Delhi Municipal Corporation: Why three failed to do better than one

On one point, the latest amendment unifying the Delhi Municipal Corporation seems right. Numbers confirm that the divisions had been uneven.

This is the second and final of the two-part analysis of the new Act passed by Parliament, merging Delhi’s three municipal corporations into one all-powerful Delhi Municipal Corporation (DMC) under the control of the union government. The first part can be read here.

The trifurcation of the Delhi local body in 2012 could no doubt have been better thought out.

The three MCDs together had 94.23% of the NCT area — 1399.26 sq km of the total area of 1484.97 sq km. As per the 2011 Census, the three MCDs had 97.81% of Delhi’s population under all the local bodies (including New Delhi Municipal Corporation and Delhi Cantonment Board). Together, these MCDs had a population density of 11,735 per sq km, higher than Delhi’s population density of 11305 as put out by the 2011 census.

In contrast, the politically important and all powerful NDMC — covering the plush Lutyens’ Delhi, home to the country’s rich and powerful and from where the government of India functions — covers an area of 2.88% and has a population of 1.54% according to the same 2011 Census. The population density here is 6036 per sq km. The Delhi Cantonment Board oversees 2.89% of Delhi’s area and 0.66% of the population, having a density of 2560 per sq km.

The story gets more interesting when we look into the population density and the number of wards in the three MCDs.

East Delhi, often disdainfully shrugged off as “Yamuna par”, with the maximum of 37,281 persons per sq km has 64 wards. 

North Delhi with its iconic North Campus where prestigious institutions like Stephen’s College, Miranda House, Delhi School of Economics, and other colleges are located, has a density of 9829 persons per sq km, and 104 wards.

While the affluent South Delhi’s MCD – think Defence Colony, Hauz Khas etc– has a population density of 9459 per sq km and 104 wards.

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All this makes for a total of 272 wards to which elections have now been put off till the legal process of unification of the three MCDs is complete. There is speculation this will be followed by a fresh delimitation, as the new Act caps it at 250.

Though the BJP has won the municipal elections in recent years, there has been constant bickering between the municipalities and the Delhi government from the time Congress leader Sheila Dikshit was chief minister. The bickering only got more intense since AAP and Arvind Kejriwal won the Delhi assembly elections the last two times. The BJP has alleged that the Delhi government has not been passing on funds meant for local bodies. Salaries of sanitation workers, doctors, nurses, teachers and others have been delayed for months leading to strikes and protests.

All about money

The new Act, however, does not appear to address the issue of finance. But the fact that the Act replaces the word “Delhi government” or “state government” by “Central government” suggests that the unified MCD could get more money from the Centre.

The amended act is also likely to provoke stiff competition between the MCD and the Delhi government, as it also provides for establishment of an e-governance system for citizens’ services on an anytime-anywhere basis for speedy, accountable and transparent administration.

The AAP government has used the e-governance route to provide virtually everything except rations at the doorsteps of Delhi residents. “This competition could benefit the citizens or leave them in limbo”, said councillor Geetha Rawat of EDMC.

Especially if AAP were to win the municipal polls whenever they are held. A rival party in the MCD can be subjected to constant pinpricks and financial squeeze by the Centre. Probably more so if AAP were to win the next Delhi assembly elections. 

Read more: Delhi budget: Ambitious targets for job creation, education, mobility and health care

According to the latest Delhi Finance Commission (DFC) report, the Delhi government had transferred 15% of its net tax revenue to the five municipalities. The DFC does recommend grants to municipalities in respect of four major sectors (roads and bridges, sanitation, education, and medical and public health) that constitute almost 90 to 95% of the Plan grants. However, it also recommended the discontinuation of specific grants to municipalities for undertaking infrastructure development in the unauthorised but regularised colonies, jhuggi-jhompri clusters etc, “as we would like the municipalities to consider these colonies as part of their regular obligations”.

The BJP’s national leadership has said they wanted to reform the MCDs such that whichever party forms the government can deliver, instead of fighting over funds. As of now, the tussle between the three MCDs is mainly how much money each is getting from the centre, with  allegations that the NDMC is getting the largest chunk.

Economic status

The reality is that there is a serious resource disparity among the three MCDs.

Last year, the EDMC, which is chockablock with unauthorised-regularised colonies and juggi-jhompri clusters, wanted to impose property tax on the slum dwellers as it did not have the resources to pay salaries to sanitation workers, and garbage mountains became a common sight. But they had to hastily withdraw the order when Opposition parties and the residents protested the idea of slum dwellers having to  pay property tax.

South Delhi however remained neat, clean and tidy, because the rich who lived there had the ability to pay for municipal services. This disparity among the MCDs is main reason cited by the the Centre for their merger. That decision was announced just hours before municipal polls were to be announced on March 9th. Elections to these bodies are due in April, and the new councillors would normally have taken charge around mid-May. Arvind Kejriwal accused the BJP of shying away from the contest as his party had swept Punjab. 

Delhi viewd from Jama Masjid
It remains to be seen whether the 2022 Act 2022 is based on the Centre’s requirement of “complete and comprehensive control over the affairs of the capital” or to prepare Delhi for future assembly and parliament elections. File pic of view of Delhi from Jama Masjid. Pic: Ryan/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

But the fact is that Delhi is not just another city. As the country’s capital, its governance has some special requirements.

In his letter to then home minister of India Mufti Mohammad Syed, S Balakrishnan who headed the Committee on Re-organisation of the Delhi Governance Structure explains this eloquently.

“The task of designing a proper structure of government for the national capital, particularly for a country with a federal set up like ours, has always proved difficult because of two conflicting requirements,” wrote Balakrishnan. “On the one hand, effective administration of the national capital is of vital importance to the national government, not only for ensuring a high degree of security and a high level of administrative efficiency but also for enabling the central government to discharge its national and international responsibilities. To ensure this, it must necessarily have complete and comprehensive control over the affairs of the capital. On the other hand, the legitimate demand of the large population of the capital city for the democratic right of participation in the government at the city level is too important to be ignored.”

The commission in its recommendations attempted to design a government structure for Delhi that would reconcile the two requirements.

The 2022 Act: Some other highlights

  1. “A corporation, every corporation, each corporation, corporations” will be replaced by “The Corporation, the East, South and North Delhi MCDs will be subsumed by the MCD, along with their moveable and immovable properties, contracts, rights and liabilities”.
  2. Municipal Corporation of Delhi will be charged with the Municipal government of Delhi with effect from the date as the Central government may by notification in the Official Gazette, appoint.
  3. The total number of seats of councillors, reserved seats will be determined by the Central government by notification in the Official Gazette.
  4. The number of seats will be based on the population of Delhi, and capped at 250.
  5. The officers and employees of the erstwhile North, South and East Delhi Municipal Corporations will become officers and employees of the MCD
  6. The contracts made prior to this MCD will be deemed to have been executed by the Centre appointed Commissioner, on behalf of the MCD.

Whether the MCD (Amendment) Act 2022 is based on the Centre’s requirement of “complete and comprehensive control over the affairs of the capital” or to prepare Delhi for future assembly and parliament elections, matters little to its citizens. If they get good governance in terms of efficient and transparent delivery of services, they would probably hail the amendments at the next hustings.

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