Millennium Post

Clinging on to ivory tower?

The DMC (Amendment) Act, 2022 was merely an eyewash to manipulate the electoral process and deprive citizens of their democratic right of representative governance

Clinging on to ivory tower?

Even three months after the highly contentious overhaul of Delhi's municipalities was initiated, the move at best disappoints and at worst exasperates. Among other things, the DMC (Amendment) Act, 2022 unified the three MCDs, and postponed the election of councillors until the conduct of fresh delimitation exercise. In the Parliament, the Home Minister harped on administrative inefficiency and scarcity of resources as the rationale for piloting the amendment. However, the disconnect between the purported objectives and the amended provisions has become increasingly evident in the two months since the three MCDs were reunified.

With the curtailment in powers of the elected government of Delhi, and abolition of the post of Director of Local Bodies, the MCD has been brought under control of the Union Government. On the other hand, the Delhi Government has been prevented from exercising legitimate supervisory function, despite being elected by the same electorate as the MCD, being closer to the needs of the people of NCT, and financing the MCD with its state budget for which it is answerable to Delhi's residents. The Delhi Government and MCD have overlapping jurisdiction in several civic functions, which has been completely neglected by the new law.

The dramatic delaying of MCD elections was in complete contravention of Section 4(2) of the DMC Act as well as Article 243U (3) of the Constitution, which mandate that election to the Corporation should have been completed before the expiry of its duration. The more egregious aspect is a Special Officer appointed by the Union Government to act in place of the elected councillors. This has resulted in the 97 per cent population of Delhi being left unrepresented in the civic body. This is testimony to a Union Government which solely believes in accumulating power, and obliterates the elected councillors who could have been instrumental in grievance redressal. Stopgap measures by the Corporation to address complaints have not been popular either, as very few complaints have been received at the 14 demarcated sites. It is not surprising that councillors across the aisle, even those from the BJP, have raised concerns over the delayed elections.

The amendment, in complete defiance of reason and without any explanation, capped the number of municipal wards to a maximum of 250, as against the previous 272, despite the growth in population of Delhi. Since the next Census is pending and the delimitation committee has been given four months to submit its report, the exercise would be done based on the 2011 census, which is redundant as the previous delimitation exercise was also based on the 2011 census figures. Furthermore, contrary to Section 3, the Union Government has not specified the total number of wards, which it should have at the time of establishment of the Corporation. During the last delimitation, five MLAs and five councillors were appointed as Associate Members to the Committee – an aspect that has been completely discarded in the present committee.

As far as administrative rehaul is concerned, it is becoming increasingly clear that the restructuring has had little to no impact on administration and finances. A lean organisation was expected to cut costs, but the new unified body still has multiple officers heading core departments. Even with a rationalised workforce, the savings on salary payments would be far less than the deficit that the Corporation is struggling with. While the Delhi Government's contribution to MCDs through grants and loans has been on a continuous rise since 2015, the Corporations were not able to augment their resources. The fact that several persons have been asked to produce proof of property tax payments made since 2004, makes it clear that over the last two decades, the BJP-run civic bodies were lax in revenue collection. Non-payment of arrears to employees continues and threatens proper service of the most basic amenities to the citizens. In a bid to augment revenue, benefits such as rebate on lump-sum payment of property tax, and rebate to senior citizens, women, differently abled persons and retired soldiers have been slashed. It is imperative for the Union Government to announce a financial package to resuscitate the Corporation, instead of making it increase taxes and cesses, particularly when inflation and fuel prices have squeezed people dry.

The lack of consultation and deliberation with any stakeholder is glaring in the amendment. Proponents of the amendment need to step down from their ivory tower and engage with the Delhi Government as well as the civic bodies to understand what actually plagues the local bodies. It is clear from the recent developments that the DMC amendment was merely an eyewash – a sinister attempt to manipulate the electoral process, depriving citizens of their democratic right to govern themselves through representatives of their choice. It is a wake-up call for the Centre to stop barking up the wrong tree.

The writer is Additional Standing Counsel of the Delhi Government. Views expressed are personal

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