Local government, but where are the people? | mumbai | Hindustan Times
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Local government, but where are the people?

mumbai Updated: Aug 29, 2010 01:05 IST
Chandana Shetye
Chandana Shetye
Hindustan Times
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Monsoon brings out shortfalls in governance most starkly — potholes and craters on roads, floods causing traffic jams, old and dilapidated buildings collapsing, claiming lives, contaminated water and unsanitary conditions causing diseases like malaria and leptospirosis.

Then starts the blame game between the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai and state agencies like the MMRDA.

The recent debate triggered by legislator Bhai Jagtap that the BMC should be bifurcated to decentralise governance highlights the issue of lack of implementation and ineffective governance.

While the MCGM is the basic agency for town planning, the MMRDA has been created to plan, coordinate and supervise orderly development.

But there is very little coordination between the two agencies. Town planning is in the doldrums because the Urban Development Department is increasing FSI without upgrading infrastructure. The MCGM's autonomy has been whittled away by the creation of multiple agencies such as the MMRDA and MSRDC.

The result: Urban chaos. In just one instance, the continuous development has led to a spurt in cases of malaria and dengue. In a cycle of blame, the BMC is held responsible, leading to demands for further decentralisation. Those making such demands hardly seem aware that there are constitutional mechanisms in place for creating more decentralised governance.

Meanwhile, there is very little space for citizens to voice their opinions. The 74th Constitutional amendment of 1994 provided for citizens' participation in municipal ward committees. The idea was to enable people to set priorities and improve the quality of governance through active participation. Such interaction would help the process of democratisation of the civic administration.

But despite the 74th Amendment, ward committees were only formed in Maharashtra's municipal corporations after NGOs moved court in 1999. These ward committees restricted direct participation of citizens by allowing only three nominated members from NGOs to join.

To further decentralise wards committees and make people's participation a reality, the concept of area sabhas was introduced by the Centre in the Model Nagar Raj Bill, which also recommended involving ward committees in development plans for the city. These recommendations were left for the states to implement.

Though there have been several rounds of discussions and debates on this, it has not reflected in the bills tabled in Maharashtra's legislature. The Maharashtra Municipal Corporation and Municipal Councils (Amendment) Act 2009 has been passed but awaits implementation. It is shocking that the state government is so apathetic towards effective implementation of the laws it creates.

Increased and effective people's participation at the civic level will help improve governance by ensuring accountability and, though that might not be the final solution to all governance issues, it would certainly be a beginning.

(Shetye is a senior urban governance researcher and is associated with Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi)