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With new MCD act, another power centre to emerge

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By Sidharth Mishra

Union Home Minister Amit Shah last week presented the bill in parliament to unify the three municipal bodies of Delhi into one – the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), which was passed in Lok Sabha without much ado. The move, as and when the law comes into being, will restore the relations between the Delhi government and the MCD to pre-2012 days.

This move would give more autonomy to the unified corporation vis-à-vis the state government, to the extent of bypassing it thus adding to the multiplicity of authority in the national Capital. The trifurcation of the MCD in 2012 on the initiative of then Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit was a move to bring the local governance under the city government. This would now stand neutralized. 

A unified MCD means a parallel centre of power in the national Capital as was the case prior to 2012. During her second term as chief minister between 2003 and 2008, Dikshit had a torrid time dealing with the MCD, then controlled by the Congress. Late Rambabu Sharma as the leader of the MCD house and chairman of the powerful standing committee and also as President of Delhi Congress was involved in constant turf battle with the chief minister.

Sharma was backed a section of the All India Congress Committee, which worked overtime for Dikshit’s fall. In fact after the defeat of the Congress in the 2007 civic polls, Dikshit could actually breathe easy and spur city’s development in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games 2010. This was one of the best periods for the city with both the BJP and the Congress shunning politics to make Delhi’s civic infrastructure robust.

Then Mayor of Delhi Rajni Abbi had once recalled in an interview that despite political differences she enjoyed a very warm personal relation with Sheila Dikshit as they were alumnus of the same college – Miranda House. Unfortunately such bonhomie went missing in the past five years with the AAP-led Delhi Government and the BJP-led three municipal bodies being on constant logger head greatly weakening the civic infrastructure of Delhi.

Moving the Bill, Home Minister Shah had accused the Delhi government of meting out “step-motherly” treatment to municipal corporations due to which they were struggling with inadequate resources for carrying out their responsibilities. With the new law, the MCD would effectively now be governed by the Lieutenant Governor with its funding being sourced from the Centre. 

After Delhi Police and the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), the municipal corporation would become the third organization over which the state government would lose all powers of governance. Delhi’s complete civic administration would now be under Centre, as the Delhi Cantonment and New Delhi areas are already under the Centre.

The new act would restore glory and power to the office of the Municipal Commissioner. City’s Mayor would be rubbing shoulders with the chief minister for a position on the protocol list during the official events. It’s difficult to say whether Centre’s move would cleanse the national Capital of all its civic ills.

If the spirit of merger is to provide good governance, the move should be welcomed. However, it should also be recalled that the spirit of good governance with delegation of powers was the spirit behind the decision which trifurcated the MCD.

The experiment failed to work as the state government and the municipal bodies could never work in harmony 2015 onwards. There were enough mechanisms within the outgoing act to bring financial discipline but the state government and municipal leaders preferred washing dirty linen in public. The two tiers of governance could never develop the confidence required for working together.

(First Published in The Morning Standard)  

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