Urban Local Government: Composition, Functions, Problems

Urban Local government implies the governance of an urban area by the people through their elected representatives. 74th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992 provided constitutional status to local urban bodies.

74th Constitutional Amendment

This act added a new part IX-A to the Constitution entitled as ‘The Municipalities’ and a new Twelfth Schedule containing 18 functional items for municipalities. The main provisions of this Act can be grouped under two categories–compulsory and voluntary. Some of the compulsory provisions which are binding on all States are:

  1. Constitution of Nagar panchayats, municipal councils and municipal corporations in transitional areas (areas in transition from a rural area to urban area), smaller urban areas and larger urban areas respectively;
  2. Reservation of seats in urban local bodies for Scheduled Castes / Scheduled Tribes roughly in proportion to their population;
  3. Reservation of seats for women up to one-third seats;
  4. The State Election Commission, constituted in order to conduct elections in the panchayati raj bodies (see 73rd Amendment) will also conduct elections to the urban local self- governing bodies;
  5. The State Finance Commission, constituted to deal with financial affairs of the Panchayati Raj bodies will also look into the financial affairs of the local urban self governing bodies;
  6. Tenure of urban local self-governing bodies is fixed at five years and in case of earlier dissolution fresh elections are to be held within six months;

Some of the voluntary provisions which are not binding, but are expected to be observed by the States are:

  1. Giving representation to members of the Union and State Legislatures in these bodies;
  2. Providing reservation for backward classes;
  3. Giving financial powers in relation to taxes, duties, tolls and fees etc;
  4. Making the municipal bodies autonomous and devolution of powers to these bodies to perform some or all of the functions enumerated in the Twelfth Schedule added to the Constitution through this Act and/or to prepare plans for economic development.

In accordance with the 74th Amendment, municipal corporations and municipalities (municipal boards or municipal committees) are now regulated in a fairly uniform manner in all the States. However, one must remember that local self-government continues to be a subject in the State List.

Thus, the 73rd and 74th amendments provide a framework for the States in respect of local government. Thus, each State has its own Election Commission which conducts elections to all local bodies after regular intervals of five years.

Each State has its Finance Commission to regulate finances of the local bodies. Seats are reserved in the corporations and municipalities for Scheduled Castes and Tribes. One-third seats are reserved for women in all local bodies – urban and rural.

Composition

The Municipal bodies are constituted of persons chosen by direct election from the territorial constituencies (known as wards) in the municipal area.

However, the Legislature of a State may, by law, provide for the representation in a municipal body of persons having special knowledge or experience of municipal administration, the members of Rajya Sabha, Lok Sabha and the members of Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly of the State, representing constituencies, which comprise wholly or partly the Municipal Area.The state legislature may also provide the manner of the election of the Chairpersons of a municipality.

The state legislature may also provide the manner of the election of the Chairpersons of a municipality.

Empowerment of weaker sections of society and women by reserving seats for such groups is one of the important constitutional provisions of the Constitutional Amendment.

The offices of chairperson are also reserved for SC/ST and women. Thus, at least one year, out of five year duration of Municipal Corporation of Delhi, the office of Mayor is reserved for a woman, and for one year is reserved for a Councillor of Scheduled Caste. It gives a term of five years to the municipalities and if any of them is to be dissolved, it must be given an opportunity of being heard.

Functions of Urban Local Bodies

It is a common practice to divide the organisation of a corporation or a municipality into two parts:

(a) deliberative and (b) executive part

The corporation, council or municipal board or council consisting of the elected representatives of the people constitutes the deliberative part. It acts like a legislature.

It discusses and debates on general municipal policies and performance, passes the budget of the urban local body, frames broad policies relating to taxation, resources raising, pricing of services and other aspects of municipal administration.

It keeps an eye on municipal administration and holds the executive accountable for what is done or not done. For instance, if water supply is not being properly managed, or there is an outbreak of an epidemic, the deliberative wing criticises the role of the administration and suggests measures for improvement.

The executive part of municipal administration is looked after by the municipal officers and other permanent employees. In the corporations, the Municipal Commissioner is the executive head, and all other departmental officers like engineers, finance officers, health officers etc. function under his/her control and supervision.

In a large corporation, such as Delhi or Mumbai Municipal Corporation, the Commissioner is usually a senior IAS officer. In municipalities, the executive officer holds a similar position and looks after the overall administration of a municipality.

Municipal functions are generally classified into obligatory and discretionary types.

The obligatory (compulsory) functions are those that the municipal body must perform. In this category fall such functions as water supply; construction and maintenance of roads, streets, bridges, subways and other public works, street lighting; drainage and sewerage; garbage collection and disposal; prevention and control of epidemics.

Some other obligatory functions are public vaccination and inoculation; maintenance of hospitals and dispensaries including maternity and child welfare centres; checking food adulteration; removal of slums; supply of electricity; maintenance of cremation and burial grounds; and town planning. In some States some of these functions may be taken over by State Government.

The discretionary functions are those that a municipal body may take up if funds permit. These are given less priority. Some of the discretionary functions are construction and maintenance of rescue homes and orphanages, housing for low income groups, organising public receptions, provision of treatment facilities, etc.

Type of urban governments

There are eight types of urban governments in India.

  1. Municipal Corporation: Municipal corporations are created for the administration of big cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and others. A Municipal Corporation has three authorities namely, the council (legislative wing of the corporation), the standing committee (to facilitate the working of the council) and the commissioner (chief executive authority of the corporation).The council consist of councillors directly elected by people and is headed by a Mayor while the Commissioner is appointed by state government and is generally an IAS officer.
  2. Municipality: The municipalities are established for the administration of towns and smaller cities. They are known by various other names like municipal council, municipal committee, municipal board, borough municipality, city municipality and others. In composition they are quite similar to municipal corporations except that head of council is called President /chairman and in place of commissioner they have a chief executive officer/chief municipal officer.
  3. Notified Area Committee: A notified area committee is created for the administration of two types of areas- a fast developing town due to industrialisation, and a town which does not yet fulfill all the conditions necessary for the constitution of a municipality, but which otherwise is considered important by the state government. It is called so because it is created by a notification and unlike the municipality it is an entirely nominated body, i.e. all members, including the Chairman, are nominated by the state government. Thus, it is neither a statutory body (created by law) nor an elected body.
  4. Town Area Committee: It is set up by a separate act of state legislature for the administration of a small town. It is a semi-municipal authority entrusted with limited number of civic functions. It may be wholly elected or wholly nominated or partly elected and partly nominated as provided by state government.
  5. Cantonment Board: It is established for municipal administration for civilian population in the cantonment areas (area where military forces and troops are permanently stationed). It is set up under the provisions of the Cantonment Act, 2006 by central government and works under Defence ministry of central government. It is partly elected and partly nominated body having the Military officer commanding the station as its ex-officio President. Vice president is elected amongst by the elected members of board. The executive officer of the cantonment board is appointed by the President of India.,
  6. Township: It is established by large public enterprises to provide civic amenities to its staff and workers, who live in the housing colonies built near the plant. It is not an elected body and all members, including the town administrator, is appointed by the enterprise itself.
  7. Port Trust: The port trusts are established in the port areas like Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and so on for two purposes: (a) to manage and protect the ports; (b) to provide civic amenities. It is created by an Act of Parliament and it consists of both elected and nominated members.
  8. Special Purpose Agency: The states have set up certain agencies to undertake designated activities or specific functions that legitimately belong to the domain of municipal corporations, municipalities or other local urban governments. In other words, these are function based, not area based. They are known as ‘single purpose’, ‘uni-purpose’ or ‘special purpose’ or ‘functional local bodies’ like town improvement trust, housing boards, pollution control boars etc. They are established as statutory bodies by an act of state legislature or as departments by an executive resolution. They function as an autonomous body and are not subordinate agencies to local municipal bodies.

Problem areas of Municipal Bodies

  1. Disqualifications of members of Municipal Bodies follow in principle the practice followed in state legislature disqualifications. But since it is governed by the state legislature who can make laws regarding the same,it is not consistent in all states and that leads to a lot of disparity and non – security among members.
  2. Election expenses and code of conduct to be better regulated and more powers should be given to the State election commission to do the same.
  3. The Municipal Councils/ Municipalities have restricted local autonomy as compared to the Municipal Corporations; with more pervasive state control that often climax in dissolution of the former.
  4. Lack of Finance due to reluctance of the state and central legislators not wanting to divest further taxation and grants powers to them more than what they already have for fear of loss of power. And the municipal bodies fear increasing tax or asking for new tax collection options for loss of popularity among people.
  5. Local bodies are created by state governments and therefore can be dissolved by them as well if not dancing as per their tunes.
  6. In addition to the above is the drawing of rural people and other city people to a place where there is rapid urbanization through industrialization. Law and order becomes difficult to maintain, slums develop etc. leading to additional problems for these already stressed out urban local governance bodies.
  7. In spite of many central and state committees sitting and recommending better financial and administrative autonomy for the Municipal bodies, there has been no concrete effort from the legislator’s side to implement the same.
  8. The power now seems to have shifted from the state governments to the financial institutions, international donors and credit rating agencies. Finally, the capacity of the government to generate employment directly through anti-poverty programs would remain limited. Thus anti-poverty programs should primarily be focused on provision of basic amenities.
  9. Lack of consistent and coherent urban development policy, faulty and improper urban planning coupled with poor implementation and regulation are big challenges for municipalities.
  10. Lack of proper monitoring system in place results in inefficient and improper functioning of Local Urban Bodies.
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Preetham S
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It is not best answer but useful