The municipal corporations of the city that have been battling a severe shortage of funds for over a year drove the national capital to a civic standstill for 10 days. Thousands of safaikaramcharis, teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers and other support staff under the MCDs shut shop and staged protests all over the city demanding unpaid salaries, arrears and unification as a permanent solution to the recurring crisis.
According to stakeholders, the financial crisis of the three civic bodies is rooted in the trifurcation of the erstwhile Municipal Corporation of Delhi. The move became effective in April 2012 with fresh corporation elections in the city. The 272 wards of the unified corporation were divided between the newly created North (104), South (104) and East (64) municipal corporations, along with the former’s debts and liabilities.
Aimed at decentralisation of municipal governance in the capital, trifurcation tripled the number of officers of the corporation and made it top heavy. One commissioner was replaced by three, 11 additional commissioners were put in place instead of six. Seventy new posts of heads of various departments were created since the 35 from earlier could not be divided. Thirty committees (education, health etc.) tripled to 90. Trifurcation also meant three mayors, three leaders of the house, three opposition leaders, three chairmen of the standing committees and three times the cost of running the deliberative and administrative wings.
Subhash Arya, South Delhi mayor and one of the senior-most members of the civic body at 68 years old said the corporation’s salary bill was approximately Rs 1,200 crore before trifurcation and is now over Rs 5,500 crore. “The figure keeps increasing every year and will keep increasing in the years to come,” Arya said.
He also said trouble first began in 2000 with the implementation of the Fifth Pay Commission’s recommendations but timely grants from the state government made things manageable. “Until then, our internal income and expenditure managed to strike a balance. The Fifth Pay Commission was implemented with the help of a Rs 100 crore loan from the Congress government. Post that the unified corporation kept borrowing a few hundred crores of rupees every year,” Arya said. He has been a member of the MCD in various capacities since the municipalities of Delhi were conceived in their current form in 1997.
These loans, borrowed regularly from the Sheila Dikshit government, reached approximately Rs 2,051 crore at the time of trifurcation. Therefore, South civic body was created with a deficit of Rs 850 crore, North with Rs 750 crore and East with a loan liability of Rs 451 crore. South corporation claims to have paid off most of this loan and hopes to become “loan free” in the next financial year. However, since trifurcation, South has not borrowed any amount from the government, while the North and East received ‘ways and means’ loans from the Delhi government twice in the last five years.
The last budget of the unified corporation was Rs 6,691 crore. The most recent budget of the North Corporation alone is Rs 6,635 crore. The three corporation’s total budget (proposed) is Rs 14,500 crore for the next financial year. Property tax is a major contributor to internal revenue in all three corporations but distribution remains partial to the South. Expenditure wise, North has the highest salary bill with five hospitals under its jurisdiction. East has the lowest category of colonies as per property tax and one civic hospital. South started a multi-speciality hospital in 2015 but only OPD services are operational as of now.
Apart from financial woes, there are other ways trifurcation has caused chaos. Officials state the city has lost a sense of uniformity in the years since MCD was split. Despite the same party being in majority in all three corporations, parking rates, property and other taxes differ in all three corporations.
Former Delhi mayor Yogendra Chandolia (mayor 2013-14) stated that while the decisions at the party level are taken for all three corporations, it is during implementation that the differences begin to take shape. “Sometimes one corporation does not implement a hike in tax or discontinuation of a service until another corporation does. This is up to the deliberative wing of the corporation and comes after the political decision has been taken,” Chandolia said.
In certain cases, one of the three corporations is made the “lead corporation” on a particular matter. Chandolia argues that this also leads to delays. “For example, North is the lead corporation on promotions. Until all three corporations sit together, decisions concerning promotions cannot be made. This sometimes causes delays,” he said.
In case of toll, SDMC is the lead corporation. This means that the South corporation takes decisions on behalf of all three corporations. “In 2013, there was election after election and South corporation delayed the decision to increase tax and this caused revenue loss to the other corporations.”
Officials said owing to the weak financial status of North and East corporation, workers prefer being posted in the South “where at least your monthly salary is guaranteed.”