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Roundtable on “Municipal Governance – the Indian narrative”

November 25, 2014

Venue: Observer Research Foundation (ORF), New Delhi

With the cities and urban areas in India becoming the drivers of the country’s economy, municipal governance has become the focus of various policy debates. It is being argued whether the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act (CAA, 1992) has been effective in transferring the power and functions of local self-government to the Urban Local Bodies (ULB) from the State Governments. Although the structure and functions of the ULBs were well laid down in the 74th CAA, their financial power was not defined which was necessary for effective service delivery and urban development. In order to understand the municipal governance from the perspective of executive members of ULBs as well as practitioners who have worked with the ULBs from time to time, a roundtable was organised at Observer Research Foundation (ORF), New Delhi on November 25, 2014 in collaboration with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.

The chief guest for the roundtable was Mr. Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, Ex-Mayor of Kolkata Municipal Corporation. The session was moderated by Prof. Dr. P.S.N. Rao from School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), New Delhi. Other participants for the roundtable were Prof. Chetan Vaidya, Director, SPA, New Delhi, Prof. Dr. Neelima Risbud, SPA, New Delhi, Mr. Ajay Suri, Regional Advisor, Cities Alliance, Ms. Anjali Pancholy, Town and Country Planning Organisation, Mr. Frank Samol, Senior Consultant, GIZ, Dr. (Mrs.) Regina Dube, Senior Advisor & Head, Sustainable Urban Habitat, GIZ and other officials from GIZ and ORF.

After a brief introduction by Ms. Aparna Das, Senior Advisor, GIZ, Prof. Rao gave the opening remarks on the evolution of municipal governance in India and its importance in the present day.  He then invited Mr. Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya to share his experiences of working as the Mayor of Kolkata Municipal Corporation. Mr. Bhattacharya gave a brief history of evolution of the local governance structure in Kolkata and explained the Mayor-in-Council system in West Bengal and shared his own experiences of working in this system. Prof. Vaidya and Mr. Suri then briefly discussed their experiences of working within the realm of local urban governance systems.

The following key issues were highlighted by the speakers:

  • The Urban Local Governance structure in India is continues to be dominated by the bureaucrats as it was during the colonial times. Although it is widely acknowledged that to bring the local governance closer to the local populace elected representative, especially the Mayors, have to be more centrally placed which is not the case for various reasons.
  • Cities have to be sustainable, inclusive and SMART. These are daunting tasks but how to continue working towards it is a big challenge. At present many of the basic constitutional obligations such as citizens Right to Life as mandated by the Constitution is not even taken care off.
  • Duties of the local government like housing, health, sanitation and addressing the basic needs of the marginalised as spelled out in the 74th CAA is yet to be done in its true spirit. Most ULB’s role is limited to the operation and maintenance of the assets
  • There is an urgent need to take a relook at the 74th CAA and introduce fiscal decentralization as well in order to make the urban local governance work.

This was followed by a round of question and answer session amongst the participants where the need for decision making, financial power of the ULBs as well accountability from them was highlighted. The following were the suggestions from the participants:

  • Need for a Finance Commission to think of specific allotments for the ULBs and accountability that the distribution of finance should not be at the discretion of the centre or state.
  • Definite list of financial resources for ULBs has to be identified for planning and implementation
  • 12th schedule of CAA may be reviewed and it has to be implemented in all the states/ULBs which are optional now.
  • ULBs have to be made in-charge/responsible for implementing various city level development/sanitation/infrastructure/housing plans and converge these with the Metropolitan Plans for effective planning and implementation.

All the major takeaway points were summed up by Dr. Dube in the end and the roundtable concluded with a vote of thanks from Prof. Rao.