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[Burning Issue] Delhi-Centre Tussle

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Context

Recently, the Delhi Municipal Corporation (Amendment) Bill, 2022 was introduced in Lok Sabha. The Bill seeks to amend the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, 1957 passed by Parliament. The Act was earlier amended in 2011 by Delhi Legislative Assembly to trifurcate the erstwhile Municipal Corporation of Delhi into:

  1. North Delhi Municipal Corporation
  2. South Delhi Municipal Corporation
  3. East Delhi Municipal Corporation

The Bill seeks to unify the three corporations.

What are the key features of the Bill?

(1) Unification of Municipal Corporations in Delhi:

  • The Bill replaces the three municipal corporations under the Act with one Corporation named the Municipal Corporation of Delhi.

(2) Powers of the Delhi government:

  • The Act as amended in 2011 empowers the Delhi government to decide various matters under the Act.
  • These include:
  1. Total number of seats of councillors and number of seats reserved for members of the Scheduled Castes,
  2. Division of the area of corporations into zones and wards,
  3. Delimitation of wards,
  4. Matters such as salary and allowances, and leave of absence of the Commissioner,
  5. Sanctioning of consolidation of loans by a corporation, and
  6. Sanctioning suits for compensation against the Commissioner for loss or waste or misapplication of Municipal Fund or property
  • Similarly, the Act mandates that the Commissioner will exercise his powers regarding building regulations under the general superintendence and directions of Delhi government.
  • The Bill instead empowers the central government to decide these matters.

(3) Number of councilors:

  • The Act provides that the number of seats in the three corporations taken together should not be more than 272.
  • The 14th Schedule to the Act specifies 272 wards across the three Corporations.
  • The Bill states that the total number of seats in the new Corporation should not be more than 250.

(4) Removal of Director of Local Bodies:

  • The Act provides for a Director of Local Bodies to assist the Delhi government and discharge certain functions which include:
  1. Coordinating between Corporations,
  2. Framing recruitment Rules for various posts, and
  3. Coordinating the collecting and sharing of toll tax collected by the respective Corporations.
  • The Bill omits this provision for a Director of Local Bodies.

(5) Special officer to be appointed by the central government:

  • The Bill provides that the central government may appoint a Special Officer to exercise powers of the Corporation until the first meeting of the Corporation is held after the commencement of the Bill.

(6) E-governance system for citizens:

  • The Bill adds that obligatory functions of the new Corporation will include establishing an e-governance system for citizen services on anytime-anywhere basis for better, accountable, and transparent administration.

(7) Conditions of service for sweepers:

  • The Act provides that a sweeper employed for doing house scavenging of a building would be required to give a reasonable cause or a 14 day notice before discontinuing his service.
  • The Bill seeks to omit this provision.

What is the need for this unification?

  1. Creating compact municipalities in Delhi to provide more efficient civic services to the public has not been achieved.
    1. Instead, owing to inadequacies in resources and uncertainty in fund allocation and release, the three corporations have been facing huge financial hardships.
    1. This was making it difficult for them to maintain the civic services in Delhi at the desired levels.
  2. Trifurcation of the erstwhile Municipal Corporation of Delhi was uneven in terms of territorial divisions and revenue generating potential.
    1. As a result, there was a huge gap in the resources available to the three corporations compared to their obligations.
    1. It says that the gap has grown, leading to delay in the payment of salaries and retirement benefits which have resulted in frequent strikes.

What are the concerns, if enacted?

  • New delimitation exercise: Reducing the number of seats means a new delimitation exercise will have to be conducted, which experts say will take at least three months, but is more likely to take six months.
  • Bureaucratization: Appointing a Special Officer means that until the elections are concluded, the Centre will likely appoint an officer to run the corporation.
    • The Bill also does away with the provision of appointing a Director of Local Bodies by the Delhi government.
  • Central hegemony: The other significant change is the replacement of the word “government” with “Central government” in all places.
    • The bill hence seeks to curtail the powers of the elected govt of New Delhi by introducing central hegemony.

But this is not the first time that there is a political tussle between the Delhi government and the center. There are various issues earlier which are important from the exam point of view. Let us discuss them.

Jurisdictional conflict in the running of Delhi

  • Delhi Government had accused Lieutenant Governor (LG) of referring the decisions of an elected government to President and thus causing hurdles in governance 
  • The Centre, which appoints the L-G, contends that “for any Centrally administered territory and especially Delhi responsibility is on the Union Government”.
  • Also, Delhi, being a Union territory, does not have a cadre of officers of its own and is part of a common cadre shared with other UTs. Thus, the elected government of Delhi has less control over its officers.

Supreme Court on Delhi Governance Structure

  •  Supreme Court view: Delhi Lieutenant Governor cannot act independently and must take the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers.
  • All decisions by Delhi’s council of ministers must be communicated to the L-G but that does not mean his concurrence is required.
  • Except for issues of public order, police and land, the Lieutenant Governor is bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers.
  • The LG has no independent authority to take decisions except in matters under Article 239 or matters outside the purview of the government.
  • L-G cannot act as an obstructionist and can refer issues to the President when there is the difference of opinion on any matter (Article 239AA(4)). 
    • This should happen only in exceptional matters and not as a general rule
  • The government need not obtain LG concurrence in every issue of day-to-day governance. The national capital enjoys a special status and is not a full state.

Government of National Capital Territory (GNCT) of Delhi (Amendment) Act, 2021

The Act defines the responsibilities of the elected government and the L-G along with the “constitutional scheme of governance of the NCT” interpreted by the Supreme Court in recent judgments regarding the division of powers between the two entities.

Provisions of the GNCT of Delhi (Amendment) Act 2021

  • It amended the Sections 21, 24, 33 and 44 of the 1991 Act.
  • States that the “government” in the National Capital Territory of Delhi meant the Lieutenant-Governor of Delhi.
  • It gives discretionary powers to the L-G even in matters where the Legislative Assembly of Delhi is empowered to make laws.
  • It seeks to ensure that the L-G is “necessarily granted an opportunity” to give her or his opinion before any decision taken by the Council of Ministers (or the Delhi Cabinet) is implemented.
  • It bars the Assembly or its committees from making rules to take up matters concerning day-to-day administration, or to conduct inquiries in relation to administrative decisions.

Way Forward

Greater transparency, improved governance, and more efficient delivery of civic service

  • According to Article 239AA of the Constitution of India, the Parliament has the power to amend or form laws on any matter formulated by the Delhi Assembly.
  • At the time when the MCD was trifurcated, the expectation was that it would lead to Delhi’s progress. It was thought that the services provided by the MCDs will improve and there will be welfare of its workers. But, the result was unsatisfactory in the last 10 years.
  • The Bill has been introduced for greater transparency, improved governance and more efficient delivery of civic service for the people of Delhi, and also to ease the financial crisis faced by MCDs at present.

Delhi cannot be unitary

  • What distinguishes Delhi from other federal districts is sheer size. Its population would subsume the populations of the above-mentioned cities.
  • Its closest peer is Mexico City. In a significant development, Mexico City was upgraded from federal district to the country’s 32nd state in 2016.
  • This was driven by the desire to provide more responsive government for residents.

Decentralization of decision-making is important

  • There are alternative ways in which both the central government as well as state authorities can partake jointly in the management of the city.
  • This might be achieved by a two-tier metropolitan authority.

Control over police

  • Control over-policing has been a major point of contention in Delhi.
  • With the lone exception of Abuja, in other federal districts, the local governments have jurisdiction over at least some aspects of policing.

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