Covid-19, taxes, schools hog focus in run-up to Delhi MCD elections 2022

2022 will see Delhi running for the MCD elections for 272 wards and a fertile ground for the contest is already being set by the political parties.

 |  6-minute read |   27-08-2020
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The 74th Amendment of the Indian Constitution laid the foundational pillar of local self-government in urban areas. To bypass the inflexibilities inherent in centralised systems, the amendment purported to strengthen grassroots democracy and enhance its resilience. Local democratic accountability through decentralisation was the core value that promoted some threshold of autonomy. Representation and participation were the intersecting axes of any discourse on local governance in India.

The mood and the intention of the Constituent Assembly were inclined towards systematic political decentralisation in consonance with Gandhian values. The Constituent Assembly debated extensively about the powers and jurisdiction to be vested in the Chief Commissioners Province, which later came to be popularly known as Union Territories. The formidable question for discontent was whether the Chief Commissioner’s Provinces would be centrally administered with minimal or no representative government. The need was to create a constitutional condition for including them in the democratic Constitution of India. The Sitaramayya Committee deliberated on the matter and concluded that limited representative government be introduced in the Commissioners’ provinces. What emerged was a discernible disagreement on the nature of Delhi’s administrative and political structure. The Drafting Committee under the leadership of Dr Ambedkar rejected the idea of placing Delhi under local administration or giving it any special status. It was only in 1991 that the Constitution (Sixty-Ninth Amendment) Act brought about a cardinal change and accorded Delhi its own legislature. The question of political autonomy of Delhi remained palpable and entrenched in controversies.

Delhi is a unique story. It is a contested space with a post-colonial setting. The complex nature of Delhi’s local governance system is situated in the intersectional axes of local, state and national jurisdiction and powers over each other. Delhi’s local government is made of five distinct local bodies namely, the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), the Delhi Cantonment Board (DCB), the North Delhi Municipal Corporation, the South Delhi Municipal Corporation, and the East Delhi Municipal Corporation. A majority of the population falls within the jurisdiction of the three Municipal Corporations popularly known as the MCD.

2022 will see Delhi running for the MCD elections for 272 wards and a fertile ground for the contest is already being set by the political parties. Aam Admi Party (AAP) has emerged as the forerunner in building the context for the upcoming elections. Election strategising crucial for any favourable electoral outcome is gradually unfolding itself. BJP and AAP are equally toiling towards public engagement with critical governance issues. This re-encounter may become the litmus test for democratising the municipal space in the long run.

Durgesh Pathak, the MCD in-charge and AAP’s young Turk, has been the catalyst behind the reconfiguring the fault lines of the political climate in Delhi. The unanimous election of AAP councillors as opposition leaders in all the three MCDs has injected a spirit of intense enthusiasm to bring about transformative change in the functioning of municipal administration in Delhi. In its inevitable style of interrogating failure of public delivery systems, AAP has been on its toes to catch up with issues that impinge upon the lives of the common man in Delhi. The battleground is teeming with aspirations as AAP has overhauled its organisational set up to reinvent itself as the most viable alternative in the MCD elections.

main_mcd-elections_082720015825.jpgThe main focal issues as catalogued by the manifestos of the political parties — mainly Congress, AAP and BJP — had centred around finances, health, education and corruption. (Photo: Reuters)

Manifesto and its political promises made by the ruling dispensation in 2017 has been the fulcrum for recent political debates and responses around the upcoming MCD elections. The main focal issues as catalogued by the manifestos of the political parties — mainly BJP, Congress and AAP — had centred around finances, health, education and corruption. Restructuring the taxation system has been a matter of contest for political parties. The imposition of four taxes in different units of MCD has set the ball rolling with AAP leaders engaging in public dialogue through press conferences and peaceful protests outside the Civic Centre for its rollback. There is reasonable disquiet towards introducing new taxes and increasing rates of existing taxes as it will cause more economic distress among taxpayers in the situation of the pandemic.

Augmenting the available resources — whether in education, health and civic infrastructure — along with robust value addition, could bring about radical changes in municipal administration. Education, which has been the political forte of the AAP government in Delhi, has showcased innovative models of the teaching-learning processes. The non-availability of books for children in MCD schools in the mid-session has raised questions about institutional decay of municipal administration. Education is an important right of the citizen that is inviolable and inalienable under the RTE Act. Any negligence on the issue of educational development of children is criminal when it is a well-known fact that such schools cause benefit to the urban poor and socially vulnerable families, mainly first-generation learners. Any innovative practice to reform education has to inculcate enabling environment for social infrastructure that encourages children to grow fearlessly into rights conscious citizens.

Health systems have been the cynosure of the pandemic. Disaster preparedness has been crucial for ‘Covid Combat’ strategy of Delhi. There is a built-up discourse about medical apathy in the hospitals in Delhi during the Covid times. Amidst the growing Covid cases in Delhi, there has been controversy regarding patients being turned away from admission and adequate treatment facilities. The politicisation of the pandemic unfolded when there was a visible tussle between the Delhi government, MCD and the Centre regarding the disease management till the three-pronged global strategy of testing, tracing and treatment was adopted consciously.

Corruption-free MCD has been the goal for efficient use of limited social and economic resources. Time and again, opposition parties have levelled corruption charges against Councillors, particularly in bribery cases for construction of dwellings. There have been incidents of death of persons due to the collapse of unsafely constructed houses, despite the fact that MCD had declared only a few as dangerous for living purposes. A Twitter duel between prominent leaders of the ruling dispensation and AAP regarding landfills showed the apathy regarding sanitation, overlooking the lurching threat of a potential health hazard for Delhi.

There is a generic concurrence that the generation of sustainable resources has the possibility of making MCD a profitable public organisation, bringing it out of the clutches of alleged corruption that has plagued it for more than a decade now. A rational mapping of potential resources will enhance the administrative capacity and financial autonomy. Independent decision-making also calls for a reliable, accountable and responsive political system that takes forward the constitutional trust. Any political will to engage with such a sustainable model has been largely absent.

The growing politicisation of the MCD in the next one year will compel political parties to reimagine their policy frameworks to become more inclusive than ever to woo Delhi voters in their favour. Bringing ‘people’s candidates’ into the ambit of the electoral competition will give a prodigious push to participatory governance. The state and citizenry will once again bargain their respective axial positions via the municipal elections in Delhi.

Also Read: 6 reasons Delhi dumped Aam Aadmi Party in MCD election


Anita Tagore Anita Tagore @anitatagore

The author is an Assistant Professor at Kalindi College, University of Delhi. She teaches political science and is a socio-legal researcher.

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