With 55% voter turnout, the highest for MCD polls in the last 15 years, Delhi showed unusual enthusiasm last Sunday. But that was not the only thing unusual about these elections. For the first time, Delhi chose among women candidates in half of the constituencies. It was also the first time Delhi voted for three corporations.
The world’s second largest civic body after Tokyo’s, the MCD has been trifurcated and each corporation will have its own mayor, standing committee, commissioner and a self-contained administrative machinery. This is Delhi’s biggest attempt at administrative reforms since the unbundling and privatisation of its power utility — the Delhi Vidyut Board — in 2002. But the MCD trifurcation has become a political tussle between the Sheila Dikshit government, whose brainchild the idea is, and the BJP that opposed the trifurcation move all along and has got re-elected to the Corporation.
Splitting an agency that employs 138,000 workers and provides services to 16 million people was anyway a challenge. Now resistance from the MCD ranks, lack of a candid transition plan and the rush to complete the process by May 1 have turned the exercise into a logistical nightmare. These are not just issues of distribution of manpower, funds, furniture and office space, but segregation of millions of records of births, deaths, homes, shops and trade establishments, building plans and everything else the MCD deals with.
Amid chaos and confusion, the three new corporations may have to give up e-governance and go back to doing things manually at least till August. The MCD did not have enough senior officials for running one corporation and now it will have to provide for three. With 15,000 senior positions vacant, there are fears that officials facing corruption charges — there are 5200 of them — may be back in public-dealing departments.
Surely, the trifurcation exercise could have been handled better. Turf-wars would not have been necessary had the government got all stakeholders on board and not rushed the process for political one-upmanship. Moreover, in a city that has at least 12 governing agencies, this massive overhauling could have ensured some administrative cohesion.
Governance has long been a victim of multiple authorities in Delhi. For drains, sewerage and water pipes, one has to go to three different utilities. Road upkeep is again the responsibility of three agencies. Primary schools are with the MCD and secondary with the Delhi government. Three agencies are managing hospitals.
The Union home ministry handling internal security of the country also deals with the administrative matters of the MCD and Delhi Police.
Understandably, it has never been easy to fix accountability for any civic mess, be it the bad handling of the Commonwealth Games, a building collapse, a waterlogged road or even a traffic snarl. Now, with three new corporations, Delhi will have five civic bodies and more agencies playing the ever-convenient blame-game.
The trifurcation was an opportunity for reorganising civic governance by streamlining departments of education, public health, roads, sanitation and land that are presently controlled by different agencies into single respective units. Faced with pressing challenges of illegal constructions, bad roads, choked sewers, parking-space shortage, urban poverty and growing number of out-of-schoolchildren, Delhi deserves a more accountable and efficient public administration system. That will surely take a lot more than splitting of MCD records and furniture.