From the crib to cremation ground, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), one of the largest municipal bodies in the world, plays a major part in the lives of 16 million Delhiites.
Though the MCD came into existence in 1958 under an act of Parliament, the city had its first tryst with the civic administration in the year 1862 when the Delhi Municipal Commission was formed. The city then was confined to Shahjahanabad and some areas in Civil Lines.
Civic services in Delhi were put in place by the emperor Shahjahan before they began tottering at the time of the mutiny of 1857. After recapturing the city, the British took over the administration completely and the first job entrusted to the nascent civic agency was the maintenance of law and order. In fact, 75% of the expenditure by the Municipal Commission was on the upkeep of the police force.
Next on the commission’s priority list was sanitation, anti-encroachment measures and checking illegal construction in the walled city. For the first time, as part of the new sanitation and conservancy system, public toilets were set up. This was also the first time that registration of births and deaths was introduced in the city.
But not being able to generate enough revenue soon became a problem for the civic agency. While house tax is the biggest revenue source of the MCD now, it was octroi that formed the Municipal Commission’s principal income then. Out of a total budget of Rs 94,512 of the commission, Rs 82,000 was generated by octroi. The lion’s share, however, was spent on the police and not much was left for other public works.
In 1866, the Town Hall was constructed near Chandni Chowk. It housed the municipality, served as a chamber of commerce and was also expected to house a literary society and a museum. A clock tower, which was later demolished, and a fountain were constructed in some time and brought Victorian architecture to Shahjahanabad.
The first members of the Municipal Commission were nominated by the British, and the Indian members hailed mainly from influential families of bankers and merchants. The first elections were held in 1884, but there was a cap on who could contest and who could vote.
A person contesting to become a member needed to be a taxpayer and a resident of Delhi for at least three years. In case of the voter, he needed to have an income of at least Rs 10 per month and property worth at least Rs 800 in his own ward.
As the years rolled by, the responsibilities of the municipal body expanded to include electricity, potable water, primary education, health care, fire brigade, public transport, street lights, road maintenance and others.