Tuesday, Oct 04, 2022

The state of cities

Post-delimitation,urban governance must be seen through a political lens,not just a municipal one

For more than three decades the urban areas of this country have been under-represented in the Lok Sabha and state legislatures because of the freeze on delimitation of constituencies imposed in 1972. Now,after delimitation and the recent elections,the picture has changed.

The number of urban seats in the new Lok Sabha is around 90 — about 20 or so more than before. Out of these,32 are from the metropolitan areas of Mumbai,Kolkata,Bangalore,Chennai and Hyderabad and 7 from Delhi. In each of the legislative assemblies of Maharashtra,West Bengal,Karnataka,Tamil Nadu and Andhra there is,post delimitation,a significant increase in the number of urban MLAs.

The 5 metros account for a sizeable part of the electorate in their respective states,from 10 per cent in Hyderabad,11 in Chennai,15 in Kolkata ,18 in Bangalore,and 23 per cent in Mumbai. These proportions cannot be ignored. The electorate size and the number of MPs and MLAs taken together exceed that of several states. This is not to raise the city-state flag for the metros. In the Indian context,the state is and will remain a crucial element. But the helping hand of the state secretariat should not become a stranglehold on the socio-economic and institutional space of the metropolis. Simply stated,a metropolitan identity has to be political,not merely municipal.

It is necessary to understand the configuration of the MPs and MLAs in these metropolitan areas. Also,there is a large number of elected councillors from municipal corporations in the area. Together all these elected representatives ranging from an MP to a municipal councillor,are a significant number. They do not have a common political affinity but certainly share a territorial identity. As issues of economy,employment,poverty,slums and other urban issues become more complex and contested in our megacities,these political representatives will have to determine their roles instead of remaining mouthpieces or vassals of their respective party bosses.

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Mumbai and Kolkata

Some facts have to be noted. In the Mumbai metropolitan region which,apart from Brihan Mumbai includes Navi Mumbai,Thane,Bhiwandi and Kalyan,there are 9 MPs,54 MLAs and about 1200 local body councillors.

In the Kolkata metropolitan region there are 10 Lok Sabha seats including Kolkata,Howrah,Barrackpur,Dum Dum,Sreerampur,Hooghly,etc. As many as 60 assembly constituencies which are manifestly urban and part of the region are covered. Of the 9 seats in Mumbai,6 have been claimed by the Congress,2 by NCP and 1 by Shiv Sena. In Kolkata all the 10 seats have gone to Trinamool.


The Chennai metropolitan region has six Lok Sabha constituencies covering the city and the suburbs. Of the 6 MPs,3 are from DMK,2 from AIADMK,and 1 from the Congress. The corresponding assembly segments are 36.


For the core city of Chennai a new civic set up was provided under a comprehensive Local Bodies Act,enacted in 1996 after extensive discussions and a legislature select committee’s review. Karunanidhi’s son Stalin became the directly elected mayor in 1996 and again in 2001. But as Tamil Nadu moved from DMK to AIADMK,the 1996 Act was set aside. An ancient Madras Corporation Act of 1919 was revived to disentitle the mayor to reelection. Another law stipulated the mayor could not be an MLA as well. Stalin chose the assembly and left the city to run as a fiefdom of the state government. When the DMK came back to power and Stalin himself became minister of local self-government,he seemed less enthusiastic about the status and autonomy of the city corporation. Chennai presents an apt illustration of a metropolis deliberately kept fragmented and subordinated.


As for Hyderabad,whatever its claims of being tech-savvy,the governance structure is arcane. There is the all-powerful Greater Hyderabad Urban Development Authority,set up in June 2008,presided over by the CM and dominated by state officials and a sprinkling of MLAs and MLCs. The G-HUDA can do just about everything,from land planning to development,infrastructure work,urban transport,administer a metro development fund and collect levies from municipalities. Set up a few months earlier in December 2007,the Metropolitan Planning Committee is an eyewash,representative in character but without a mandate.

Of Hyderabad’s 4 MPs,three are from the Congress and 1 from Majlis. Of the 28 seats from the area in the assembly,14 are from Congress,7 from Majlis and 3 from TDP. There will also be a few hundred municipal corporators when elections are held. Will all these representatives,with their varied political affiliations,remain mute witnesses to a state government-dominated dispensation?



For long Bangalore has claimed a higher status than other metros because of its institutions of science,law,IT and biotech,and civil society groups with a sustained interest in issues of governance. In January 2005 the limits of Bangalore were expanded to include the adjoining 9 municipalities but elections have not been held so far.

An expert committee appointed by the previous government has made extensive recommendations for reorganising institutions at the regional as well as the city level including a directly elected mayor for the Bangalore City. While the report has been generally welcomed,fears of losing power linger in the Vidhana Soudha.

Given its multiple jurisdictions,megacity governance should not be dismissed as merely municipal. In essence it is inter-municipal and intergovernmental. The Metropolitan Planning Committee envisaged in the 74th Amendment intended to serve as a participatory and interactive platform bringing politicians at different levels,state and central government officials,private sector and professional experts,has not been given a working chance. This is mainly because state political leadership perceives it as a counter to their power.

The basic question remains — despite the significant increase in MPs and MLAs from metropolitan areas,will they rise to their role? They need to realise that just as national issues cannot disregard a city’s needs,local issues cannot be brushed under a national carpet. As Tip O’Neill,the former Speaker of the US Congress once famously said “all politics is local”.

During the past three decades megacities like London and Los Angeles,Toronto and Seoul have experimented and evolved new structures of metro-wide governance. Despite the 74th Amendment,the Indian scene has remained static and sterile. Our metro MPs are by and large a young,energetic lot. Hopefully their learning and skill will prove equal to the task.


The writer is former secretary,urban development and chairman,Centre for Policy Research

First published on: 20-06-2009 at 12:56:58 am
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