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Monday, December 06, 2021

Fight for Delhi: Centre of the tussle

Delhi’s tussle with the Centre over governance of various bodies of administration has been a problem since early ’90s when the then Union Territory was made the National Capital Territory with partial powers of a state.

Written by Apurva |
Updated: February 9, 2016 3:15:18 am
(Illustration by: C R Sasikumar) Multiplicity of authority has left citizens in a lurch with gaping holes in the system. (Illustration by: C R Sasikumar)

Throughout his first year of governing the National Capital, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has been at war with the Central government. The tussle started with the power to transfer bureaucrats and the functioning of Delhi Police, moved quickly to controlling air pollution levels and regularising unauthorised colonies to finally managing the recent municipal corporation strikes.

Even after winning 67 of Delhi’s 70 Assembly seats, Kejriwal is staring at the same conundrum that afflicts the Chief Minister of the National Capital – the multiplicity of authority. He is also a strong advocate for full statehood, as were the chief ministers before him, including BJP leader Madan Lal Khurana, the first CM and three-time Congress CM Sheila Dikshit.

Consider this: The road sector in Delhi is looked after by six separate authorities – the Public Works Department under the Delhi government, the local Municipal Corporation, the New Delhi Municipal Council, the Delhi Development Authority and the National Highways Authority of India (under the Central government) along with the Delhi Cantonment Board (under the Ministry of Defence).

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“Something as simple as building a road in Delhi or even repairing a short stretch of it is a bureaucratic nightmare. At its worst, six authorities under different governments have to give approval for it. In the end, road projects consume more time in planning, getting sanctions and approvals and clearances than actually executing the project,” said a former Delhi Chief Secretary.

A Union Territory till 1993, Delhi was made a National Capital Territory (NCT) with a state Assembly but operating through the Lieutenant Governor. Before this, Delhi operated under a two-tier system under the Central government with a unified Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) Broadly, Delhi is governed by four institutions – the elected government, the Lt Governor, three Municipal Corporations under the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Delhi Development Authority, under the Union Ministry of Urban Development. The Lieutenant Governor apart from exercising powers in reserved subjects – law and order, police, land and services, which gives control of bureaucrats and transfer postings.

“Like roads, most of Delhi’s development falls under multiple agencies reporting to different ministries. For example, housing in Delhi will have to include the municipal corporations, the DDA, the UD ministry, Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation etc. By virtue of it being the seat of the Central government there will be overlap, but it’s a process that’s improving,” said a senior Delhi government official.

Former state finance minister and BJP leader Jagdish Mukhi concurs. “We formed the first government in Delhi in 1993 and it was not very easy for us either. As a finance minister in those days, I realised I had no power at all. I could not increase or decrease tax, give exemptions or impose new ones. In other words, the Budget could not be implemented,” said Mukhi.

According to him, it took close to six months and repeated meetings with the then Prime Minister P V Narsimha Rao and finance minister Manmohan Singh to sort the issue out. “I told them both that my position was not that of a finance minister, but rather an expenditure minister. I was collecting tax and spending it without planning. Finally after months of dialogue, they agreed and certain powers were given to the Delhi government. It’s an evolving system that needs patience,” said Mukhi.

Another sticking point between the Centre and the state has remained the Delhi Master Plan. The Master Plan is prepared by the DDA with little involvement of the Delhi government. A Delhi Urban Development Department report of 2006 noted that major decisions in planning and implementing the Master Plan were still taken by a Central Government Agency – the DDA. “There is a lack of clarity over departmental responsibilities for land-use planning, development, maintenance and enforcement. The geographical boundary of the state government and MCD are co-terminus, and their functions are almost the same. In other cases, administrative and functional sub-divisions do not match. This has resulted in ineffective and uncoordinated decision making and actions. For example, the boundaries of the revenue districts and the MCD zones do not match,” the report said.

Chief among complaints of the multiplicity of agencies, particularly for the Delhi government, is grievance redressal. This is something Kejriwal is well aware of and former CM Dikshit reiterated through her three terms in power.

In a speech to the National Development Council (NDC), Dikshit had raised similar issues. Then the Congress-led UPA was in power at the Centre. “We can appreciate the fact that the federal government is here, so Delhi cannot have the same kind of powers the other states have. Yet the question comes, as citizens who do they look at for redressal of their grievances? Obviously, to the person or government that they have elected,” she had said.

Dikshit argued that it was impossible and impractical for a citizen to approach the DDA or the urban development ministry or the Lieutenant Governor or the home ministry for guidance or redressal.

“Citizens, therefore, come to us because they say that you are the ones, we have elected, you are the government we put in place in Delhi, so you have to solve our problems. But we often find ourselves helpless in addressing the problems of the people due to lack of powers over the multiple agencies in the city. It is precisely from the angle of helplessness that this conundrum of sharing power and governing Delhi has to be solved urgently,” Dikshit had said.

“There was huge backlash against the government after the December 16 gang rape, particularly against Delhi Police. And people are unwilling to understand the intricacies of governing the capital. The police report to the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Chief Minister has nothing to do with it. However, as the elected government in Delhi, the public singled out the city government,” said a government official.

No wonder that Kejriwal is always quick to condemn the Delhi Police after similar incidents after assuming power. “He too, knows the pitfalls of being CM here. The CM is blamed for everything from law and order to poor sanitation, roads to monsoon flooding,” said a former Delhi Cabinet minister.

It has been debated for 23 years now, Delhi’s unique difficulty of navigating the multiple agencies and dealing with the giant union bureaucracy, but solutions are few. While successive governments under different parties have all advocated ‘full statehood’, no Central government has come close to even debating it. In fact, all six Delhi Legislative Assemblies since 1993 have passed resolutions demanding statehood.

How these state capitals manage their affairs 

Commercial hub Mumbai

While the issue of urban governance in Mumbai is much less vexed than in the National Capital, it is not without its share of confusing and roundabout decision-making patterns.

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, with its annual budget of Rs 32,000 crore, has a fair degree of autonomy in building, operating, maintaining and repairing roads, sewers, storm water drains and water supply lines. In addition, the BMC also independently runs its schools and hospitals, with minimum interference from the state government.

However, in matters of urban planning — this ranges from formulating the city’s Development Plan to major policies such as changes in FSI rules, redevelopment schemes for old and dilapidated buildings, management of open spaces, etc — policy-level decisions are taken by or vetted by the Urban Development Department of the Maharashtra state government. These decisions come back to the BMC for implementation, but the buck stops with the state government.

For example, when the draft Development Plan 2034, a planning blueprint for the city for 20 years, was drawn up by BMC-appointed consultants following an open consultative process with citizens, the entire exercise had to be reviewed after the chief minister-led Urban Development (UD) department took note of citizens’ protests regarding errors in the DP. The CM ordered an exhaustive correction exercise. Now, even for further extensions in the time period to complete the process of reviewing and correcting the draft DP, the BMC needs to go back to the UD each time.

This becomes complicated when the BMC and state government are controlled by opposing political dispensations, as they were in Mumbai until the BJP-Shiv Sena assumed power in the state government too after the October 2014 Assembly election.

Meanwhile, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) is a planning and implementing body for major infrastructural work across the city and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, an area 10 times the size of the financial capital. MMRDA can take most of its decisions independently through the Metropolitan Commissioner who reports directly to the chief minister, the chairman of the authority. However, while implementing smaller projects such as altering the design of a water line or a road, it may need to coordinate with the BMC, the UD and the traffic police.

The BMC and MMRDA are both political bodies, which means they may not be on the same page every time even with the state government leading to delays in execution.

In the fractured polity of Maharashtra, another problem is posed by coalition partners handling parallel development bodies, such as the MMRDA and the MSRDC. While the Congress-NCP were in power, the CM-led MMRDA was constantly at loggerheads with the NCP-led MSRDC for the larger share of the development contracts pie. ENS

Gujarat’s capital Ahmedabad

The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) is responsible for the civic infrastructure and administration.

The AMC includes 19 other municipalities and 30 gram panchayats in its jurisdiction and is headed by a municipal commissioner, an IAS officer appointed by the state government who wields the executive power of the house. For administrative purposes, the city is divided into 6 zones — central, east, west, north and south and new west zone.

While there is the standing committee that meets once every week to clear all projects and proposals raised by various AMC departments, there are other committees as well. The major ones include revenue committee, transport committee, legal committee, housing improvement and EWS committee, road and buildings committee, town planning and estate management committee, recreation, culture and heritage committee, hospital committee, health and solid waste management committee.

To avoid delays associated with municipal decision-making for the implementation of major projects like Sabarmati Riverfront and Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS), AMC has incorporated Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) model. For instance, Sabarmati Riverfront Development Corporation Limited (SRFDCL) and Ahmedabad Janmarg Limited for BRTS, respectively.

To ease out administrative functioning, AMC has also developed an e-governance mechanism that includes offering online services like birth, death and marriage registration, payment of various taxes and also the comprehensive complaint redressal system where a resident can lodge a single or multiple complaints through a call centre, website or by visiting a ward office.

For revenue, the corporation banks heavily on the taxes (majority from property tax, other taxes including profession tax, vehicle tax, water and conservancy tax and general tax), sale of additional Floor Space Index (FSI) and grants from the state government. The budget branch mainly prepares annual budget for every year. At present, corporation budget is prepared on the basis of works

suggested and recommended by each ward committee. ENS

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