Why MCD was trifurcated
The second largest civic body in world after that of Tokyo metropolitan area was divided into three bodies in January 2012
New Delhi: The State Election Commission’s move to defer the announcement of the schedule for the civic polls in Delhi based on a letter from the Centre about a possible unification of the three municipal corporations has sparked a fresh debate over the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) 2012 trifurcation. The experiment of smaller corporations has had mixed results. The corporations have faced a financial crisis, which has led to delays in salaries. There have also been complaints about poor sanitation. But turning the clock back alone may not be sufficient, say experts.
MCD, the second largest civic body in the world after that of Tokyo metropolitan area, was trifurcated in January 2012 for the creation of South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC), North Delhi Municipal Corporation (North DMC), and East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC). MCD cumulatively provided services to 97% of Delhi’s population across 272 municipal wards. There were 12 administrative zones under MCD out of which SDMC got four (Centre, South, West, and Najafgarh); North DMC got Rohini, Civil Lines, Karol Bagh, City Sadar Paharganj, Keshavpuram and Narela; and EDMC Shahdara North and Shahdara South.
Growing population and vast geographical spread were cited among the reasons for the trifurcation, which was to lead to decentralisation of administration for better delivery and governance with each commissioner overseeing services for a smaller area. Two other smaller local bodies New Delhi Municipal Council and Delhi Cantonment Board were performing well.
Experts say with the trifurcation, the then Sheila Dikshit government also wanted to dilute powers of municipal corporations as Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) dominated MCD.
Tanvir Aeijaz, who teaches political science at Ramjas College, said the trifurcation was for better administrative efficiency with each smaller local body managing the heterogeneous distribution of population. “The Dikshit government also wanted that the mayor and such a large corporation does not become a parallel power centre. There was power tussle between various camps and the state did not have much control over MCD as it was established by an Act of parliament.”
The process of carving out new local bodies was carried out between 2011 and 2012 in coordination with the Centre as Congress was in power. The MCD was trifurcated through the Delhi Municipal Corporation (Amendment) Act, which was passed in the assembly in December 2011.
A retired bureaucrat, who was a part of the Delhi government at that time, said the Dikshit government agreed to allow the Centre to have the “controlling authority” over three corporations. For coordination between the Delhi government and the three corporations, an office of director, local bodies, was instituted under the urban development department.
A new municipal headquarters was developed and the space was divided between North and South DMC. The EDMC moved to a new office in Patparganj. “The trifurcation led to an increase in the number of offices, committees, and departments by three times. So, instead of one commissioner and 22 key heads of department (HODs), three local bodies had three commissioners, 66 HODs, three standing committees, three mayor offices ...,” said former press and information director Yogender Maan said.
The North and South MCD got 104 municipal wards each. EDMC is much smaller with 64 wards. Each corporation was allowed to retain municipal assets under its jurisdiction.
The financial stress and administrative issues started to become visible three to four years after the trifurcation. More officers and committees translated into increased salary bills. The uneven distribution of revenue sources led to a financial crunch for North and East MCD. Over the last six years, the two corporations have faced dozens of strikes by sanitation workers, doctors, teachers, and other staff over non-payment of salaries. The financial situation condition of the more affluent SDMC also worsened amid the Covid pandemic with salary delays for the first time. During the last two years, North and East MCD have faced salary delays of four to six months.
AP Khan, the convener of Confederation of MCD Employee Unions, said there were no salary delays since MCD came into existence in 1957 till the trifurcation. “The problems began around 2016 and the situation has only deteriorated since. ...1000,000 employees and 60,000 pensioners are suffering.” Khan said the unification decision has come too late. “The Center could have taken this step three-four years back...”
Unequal distribution of resources and expenses
Municipal officials said the trifurcation led to unequal distribution of resources with a majority of posh colonies falling under SDMC. They added almost 87% of the East MCD region’s population lives in unplanned, unauthorised areas and contribute very little to direct revenue. All five major municipal hospitals came under North MCD and require high recurring capital input. The budgets announced in January and February show that after 10 years of trifurcation, EDMC still depends on the state government for 60% of its revenue. Most of the earnings in North and East MCD are spent on paying salaries, leaving little for developmental projects. In the case of the North MCD, the biggest corporation, the liabilities have now reached ₹8803.25 crore. “With a common kitty, the uneven distribution of revenue sources balanced each other. But post-trifurcation, the situation kept growing worse. At the time of trifurcation, assurances were made that handholding of new bodies will be carried out and assistance will make them financially viable,” an official said.
Former municipal commissioner KS Mehra said the unified MCD had commissioners of the joint secretary level and much more experienced, who could ensure discipline in the workflow. “After the trifurcation, smaller local bodies have had officers who are more junior. In any case, if we wish to have decentralisation of power, the deputy commissioners at the level of 12 administrative zones can be empowered,” Mehra said.
Former mayor Subhash Arya said the senior officers were also able to ensure better coordination with Delhi and Central governments. He added now mayors and committee chairpersons are appointed for just a year and this also has proved to be detrimental to governance. “Earlier we used to have mayor and standing committee chairman for five years. People could settle in and understand the policymaking. Under the present system, mayors and other appointments are made for a year... by the time a person starts understanding the mechanism, the tenure gets over,” Arya said.
During a five-year term, Delhi gets 15 mayors, 15 standing committee heads, and other key functionaries. Rakesh Mehta, another former MCD commissioner, said the trifurcation experience has not been good and it is better to reunify the corporations.
There has been a constant tussle between the BJP-led MCDs and the Aam Admi Party government over the last seven years over the allocation of funds. Mayors have held several marches and protests outside the Delhi secretariat. In December 2020, three mayors and corporation committee chairpersons staged a sit-in and hunger strike outside the chief minister’s house for 13 days. They have accused the government of targeting the corporations by depriving them of the tax share worth ₹13,000 crore as per Delhi Finance Commission allocations.
The government has maintained that no fund allocation is pending and blamed corruption and lax administration for the financial crisis. AAP has also asked the Centre to allocate funds for the corporations.
The three MCDs have fared poorly on the sanitation indices. Out of the 48 assessed urban local bodies in 2021, two of the three municipal corporations ranked at the bottom in November. East MCD was ranked 40th, South MCD 31st, and North MCD 45th rank. In 2020, the East, South, and North corporations were ranked 46th, 31st, and 43rd. The New Delhi Municipal Council and Delhi Cantonment continued to be top performers.
Atul Goel, who heads a body of resident welfare associations, said the state of drains, streets, and services show that Delhi is suffering not just poor sanitation. “The governance structure has been diluted by the trifurcation with lack of accountability. Unification has been our long-standing demand...”
The way ahead
According to the 2021 data, the three corporations cumulatively had salary-pension expenditures of around ₹8940 crore. It was ₹4200 crore for North MCD, ₹2640 crore for SDMC, and ₹2100 crore for EDMC. The funds available with the three civic bodies will cover salary expenditures. The financial pressure was likely to increase on South MCD leaving little for developmental work.
An SDMC official said the body is also struggling to maintain its financial viability. “We had a surplus budget. But SDMC too has been running a deficit budget since 2019-20.” The official called for complete administrative and financial reform for direct funding. “Otherwise, we will remain stuck in a similar situation.”
The first deficit of ₹398 crore was in 2019-20. The pandemic further dried up revenue sources.
Raj Kumar Chauhan, who was a minister when trifurcation was approved, said the unification will not serve any purpose. “The timing of the announcement proves the BJP is nervous about losing the elections. It has not done much work over 15 years. Their inefficiency and corruption were the reasons why it was decided to trifurcate the MCD. The move was to make corporations more accountable and efficient as there was to be competition between the three civic bodies.” Chauhan blamed the BJP for management. “...the Delhi government did not let director, local bodies, do the work of managing the funding problems.”