MCD mayor poll: Key decisions may be taken by special officer

Feb 06, 2023 11:32 PM IST

The immediate challenge before the municipality is to clear annual budget proposals worth more than ₹16,000 crore and publish tax rates for the 2023-24 financial year by February 15

The failure to elect a mayor and other top executives at the Municipal Corporation of Delhi would lead to vexing legal problems, as the powers of the deliberative wing in the civic body continues to be exercised by a special officer appointed by the central government, officials and experts said.

Presiding officer Satya Sharma at civic centre in New Delhi on Monday. (Raj K Raj/HT Photo)
Presiding officer Satya Sharma at civic centre in New Delhi on Monday. (Raj K Raj/HT Photo)

The immediate challenge before the municipality is to clear annual budget proposals worth more than 16,000 crore and publish tax rates for the 2023-24 financial year by February 15.

The newly-elected 250 councillors are also staring at a 30-day deadline for submitting their asset declarations to the mayor, which will end on February 24. If the stalemate continues beyond that date, the councillors may face disqualification, the experts said.

The repeated derailment of the House proceedings means the budget and taxes for next financial year will most likely be cleared by the special officer, a municipal official said, seeking anonymity.

“As per the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, the schedule of taxes needs to be published before February 15 each year. The budget proposals have been presented before the special officer last week. Considering that the process for fixing the date for the House to hold mayoral election involves a lengthy process, it is most likely that the budget will have to be passed the special officer,” the official said.

To finalise a date for the next house meeting, a set of proposed dates are moved by the municipal secretariat to the urban development ministry, and the concerned minister -- in this case Manish Sisodia -- will then propose tentative dates to the lieutenant governor’s office, which will notify the final date and place to hold the meeting. Before Monday, House meetings were held on January 6 and 24, but members have failed to elect a mayor, a deputy mayor and six members of the standing committee.

Section 109 of the DMC Act states that the corporation will determine the rates at which various municipal taxes, rates and cesses will be levied in the following financial year, on or before February 15, and the rates so fixed will not be altered for the year for which they have been fixed, said Anil Gupta, former chief law officer of the municipality. “It is a legal requirement and the budget will have to be passed over the next nine days,” Gupta said.

The Aam Aadmi Party on Friday alleged that the central government appointed bureaucrats have “secretly” passed that the budget in a move that “betrays the mandate provided by the people of Delhi” in the MCD election that was held in December last year.

Special officer Ashwini Kumar, who holds powers of the elected wing during the transition, had told HT on Fridaythat the budget has not been passed yet. The MCD has said that the budget was still under consideration and the corporation will have complete the budget exercise by February 15.

To be sure, the budgetary process starts in December, with the municipal commissioner presenting the proposals before the standing committee. In a normal year, these proposals are discussed in zonal and subject-specific committees, and lands before the house of councillors in January.

This time, however, timelines were skewed as the three erstwhile municipalities of Delhi were unified in April 2022, and the elections of the merged civic body were held in December.

Another matter of grave concern is regarding the asset declaration mandate, as section 32A of the municipality law mandates that the newly-elected councillors need to submit the details of assets owned by them and their families to the mayor, MCD officials said.

“Now the MCD faces a unique situation in which councillors have taken oath and the 30-day period has been initiated, but there is no mayor to whom these details can be submitted. Section 32A has led to disqualifications in a few cases in the past. If the corporation continues not to have a mayor at the end of this period, it can trigger the disqualification proceedings,” said the official cited earlier.

The government may have to amend the law to provide the powers related to asset declaration to the special officer, Gupta said.

Besides the budget, several hundred agenda items related to policy decisions, projects and routine affairs remain pending in the absence of the elected wing, the official said. “Now that the councillors have been elected, the special officer is now taking decisions only on the most critical matters, and it is the prerogative of the elected members to take a call on the policy issues,” he added. “The policymaking work will start only after the elected wing and its committees are in place.”

The AAP will move court to seek relaxations in these deadlines, said Prem Chauhan, former leader of the opposition in erstwhile South Delhi Municipal Corporation.

“The Bharatiya Janata Party is responsible for creating these legal crises. When there is no mayor in place, how can the elected councillors declare their assets? Moreover, the budget is the prerogative of the elected wing and the AAP should be allowed to pass its own budget as per our manifesto promises,” Chauhan said. “We will try to seek relief from the court on these matters.”

BJP spokesperson Praveen Shankar Kapoor said, “It is disheartening to see that the AAP has created a situation in which Delhi is unable to elect a mayor and that the MCD budget is now likely to be passed without the involvement of the elected councillors.”

The lieutenant governor’s office declined to comment.

Matters related to municipal governance have only worsened in the past nine months and the public continues to suffer in the absence of an elected municipal government, said Atul Goel, head of United RWAs Joint Action, a collective of resident welfare associations.

“If the bureaucrats have to run everything, what is the need of the house and elections? The input of public in matters of policies and budget comes via the councillors. The state of the capital of the country is such that they can even sit properly,” Goel said. “How can they be expected to take up issues of public interest?”

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