Will Chennai ever get a municipal body?

It has been over two years that Chennai has not had an elected body of Councillors at the helm of municipal administration; elections don't seem imminent either. What does it mean for you and me?

The High Court is getting more and more impatient. And who can blame that august body for losing its cool? There are no signs of any elections to civic bodies in the entire State, leave alone the Corporation of Chennai. Come October, we will have completed two years of civic administration sans an elected body. It appears that not many in the city have really noticed. The State Government too is pretty much relaxed over the delay. The Opposition is the one that is crying foul.

Strangely enough, two years ago, when the elections fell due, it was the Opposition that did not want elections. This despite the local administrations under the present party in power not having performed much and therefore standing very little chance of a re-election. The Opposition took the matter to court, querying the hurried announcement of dates, irregularities and law & order problems. The Courts had obligingly stayed the elections.

Since then, it is the State Government that has hummed and hawed. It has cited a delimitation exercise, to be in place following the 2011 census, as the principal stumbling block. It is however not clear as to what has really held up this exercise for over seven years now. In September 2017, the Court had ordered that the elections had to be completed by November that year. There was no action and when summoned and asked to explain what amounted to contempt of court, the Election Commissioner of the State was quick to apologise. He also cited certain changes in the Tamil Nadu Panchayat Act that placed legal hurdles in the conduct of the elections.

In August this year, the High Court expressed its annoyance once again. The TN Government’s self-imposed deadline of January 2018 for completion of the delimitation exercise had come and gone and there was no news. The Election Commission has responded by stating that it can issue an election notification within three months of the State Government notifying the newly delimited wards and constituencies.

The EC has said it needs a minimum of 90 days to finalise electoral rolls as per the new bounds. That is quite understandable. What is not is the State Government’s delaying the notifying of the delimitation exercise. Clearly, it is not keen on holding civic polls. In the meanwhile, it has been quite content, through a series of Bills,  to extend the tenures of special officers administering the various civic bodies in the State. The present extension takes the tenure to end December 2018.

How does all this delay affect us? It may not be so apparent and many go around claiming that they would rather have a bureaucrat in charge of the city than a bunch of corrupt councillors. Sadly, not many know that the release of funds from the Finance Commission for various civic projects is dependent on their being an elected body in place. The laws forbid the Finance Commission from funding States where laws for electing local bodies are not in place.

The State Government is arguing that the stipulation is only that laws ought to be in place and it is not mandated that election to local bodies ought to held as well. The Finance Commission has however begged to differ. The result? Around Rs 3,800 crores has been withheld from the State for various municipal and rural projects.

And so, the next time you notice that the roads in your area have not been laid for long or that the parks are collapsing for want of maintenance, or that the local health centre lacks basic medicine, you know where the problem is – lack of an elected body. And no seasoned bureaucrat can do anything about it.

[This article was first published in Madras Musings, issue dated October 1 2018, and has been republished with permission.]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Similar Story

How Mumbaikars can register civic complaints and ensure BMC action

BMC's system to register civic complaints is good, but the Blue Ribbon Movement is trying to improve redressal for a better and cleaner Mumbai.

In early January, Dahisar resident Pankati noticed garbage being thrown behind one of the electric junction boxes in Kandarpada, her neighbourhood. It had accumulated over a few weeks. This was not a garbage collection point and it used to be clean before. She decided to raise a civic complaint on that garbage issue using the ‘MyBMC Assist’ WhatsApp Chatbot, which is run by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). Pankati, a volunteer with the Blue Ribbon Movement, found garbage being dumped behind an electric junction box in Khandarpada. Pic: Aniruddha Gaonkar After waiting for over a month, the garbage was still…

Similar Story

City Buzz: Delhi ranks 350th in global index | Heat wave grips north… and more

In other news: Heat-related illnesses claim lives; Urban women in salaried jobs at 6-yr low and Delhi issues first bus aggregator licence.

Delhi ranks 350 in global index; no Indian city in top 300 Oxford Economics’ new ‘Global Cities Index’ report ranks Delhi at 350, the highest among 91 Indian cities. This was the first edition of the index, released on 21st May by the global advisory firm, Oxford Economics, which is assessing metropolitan cities across 163 countries on five parameters - economics, human capital, quality of life, environment, and governance. The top three cities in the list are New York, London and San Jose. In the category of human capital, which “encompasses the collective knowledge and skills of a city’s population,” measured…