Updated: July 13, 2020 4:57:39 pm
The North Delhi Municipal Corporation, in the news after its doctors and teachers complained they were not being paid their salaries, employs a total of around 50,000 people. This includes around 17,000 safai karmacharis, 8,000 teachers, 5,000 healthcare workers, and subordinate and higher officials.
While the sanitation staff have been paid their salaries for June, the salaries of others have been delayed for between two and four months.
This has happened even as the other two civic bodies in Delhi, the Municipal Corporations of South Delhi and East Delhi, which are run through the same process and by the same party (BJP) have either paid staff or have delayed payments by only a month.
While officials have mostly blamed the funds crisis on the Covid-19 pandemic, several questions remain unanswered about why the North Delhi Municipal Corporation is struggling.
What are the areas and sources of revenue for the three Municipal Corporations of Delhi?
The trifurcation of the erstwhile Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) in 2012 was done to “decentralise” the large local body. However, senior officials say, the trifurcation was also an attempt to fix political boundaries in such a way that the then Congress government in Delhi would be able to make inroads into the civic body that had become a BJP bastion.
After the trifurcation, the North DMC and South DMC were given 104 wards each, while the East DMC had 64 in mostly the trans-Yamuna area.
Due to the demography of Delhi, the South body ended up with the most “posh” colonies — the A and B category taxation zones that paid higher property taxes. The North body on the other hand, got more unauthorised and lower taxation category colonies, which pay less tax, or not at all.
The split created a structure in which the South ended up earning around 30% of its internal revenue through property tax. For the North corporation, the share of internal revenue through property tax was half that (around 15 per cent), while for the East body, this figure was even lower (around 9 per cent).
The East corporation has around 2,28,000 taxpayers among 4,00,000 property owners, the North MCD has 3,35,000 taxpayers among 1 million property owners, and the South body has 4,75,000 taxpayers among its 1.1 million property owners, according to data released by the three MCDs before the last civic body elections in 2017.
But why is the situation in the other MCDs not as bad as in the North?
As per the recommendations of the Fifth Delhi Finance Commission — which looked at devolution of funds by the Delhi government to civic bodies — the grant to MCDs has been enhanced from 10.5% to 12.5% of the net tax receipts.
But the South body said the recommendation comes with riders that impact it adversely — South had to give a 3% share to the North and East bodies, which have a budget deficit. This improved the position of the East body to some extent, but the finances for the North didn’t improve much — it had too many projects where funds flowed but there were no returns.
The South MCD has also better managed its advertising revenue. It has taken private companies into confidence, carried out a structural safety audit of unipoles for ads, and taken action against illegal hoardings — all of which has led to revenues rising to around Rs 130 crore over the past three years. In 2018-19 it reached Rs 150 crore, which was one of the highest in the country.
The North body, in that same year, earned around Rs 40 crore, which, however, was an improvement on the Rs 33 crore that it made in the previous year.
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And what are the things that it is responsible for?
It would seem that the North body has much more on its plate than it can manage.
It employs at least 1,000 senior doctors, 500 resident doctors, and 1,500 nursing officers across five medical facilities. In comparison, the East and South corporations have just one hospital each — which are smaller in size, with 370 beds and 100 beds respectively.
The North MCD’s biggest hospital, Hindu Rao, has 900 beds; the civic body has four others in which a total 5,000 staff are employed, and whose combined expenses are Rs 600 crore on account of salaries alone. Another Rs 40 crore is spent on medicines, and there are costs of maintenance as well, a senior official in the administration said.
The North MCD also runs 21 dispensaries, 63 maternity and child welfare centres, 17 polyclinics and 7 maternity homes. A proposal was placed in the North MCD Standing Committee meeting in 2018 to transfer these hospitals to the Centre, but it was never executed.
The North MCD also has 675 schools, which is twice the number of schools in the East, and 180 more than there are in the South civic body. It also has a larger area to clean and carry out anti-mosquito operations in — where a big chunk of money is invested with no financial returns.
So why did this situation come about?
The trifurcation, which divided resources unequally, is at the heart of the financial crisis in the civic bodies.
While the move was aimed at decentralising municipal governance in Delhi, officials said it only “tripled the number of officers, increased costs and resulted in unequal distribution of assets and liabilities”.
With the North being the owner of the biggest civic body, it also became the most top-heavy. The North Corporation is struggling with a deficit of over Rs 1,300 crore.
Is there a role of political parties too in this mess?
The BJP-ruled North corporation said in a report before the High Court earlier this month that an amount of Rs 37.50 crore was due from the Delhi government under the Health Plan in the first quarter.
The AAP-ruled Delhi government filed a status report stating that it had released Rs 8 crore to the corporation, as directed by the court, for payment of the April salary of the resident doctors.
It also said that paying salaries of the doctors and other employees of the corporation was the sole responsibility of the civic body, and the Delhi government only released funds that it was obliged to as per the budget estimates of the financial year.
The court asked the corporation to spend the funds on disbursing salaries — only for that “specific purpose and for no other purpose”.
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