Delhi just got three new mayors, but can they change anything for the city?

Amid the din of the Lok Sabha election campaigns, Delhi witnessed a silent but significant change of baton at the post of three mayors of the South, East and North municipal corporations. However, given the power dynamics in the capital, the road ahead for city administration under the new leaders hardly looks promising.

On a day that India saw another round of voting in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, and people were engrossed in coverage of verbal slugfests between leaders, sensational comments by candidates and all the typical frenzy that accompanies the conduct of elections, the national capital quietly conducted the final phase of an election that is no less important for the Delhiite.

The annual elections for the post of Mayor, Deputy Mayor and the vital three member standing committee (Sthayi Samiti) of three autonomous municipal bodies of Delhi (MCDs) concluded on Monday unanimously. With the ruling BJP enjoying a clear majority in all these bodies, the opposition, AAP and Congress did not even bother to put up a token candidate for the annual ritual.

Section 35 of the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act mandates that the civic body must in its first meeting held after commencement of the new financial year should elect a mayor and deputy mayor.

This time, all the three mayoral posts were for reserved categories, of which the South Delhi post was set aside for a female candidate. The head of the BJP party came under sharp criticism for his decision to tag the castes of the candidate along with their names while announcing their candidature, a move that media construed as one aimed at appealing for caste votes in the Lok Sabha polls.

The municipal bodies in Delhi have a tenure of three years and a Mayor from the majority party is elected every year as per the prescribed category. The councillors elected by the three MCDs were:

South Delhi Municipal Corporation

BJP councillor Sunita Kangra, a tuition teacher, from Madipur was unanimously elected as the Mayor of South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) in the general house meeting of the civic body on Friday, April 26. Party councillor Raj Dutt Gahlot was elected as her deputy.

Talking to reporters after her election, Kangra underlined that increasing the revenue of the Corporation would be her priority.

North Delhi Municipal Corporation

BJP councillor from Civil Lines area Avtar Singh was unanimously elected as mayor of the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (North DMC) while Ashok Vihar councillor Yogesh Verma was elected as his deputy in the election held on April 29.

Singh, a daily wage porter before he entered electoral politics, ascertained that ensuring better education facilities in the area will remain his priority, as many MCD schools in his region have closed down in the past years.

East Delhi Municipal Corporation

Anju Kamalkant, a housewife and municipal member from Vishwas Nagar area was unanimously elected as mayor of the East Delhi Municipal Corporation ( EDMC) while Vivek Vihar councillor Sanjay Goyal was elected as her deputy in the election held on April 29. Kamalkant have announced that strengthening the garbage collection in the area will be her priority. East Delhi was worst affected during the municipal sanitation workers’ strike last year.

Trifurcation of the Delhi Municipality

The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (Delhi) was constituted by a law of the Parliament in the year 1958 and Pandit Trilok Chand Sharma was elected as its first Mayor. The MCD was the largest municipal body in the world till it was trifurcated in the year 2012 by the Shiela Dikshit-led Delhi government. The new North Delhi Municipal Corporation and South Delhi Municipal Corporation consequently contained 104 municipal wards each, while the smaller East Delhi Municipal Corporation now had 64 wards.

However, the seeds of change in the nature of the MCD were sown much earlier, as far back as in the year 1993. An amendment in the existing Act brought about fundamental changes in composition, functions, governance and administration of the corporation to manage a growing population and shrinking civic infrastructure. However, none of it seems to have yielded much efficiency in the working of the Corporations, as they all seem to be grappling with severe funds crunch on one hand, and a tricky power tussle on the other.

Under the circumstances, do these mayoral elections really hold any significance for the city at all?

The challenges of civic administration in Delhi

A few scenarios from the city can illustrate the real state of municipal administration and its effectiveness here. Last week, on April 13th, while the country was immersed in news of high decibel election campaigns, a joint operation force of Delhi Police, ITBP and personnel were engaged in putting off a civil emergency in Delhi’s Mayapuri area, where the municipal body was trying to seal the polluting scrap factories.

 The BJP-controlled Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) and AAP-controlled Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) were trying in vain to execute the court order with the help of central forces. All three working in least coordination! The drive was fruitless, ending in stone pelting and baton charge injuring scores of residents, workers and traders. This happens to be the typical manner in which the civic affairs of the country’s capital are dealt with.

Sealing of commercial properties in residential areas as per a Supreme Court order is another issue which remains unresolved. Residents favour sealing while traders protest it and often bribe their way to running their establishments in unauthorised areas. Political parties are seen standing with the traders, with little movement towards a sustainable solution to the standoff.

Another glaring example of mismanagement resulting from similar issues came to the fore with the recent fire at Karol Bagh’s Hotel Arpit Palace which claimed 17 lives.The Special Investigation Unit (SIU) is struggling to move the case forward with multiple authorities and regulatory bodies spread over centre, state and municipalities, with overlapping areas of work. The SIU had to move a special petition seeking to question officials from across the bodies to pursue the case.

Delhi is a quasi Union Territory and State; the State government, though elected by direct vote, does not have authority over Police, Law and Order and Land portfolios. While policing in NCT Delhi is under the Home Ministry of India, the land here belongs to the Delhi Development Authority, a body under the union Urban Development ministry.

In this situation, “Who rules Delhi?” is an enduring question. From the apex court of India to the common man on the roads of the National Capital Territory (NCR) of Delhi, everyone seems to perplexed over it. The issue is so vital that the street-smart Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal has designed his Lok Sabha election campaign around the demand of full statehood for the state. In fact, the contradictions and divide between the centre, state and municipal authorities were never so evident and visible as in the period since his Aam Aadmi Party government came to power here.

Kejriwal claims that a one-stop solution to the city’s problems is to meet the demand of full statehood for Delhi. The Centre opposes any such move, quoting that Delhi has its own special needs and cannot be given complete autonomy as any other state in India. While the turf war continues, Delhites reel under the issues of encroachment of public land, pollution, clogging of its life-giving river Yamuna, lack of proper transportation, poor garbage disposal system, never ending crime and especially, atrocities against women.

Paucity of funds also poses a major challenge. The fund-starved MCDs in Delhi have been fighting a losing war on many fronts. Doctors at the municipal hospitals have protested demanding unpaid salaries and schools witness very high dropout rates, largely due to lack of basic infrastructure and facilities, such as benches for children to sit at. In the last financial year alone, 14 schools under NDMC had to be closed because enrolment and attendance had dropped to record lows; the Corporation is now contemplating putting the buildings to commercial use for garnering much-needed revenue. The sanitation workers of the municipal bodies have also gone on strike on multiple occasions seeking their arrears, leaving the capital under a heap of garbage that could trigger health calamities.

Kejriwal’s insistence that all the woes of Delhi rests on securing full statehood for Delhi doesn’t cut much ice with voters, although the achievements of Delhi government in health and education steams has won it laurels. The discussion on Delhi government to take over the ailing the MCD schools as per the recommendations of an NCERT committee report has not gathered much steam with the Centre, the legislative authority in this regard not showing much interest.

Gathering political brownie points seems to weigh heavily on every decision concerning Delhi. A BJP-led central government with majority in all three municipal bodies does not appear interested to cede any space to the AAP-led state government and a suffering civic administration caught between the two remains a matter of least concern. What the newly elected mayors can really achieve in a scenario such as this is anybody’s guess.

The way ahead

Both Centre and State were engaged in a bitter feud on the figures recommended by the 4th Delhi Finance Commission. However, in January 2019, the Kejriwal government told the Delhi High Court that it will release the due amount to the municipal bodies soon. With a a change in mayoral posts at the helm of the municipal bodies, this would be a good time to follow through and see whether this move can bring about positive changes in the city administration.

But even as we read this, the MCDs are contemplating the demolition of ‘mohalla clinics’ built by the Delhi government in makeshift facilities — aimed at providing free primary medical and diagnostic facilities — on charges of compliance irregularities. Evidently, Delhi continues to suffer with all three tiers of governing authorities engaged in constant competition to outsmart each other politically.

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