Strengthen Gurugram’s local government to start economic growth engine
Lack of empowered local governance is one the biggest challenges facing Indian cities today. A city like Gurugram, which contributes to more than 70% of Haryana’s revenue, has to depend on the state government for sanction and approval of projects. This is indeed very disempowering. Gurugram put in place its third tier of governance in 2011 by electing 35 councillors and a mayor. However, the fact that these councillors have little power to implement the city’s development agenda also makes its local governance weak.
What can empower local governance to a large extent is implementation of the 74th Constitutional Amendment (CAA). It can make our municipal corporations autonomous and efficient, empower our councillors and mayors, remove the multiplicity of agencies, make ward committees more effective and even attract better local talent to enter politics. Basically, the CAA shifts the control from the state to the city and enhances the city’s ability to use the funds as per its needs. However, despite over 20 years of the legislation becoming effective, state governments have delayed, not implemented the CAA either in full spirit or at all to retain their powers on cities. All the major neighbouring states of Haryana, including Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, have implemented the legislation, then why is Haryana elusive regarding it?
To be sure, this is what the 74th CAA grants — First, there are 18 civic functions that are mentioned in the 74th CAA including sanitation, roads, health care, urban planning, water supply, public parks, street vendors, public transport, street animals etc that must rest with the municipal body. It basically means that the municipal corporation is a complete city government with a constitutionally defined clear mandate. Second, it grants powers to mayors. Mayors of London, New York and even Shanghai run their cities as CEOs. As the mayor of New York City during the terror attack of September 11, 2001, Rudy Giuliani played a vital role, coordinating the efforts of all city departments and making all the key announcements in the media. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi went on his first official visit to the US, his first meeting was with the mayor of New York. Such is the importance of the mayor. How many of us know who the present mayor of Gurugram is? Are these positions merely ceremonial? Mayors are democratically elected for a period of five years by the people. They should have more powers and accountability since commissioners are bureaucrats who are frequently transferred. Gurugram had seen eight MCG commissioners come and go in a period of four years in the recent past.
In a welcome move, however, the Haryana cabinet approved the direct election of mayors last year, which means the voter will cast vote for both the ward councillor and the mayor. Earlier, the councillors, after ward elections, elected the mayor among themselves and there was a lot of horse-trading to garner support. This move also ensures that better candidates from the city will stand independently for the mayor’s post. Hisar, Karnal, Rohtak, Yamunanagar and Panipat, which had elections last October, have already benefitted by this move, and so will Gurugram when it goes for elections in a couple of years.
The third thing that the CAA ensures is the presence of effective and operational ward committees. Gurugram has in fact hurriedly set up the ward committees in January this year to garner points under the Swachh Sarvekshan Survey. The MCG has set up a 13-member ward committee in each of the 35 wards of Gurugram to oversee sanitation, water supply, parks etc at the ward level. These committees would be chaired by councillors and progressive citizens and members of non-governmental organizations would be members of the committee. One nodal officer from the MCG will oversee the work of these committees in each ward. Creating ward committees is one thing; however making them effective tools of local governance is quite another. Let us hope these committees help in improving citizen’s participation, councillor’s interests and resolution of local civic issues.
Because of the lack of implementation of 74th CAA, the MCG has a low threshold for expenditure. Its limit to decide on projects is Rs 25 million. Besides, budgets are often not presented on time. The budgeting quality itself is questionable. Citizen’s participation in budget allocation is non-existent. Robust revenue streams such as stamp duties and entertainment taxes are not devolved fully to the urban local bodies. Since, multiple authorities are involved, the total resources spent on civic projects, such as building roads, is unclear. The 74th CAA if implemented well can help in creating better budgeting and accounting standards, gaining better control of municipal finances, granting more autonomy to municipal corporation to decide on its needs of manpower, and ushering other urban reforms.
Decentralised governance is the need of the hour. By creating decentralised platforms of autonomy, we are encouraging the citizen of the land to get interested in local issues, to feel empowered and be engaged in the affairs of the city. There will be a better turnout of voters and more competent and honest people will start contesting elections. We will then have mayors who are good administrators and have a vision for the city.
Besides, cities are the fulcrum of our economic growth. They cannot be operated through remote controls. Further, they are not the ATMs of state government that can be milked whenever needed. Certainly Gurugram is not. It has been made what it is today by its people, its industry, its entrepreneurial spirit and its civic society. Implement the 74th CAA in Haryana, and let Gurugram decide its own destiny.
(Shubhra Puri is the founder of Gurgaon First, a citizen initiative to promote sustainability in Gurugram through workshops and research books.)