh each to the councillors.

Functions of an MP

A Member of Parliament is elected for a period of five years from the constituency. MP represents the constituency in the Lok Sabha.

An MP’s responsibility is to represent the views and aspirations of the people of their constituency in Parliament (Lok Sabha). An MP has the powers to bring in new projects in the city but only by coordinating with the officers in Chandigarh who have the executive powers and then with the ministry concerned. Here, the MP has to coordinate with the administrative officers who further send the proposal to the Ministry of Home Affairs. The executive powers vest with the Adviser to Administrator who is an IAS officer whom the MP approaches to get development works done.

Whenever any demand pertaining to funds is sought, it is the MP who requests the Finance Ministry for it.

Also, the MP gets MPLAD fund of Rs 5 crore where he or she has the discretion to give funds for development works anywhere in the city.

At present, Kirron Kher is the Member of Parliament.

Talking to Chandigarh Newsline, Kher said that as an MP in Chandigarh you got to push for projects first with officers and then ministries concerned. “You can’t get away by saying that officers don’t listen. You have to get work done by officers by following up with them and the ministries regularly,” she said.

“…You can’t get a work done just by taking a delegation with a piece of paper to Governor or Adviser. You need to follow through a lot..I know how I have been running around – coordinating with the Ministry of Home Affairs, Law Ministry, Health Ministry, Urban Development Ministry and various others. Even though the officers have executive powers, they will get your work done if you push for it. Also, you have to be pleasant to people, you can’t get work done by throwing your weight around,” she said.

Kher added that for instance to get additional water, she had to shuttle from the Punjab government to Haryana government and then MHA.

She said it was ditto for the Sector 29 flyover or RUB at Manimajra, UT Employees Housing Scheme 2008, or even the Good Samaritan Bill she tabled as an MP.

But former MP Union Minister Pawan Bansal said, “During my tenures as MP from Chandigarh, I did not face any insurmountable problem as I made no tall promises and walked the talk. Some genuine issues like conversion of industrial/ commercial property into freehold, need-based changes in CHB flats and commercial property, land for employees’ housing remained unaddressed. Most of the developmental works were executed and FAR for plotted houses was substantially increased.”

Advertising

Speaking on the present MP’s tenure, he said, “During the last almost five years, parking woes of the people have multiplied; the only solution offered was a penalty of 50% of the price of the second car, even if purchased for use of members of one’s own family. The proposal for Metro was discarded without offering an alternative, resulting in heavy congestion on city roads. Kirron Kher has accomplished nothing. She could have done a lot more,” he added.