Lack of empowered local governance today is one the single biggest challenge facing Indian cities. For cities such as Gurugram that is contributing more than 70 per cent revenues to Haryana, the fact that it has to depend on the state government for sanctioning and approval of projects is indeed very disempowering. Gurugram put in place its third tier of governance in 2011 by electing 35 councillors and a Mayor but the fact that these councillors have little powers to implement the city’s development agenda also makes the local governance weak.
In one stroke, what can empower local governance to a large extent is implementation of the 74th Constitutional Amendment (CAA). It can make our municipal corporations autonomous and efficient, it can empower our councillors and mayors, remove the multiplicity of agencies, make ward committees more effective and even attract better local talent to enter politics. Basically, the CAA shifts the control from the state to the city and enhances the city’s ability to use the funds as per its needs. However, despite over 20 years of the legislation becoming effective, state governments have delayed, not implemented the CAA in full spirit, or simply not implemented it at all to retain their powers on cities. All the major neighbouring states of Haryana including Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan have implemented the legislation, then why is Haryana is elusive on it?
To be sure, this is what the 74th CAA grants. There are 18 civic functions that are mentioned in the 74th CAA including sanitation, roads, health care, urban planning, water supply, public parks, street vendors, public transport, street animals etc that must rest with the municipal body, basically directing that the municipal corporation is a complete city government with a constitutionally defined clear mandate.
Two, it grants empowered Mayors. Mayors of London, New York and even Shanghai run the city as CEOs of the city. As Mayor of New York city during the September 11 attack in 2001, Rudy Giulani played a vital role, coordinating the efforts of all city departments and making all key announcements in the media. When PM Narendra Modi went on his first official visit to the US, his first official meeting was with the Mayor of New York. Such is the importance of the Mayor. How many of us know who is the current Mayor of Gurugram? Are these positions merely ceremonial? Mayors are democratically elected for a period of five years by the people. They should have more powers and accountability since commissioners are beaurocrats that are frequently transferred. Gurugram had seen eight MCG commissioners come and go in a period of four years in the recent past.
In a welcome move, however, Haryana’s cabinet has approved direct election of Mayors last year which means the voter will cast vote for both ward councillor and mayor. Earlier, the councillors post ward elections elected the Mayor among themselves and there was a lot of horse trading to garner support. This move also ensures that better candidates from the city will stand independently for the Mayor’s post. Hisar, Karnal, Rohtak, Yamunanagar and Panipat that had elections last October have already benefitted by this move, and so will Gurugram when it goes for elections in a couple of years.
The third thing it ensures is effective and operational ward committees. Gurugram has in fact hurriedly set up the ward committees in January this year (to garner points under for Swachh Sarvekshan). MCG has set up a 13-member ward committes in each of the 35 wards of Gurugram to oversee sanitation, water supply, parks etc at the ward level. These committees would be chaired by councillors and progressive citizens and NGO members are members of the committee. One nodal officer from MCG will oversee the work of these committees in each ward. Creating ward committees is one thing, making them effective tools of local governance is another. Let us hope these committees help improve citizen participation, councillor’s interest and resolution of local civic issues.
Because of lack of implementation of 74th CAA, MCG has low threshold for expenditure; its limit to decide on projects is Rs 25 million. Besides, budgets are often not presented on time. The budgeting quality itself is a question mark. Citizen’s participation in budget allocation is non-existent. Robust revenue streams such as stamp duties and entertainment taxes are not devolved fully to the urban local bodies. Since, multiple authorities are involved, lets say in building roads, the total resources spent on building roads is unclear. 74th CAA if implemented well can help in creating better budgeting and accounting standards, better control of municipal finances, more autonomy to municipal corporation to decide on its manpower needs, and ushering other urban reforms.
Decentralised governance is the need of the hour. By creating decentralised platforms of autonomy, we are encouraging the citizen of the land to get interested in local issues, to feel empowered and engaged in city’s affairs. There will be better voter turnouts and more competent and clean people will start contesting elections. We will then Mayors who are good administrators and have a vision for the city.
Besides, cities are fulcrum of our economic growth. They cannot be operated through remote controls. Neither they are the ATMs of state government that can be milked whenever needed. Gurugram certainly not. It has been made what it is today by its people, its industry, its entrepreneurial spirit and its civic society. Implement the 74th CAA in Haryana, and let Gurugram decide its own destiny.