A Tale of Two Cities

Delhi is not the only city that the BBMP can learn from before implementing a trifurcation scheme

By Shobitha Cherian

 

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Much has been made about the recent proposal by the BBMP to restructure itself. While some are describing it as a move to delay the upcoming elections there is also a rational justification for it: decentralisation. Decentralisation is the administrative principle of devolving powers to local units of the government where each unit will be responsible for governance in a defined area. The main argument for decentralization is that it leads to increased efficiency in governance; making local units the nodes of governance results in a more focused deployment of services as each unit’s jurisdiction will be relatively smaller. Decentralisation also reduces the number of citizens that government representatives have to interface with, making them more accessible to their constituents.

A majority of the criticism invariably cites the failed experiment of Delhi’s trifurcation as grounds to avoid trifurcation. But this criticism fails to take into account that decentralisation has been successful in multiple countries across the world and that the current structure of the BBMP is too bloated, inefficient and is rife with many issues to continue unchanged. One of these is the many irregularities present in the collection and management of the BBMP’s funds. Aside from the usual stories of kickbacks and corruption, deeper problems exist; the BBMP has been unsuccessful in achieving the gargantuan task of satisfactorily providing services to around 10 million people. While there is a case for dividing the BBMP into separate municipal corporations, certain criteria need to be met in order for it to be successful.

The new structure must be clear and transparent in its delegation of duties. Operational irregularities like fiscal leakages must be removed and additional revenue streams must be found; no amount of restructuring will improve efficiency if the BBMPB’s finances aren’t in a healthy state. The various departments and localities must have a defined hierarchy within which they can co-ordinate towards improving the state of Bengaluru.

It is essential that the BBMP be divided in a scientific and economically viable manner. The delimitation of future municipalities must be equally balanced in terms of revenue, financial viability and administrative functions. For decentralization to work, the city must be divided in such a way that no locality is given an undue advantage for growth at the expense of the others.

Thankfully, Bengaluru is nowhere close to being a pioneer in decentralisation. Much can be gained from examining previous attempts to implement decentralisation in other cities, both in India and abroad.

New Delhi

In 2012, the Sheila Dikshit government passed a bill that divided the Municipal Corporation of Delhi into the North, South and East Delhi Municipal Corporations. The trifurcation was opposed on the grounds that equitable distribution of assets and funds amongst the corporations would be impossible without one or more corporations running into a deficit. Unfortunately, this is exactly what ended up happening. Currently, the East and the North corporations are facing severe financial crises and have been unable to pay salaries to most of their employees. In contrast, the South Corporation remains largely self-sufficient.

The reasons for this dismal state of affairs stem from poor division of the corporations. The East and North Corporations ended up inheriting most of the old Municipal Corporation’s debt of Rupees 1831 crores. In addition to this, the jurisdiction of the East Corporation included 30 unauthorised colonies from which property tax could not readily be collected. In comparison, the areas coming under the purview of the North Corporation includes many of Delhi’s five star hotels and office buildings, thus making property tax a large source of its revenue. The division was unsuccessful as certain corporations were better off than others, creating unequal channels for growth.

London

If Delhi was a lesson in what mistakes to avoid, London is more a case study of best practices. Greater London, or the total urban area of London, is divided into 32 administrative areas or boroughs. Each borough is governed by a council that is responsible for carrying out various civic amenities within their jurisdiction. Each borough is further divided into electoral wards that are used to elect councillors for that borough council. The boroughs are tied together by a strategic regional authority known as the Greater London Authority (GLA), which is responsible for tasks like policing, economic development and emergency planning.

The main take away from London is that the local governments or boroughs are empowered to be effective units of governance but are prevented from overstepping on each other’s toes by a co-ordinating agency, i.e. the GLA. The GLA ensures that the 32 London borough councils not only work towards the development of their respective boroughs but are also in sync with the development of Greater London as a whole. The GLA recognises the independence of the boroughs and listens to their respective concerns, but also prevents the boroughs from working in a completely antagonistic manner to one another. The system works on the principle of subsidiarity; that the lowest levels of government or the boroughs are given the independence to carry out functions which can be managed at the local level. Those issues which cannot be undertaken by that level are sent up the next level of hierarchy, which in the case of Greater London is the GLA. The efficiency stems from the fact that purely local issues can be resolved immediately and with a greater level of customisation or adaptability.

The second interim report of the BBMP restructuring committee suggests a three tier administration, similar to that of London. The ward will take the place of the borough as the basic unit and will be governed by a ward committee. Each ward will be split into Area Sabhas to determine the composition of each ward committee. The jurisdiction of the multiple municipal corporations envisioned by the trifurcation will be determined on the basis of these ward boundaries. Above these multiple municipal corporations it would be ideal to have a autonomous and empowered Metropolitan Planning Committee akin to the GLA and as mentioned in Article 243Z of the Constitution. This regional authority would have the task of integrating the activities of the previous two tiers and maintaining ‘Brand Bangalore’.

The restructuring committee is expected to submit its final report to the government by the end of June. According to the committee, the ideal number of municipal corporations will be determined based on a spatial analysis on multiple parameters including finance, population demographics and infrastructure indices. It can only be hoped that the committee is successful in arriving at an economically viable and equitable scheme of separation. The greater fear is that, even if the committee was successful, the government wouldn’t actually take its recommendations into consideration and conduct the trifurcation on more political grounds.

Shobitha Cherian is an intern at the Takshashila Institution.

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