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Q3. “The states in India seem reluctant to empower urban local bodies both functionally as well as financially.” Comment. 10

 

 

Introduction

 

Urbanization is on the rise in India, necessitating the effective functioning of urban local bodies (ULBs) to address the unique challenges of urban areas. Despite constitutional provisions and reforms aimed at strengthening ULBs, there persists a notable hesitancy among states to empower them, particularly in terms of functional and financial autonomy.

 

Body:

 

Reluctance from states in empowering Urban local bodies:

 

Fund: The volume of money set apart for urban local bodies is inadequate to meet their basic requirements.

  • Conditional Grants: Much of the money given is inflexible; even in the case of untied grants mandated by the Union and State Finance Commissions, their use is constrained through the imposition of several conditions.
  • Little self-raised money: There is little investment in enabling and strengthening urban local governments to raise their own taxes and user charges.
  • Weak State Finance Commission: There is an irregularity in the formation and functioning of State Finance Commissions, many times the recommendations of State Finance Commissions (SFCs) are generally not taken seriously.
  • Lack of diversified sources of Income: They are also heavily reliant on grants from state governments and lack diversified sources of income, with approximately 60% of their revenue coming from property tax alone.

 

Function:

  • Appointment of mayors: While some states, like Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, have directly elected mayors, these positions often have limited powers, rendering them nominal heads without adequate devolution of authority.
  • Limited involvement in decision-making: The role of the Municipal Commissioner often overshadows that of the Mayor in decision-making processes within urban local bodies
  • Election issue: In violation of the constitutional mandate of five-yearly elections to local governments, States have often postponed them.
    • For instance, the Gujarat government postponed the Ahmedabad Corporation elections
  • Lower devolution of power: The devolution of functions and powers to urban local bodies in various states remains low, with the Devolution Index indicating that it stands at a mere 10%, thereby hampering the autonomy of urban local bodies.
  • Parallel institutions: Most States continue to create parallel bodies (often fiefdoms of ministers and senior bureaucrats) that make inroads into the functional domain of Urban local governments.
    • For example, Karnataka has created a Bengaluru Development Authority, to handle land management.
  • Functionary:
    • No dedicated cadre of people or service is working for local self-government. This makes administrative and documentation work very difficult.
    • Furthermore, as most staff are hired by higher level departments and placed with local governments on deputation, they do not feel responsible to the latter; they function as part of a vertically integrated departmental system.

 

Measures needed for making local governance effective:

MeasuresDescription
Revitalising Ward CommitteesWard committees in urban areas need revitalization to curb disarray in local democracy.
Strengthening Local Government StructuresLocal governments should hold State departments accountable and provide quality, corruption-free service through service-level agreements.
Decentralisation of GovernanceDevolve power to lower levels and grant more financial resource generation powers to local institutions.
Institutional and Administrative ReformsEnsure accountability of public servants and promote openness and transparency in government functioning.
Promotion of E-Governance PlatformsUtilize technology to enhance participation, as it is neutral to caste and class considerations.
Financial Autonomy for Urban Local BodiesProvide financial autonomy to urban local bodies to enable proper functioning. Some states, like Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh, actively empower urban local bodies with financial autonomy.

Conclusion

India’s efforts in decentralisation represent one of the largest experiments in deepening democracy. We have given ourselves a reasonably robust democratic structure for local governance over the last two decades and more. It is for us to give life to this structure, through the practice of a robust democratic culture.