MCD elections: Why Delhi must come out to vote on April 23 | delhi | Hindustan Times
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MCD elections: Why Delhi must come out to vote on April 23

The Municipal Corporations of Delhi (MCsD—North Delhi Municipal Corporation, South Delhi Municipal Corporation, and East Delhi Municipal corporation) provide civic services to more than 1.1 crore population. They jointly cover an area of 1,397.3 square kilometres, which is almost 96% of the total span of the national capital.

MCD Elections 2017 Updated: Mar 24, 2017 07:48 IST
MCD polls
Voters queue up to cast their votes in the Delhi municipal bypolls at Khichripur in May 2016.(Arun Sharma/HT Photo)

Providing services ranging from basic sanitation to roads and social benefits, the municipal corporations are the first responders to the needs of the citizens. In fact, in Delhi, which is a semi-state, in terms of their reach and variety of services, the civic bodies cover more ground than Delhi government.

The Municipal Corporations of Delhi (MCsD—North Delhi Municipal Corporation, South Delhi Municipal Corporation, and East Delhi Municipal corporation) provide civic services to more than 1.1 crore population. They jointly cover an area of 1,397.3 square kilometres, which is almost 96% of the total span of the national capital.

On April 23, over 1.3 crore voters, across 272 municipal wards in the city, will vote to elect their councillors -- municipal representatives. Constitutionally, the municipal corporations work like full-fledged legislative bodies with a separate executive arm. Since councillors are the face of municipalities for the people, it is imperative that the citizens must exercise their franchise to ensure that people, who they think would serve their interests best, are chosen.

Why MCDs are important

With 29 departments such as engineering, sanitation, primary education and horticulture among others, the civic bodies deal with most common problems that the citizens face -- cleanliness, potholed roads, encroachments, broken pavements, poor condition of gardens, community centres, parking lots, approval of building plans, trade licences and registration of birth and death. In a nutshell, they basically influence every aspect of life of the citizens.

“Things that matter the most to people are handled by the municipalities. If the footpath outside your house is broken, if there is a pile of garbage on your street, then it would be your municipality’s responsibility to fix it,” said Srikanth Viswanathan, the CEO of Janaagraha, explaining why it is important that people vote during the civic polls.

In 2012, the then Sheila Dikshit government split the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) into three -- one each for north, south and east Delhi. The government had then claimed that smaller units will ensure better governance. However, the idea has not worked, so far. Barring SDMC, both north and east corporations are struggling to make ends meet. Sanitation workers and other staff of the two civic bodies went on strike repeatedly to demand their salary and other dues, pushing the city towards a cleanliness disaster.

There are also allegations of corruption, mismanagement, which apparently have resulted in delayed projects, unabated illegal constructions and encroachments.

Indifferent citizens

But it is not just the political parties, even the citizens of Delhi have failed to show resolve to fix the mess in the civic bodies as evident by the voter turnout in civic body polls.

Historically, Delhi has recorded lower turnout in municipal polls compared to the assembly elections. In the last municipal elections, 55% of the voters exercised their franchise The Delhi State Election Commission described it as ‘impressive’ because it was the highest polling percentage since 1997.

In 1997, the turnout was 41%, while it increased to 51% in 2002 but dropped again to 42.78% in 2007.

On the other hand, the city witnessed 67.14% polling in assembly elections in 2015 and 65.09% in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014.

Experts blame the indifference of voters on the lack of awareness among the people about the role that the municipalities play in the life of citizens.

“There is a lack of awareness about the importance of municipal corporations. They affect people’s day-to-day needs, such as ensuring that your streets are clean, that the air you breathe is not polluted. However, they just don’t seem important to many people,” said Jagan Shah, director of the National Institute of Urban Affairs.

Viswanathan also identifies an apparent lack of ‘credibility’ that fuels low voter turnouts during civic polls. “One problem could be that our municipalities have very low credibility among citizens. They don’t think of them as the ‘government’ of the city. This may be because the civic bodies are not properly empowered by the state government as well. We need to treat municipalities like state governments,” he said.

‘You must vote’

Shah and Viswanathan both stressed that civic bodies are the first responders to people’s everyday needs and, therefore, voting in municipality polls is equally important as participating in the general elections.

“The country’s foreign policy may not affect my daily life but if there is a heap of garbage on the local street or the road is potholed, it will bother me,” explained Viswanathan.

“We need to introduce subjects in out schools and colleges to inculcate the importance of municipal corporations and local elections,” he said.

So, every single vote cast will decide the quality of delivery of local services and development of the Delhi for the next five years.

Want to know how the MCD impacts your life? Follow Sunny, a resident of Delhi, through his life: