And then there was one: The convoluted journey of the Delhi municipal corporation

The first Municipal Corporation of Delhi was formed in 1957. Trifurcated in 2012, it is now again set to be one monolithic Delhi Municipal Corporation.

This first of a two-part series looks at the new Parliament Act merging Delhi’s three corporations into one all-powerful Delhi Municipal Corporation.

For Delhi’s citizens, the hope is that creation of one omnibus municipal corporation for Delhi will improve the quality of services provided. For all those employed by the municipal corporations in different segments and capacities, from  teachers and sanitation workers to doctors, nurses and health workers, to name a few, the hope is that they may at last get their salaries, arrears and pensions which the present trifurcated MCDs have been unable to pay.

Not surprisingly, all sections of municipal employees have hailed the unification and the larger role of the central government. They expect they will get their dues once the new bill becomes law.

Over the decades, Delhi has more than once gone through this exercise upon the recommendations of various expert committees. Of many MCDs being merged into one corporation, then dividing this into zonal MCDs, and now reversing all that by going back to one huge, all-powerful Delhi Municipal Corporation (DMC).

In a sense, it is about turning the calendar back to 1957, when the first Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) was constituted under the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act 1957, by amalgamating 10 local bodies (see box below).

Read more: Opinion: Amendment to law on Delhi governance retrograde and regressive

The objects and reasons for the latest  Delhi Municipal Corporation (Amendment) Bill, 2022, which was passed by the Lok Sabha on March 30th, all sound noble. The amendment seeks, among other things, to merge the current three local bodies that govern and manage municipal services in east, north and south Delhi into one Delhi Municipal Corporation (DMC).

With one crucial caveat. The bill takes away any role of the Delhi government in the working of this new DMC and transfers complete control to the central government. A move which Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal has said is “against the Constitution”.

Delhi corporation school teachers
Hopes are high that the new law will get municipal employees their long-pending dues. File pic: Caught between Delhi govt and the municipal corporation, corporation teachers on strike in February for non payment of salaries.

The background

The 10 local bodies that were merged in  1957 were: The Municipal Committee, Delhi, The Notified Area Committee, Civil Station, The Notified Area Committee, Civil Station, The Notified Area Committee, Red Fort, The Municipal Committee, Delhi-Shahadara, The Municipal Committee, West Delhi, The Municipal Committee, South Delhi, The Notified Area Committee, Mehrauli, The Notified Area Committee, Najafgarh, The Notified Area Committee, Narela, and The District Board, Delhi.

The only bodies left out were the all-important New Delhi Municipality and the Delhi Cantonment Areas.

The MCD Act, 1957, also provided for the amalgamation of the Delhi State Electricity Board, the Delhi Road Transport Authority and the Delhi Joint Water and Sewage Board, so that a unified body administers Delhi’s municipal corporation.

The Delhi Municipal Corporation (Amendment) Bill 2011 that brought about the trifurcation of the then DMC, in its statement of objects and reasons, had said: “Serious concerns had been expressed for quite some time about the constant deterioration of state of basic civic services in Delhi, and the ever increasing woes of the Delhiites on that account”.

Way back in 1989, the Balakrishnan Committee, constituted by the union home ministry to recommend reorganisation of the Delhi governance structure, had recommended that the monolithic MCD be abolished and replaced by a number of compact municipalities at various centres in the interest of providing more efficient civic services to the city’s rapidly growing population. (The 5th Delhi Finance Commission report 2016-2021 has put the population in 2010-11 at 1.67 crores, and projected at 2.01 crore in 2020-21).

The trifurcation of 2012

The monolithic structure of the earlier MCD had jurisdiction over 94.22% of the area and 95.90% of the population (2001) of the National Capital Territory (NCT) with its power centres being remote, and often inaccessible, from the people it was meant to serve. In February 2001, the Virendra Prakash Committee set up by the Government of NCT had also recommended splitting the MCD into four corporations and two Councils.

Which happened in February 2012, when the MCD was trifurcated into East, North and South Delhi municipal corporations, besides the NDMC and Cantonment Boards, making a total of five local bodies.

However, the 2022 merger amendment argues that the 2012 trifurcation was “uneven in terms of territorial divisions and revenue generating potential” and that “the main objective of trifurcation to provide more efficient civic services to the public has not been achieved”.

The justification

“The experience of the last ten years shows that the main objective of trifurcation — that of creating compact municipalities in Delhi to provide more efficient civic services to the public — has not been achieved. Instead, owing to inadequacies in resources and uncertainty in fund allocation and release, the three corporations have been facing huge financial hardships, making it difficult for them to maintain the civic services in Delhi at the desired levels. The level and quality of delivery of municipal services in the capital of India needs to be in consonance with its unique status and cannot be subjected to vagaries of financial hardship and functional uncertainties”.

New parliament building.
The Central govt will now have total control over all aspects of municipal governance. File pic of the under construction new parliament bulding.

Further, it curtails the powers that the 2011 trifurcation amendment gave the Delhi government. The power to decide on the total number of seats of councillors and number of seats reserved for members of the Scheduled Castes, the  division of the area of corporations into zones and wards, the delimitation of wards, matters such as salary and allowances, and leave of absence of the Commissioner, sanctioning of consolidation of loans by a corporation, and  sanctioning suits for compensation against the Commissioner for loss or waste or misapplication of municipal fund or property. 

The 2011 Act also mandated that the Commissioner will exercise his powers regarding building regulations under the general superintendence and directions of the Delhi government.

The current Amendment hands over all these powers exclusively to the central government.

The 2022 Bill also omits the provision for a Director of Local Bodies, a post provided in 2011 to assist the Delhi government discharge certain functions like coordinating between Corporations, framing recruitment rules for various posts, and coordinating the collecting and sharing of toll tax collected by the respective corporations. 

Now, the central government will appoint a Special Officer to exercise powers of the Corporation, until the first meeting of the Corporation is held after the new Act comes into force.

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