Suspending democracy: Woes of the opposition in MCD

The decline of political institutions is a visible trend in our democracy. Intimidating tactics to circumscribe the power of councillors to a limited role is a sign of institutional decay.

 |  4-minute read |   30-09-2020
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Delhi civic bodies have become the fulcrum for political debates in Delhi since the past couple of months. Elections in MCD are scheduled for 272 wards in 2022. The fervour of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to induce the common people to engage with issues to set a favourable electoral mood is noteworthy. The battleground is teeming with claims and counter-claims made by the two prominent contenders — BJP and AAP — on what are the contours of legitimate rule in MCD.

In its unique dialogical style, AAP under the leadership of MCD in-charge and young Turk, Durgesh Pathak, has time and again asked foundational questions about BJP’s almost one- and-a-half decades of alleged failed governance in municipal administration. With every passing week, there is a churning of issues that CM Arvind Kejriwal is catalysing to trigger a comparison between municipal administration under BJP and the Delhi model of governance in the state level. Clearly, the electoral strategy of the political parties is slowly unfolding.

The larger question of democratisation of political arena is provoked by the decision of the BJP-led North MCD to suspend 22 AAP councillors for the next three sittings of the House.

Traditionally, the House is convened only once in a month. Therefore, the suspension will be for a period of three months. Constitutionally speaking, the suspension should be the last resort to maintain discipline and tranquillity in the conduct of the business of the House but has become a political measure to stifle voices that interrogate and register dissent. The political behaviour of representatives in political institutions has seen a drastic change since the early decades of Independence.

main_aap-bjp_093020034301.jpgThe battleground is teeming with claims and counter-claims made by the two prominent contenders — BJP and AAP — on what are the contours of legitimate rule in MCD. (Photos: Reuters)

In the past year, the suspension has become a way of life for municipal administration making a mockery of democratic practices. AAP councillors have been suspended in NDMC in September 2019 and in April 2020 for 15 days respectively. The constitutional intent regarding ‘suspension’ as a practice in extraordinary circumstances is demarcated in Section 79 of the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act of 1957. It lays down the procedure for suspension of councillors. There is categorical mention of gross ‘disorderly’ behaviour to be the reasonable ground for suspension of councillors by the presiding officer of the House. In the first instance of disorderly behaviour of the councillor, the Mayor can direct him to withdraw and he, in turn, will absent himself during the rest of the meeting. In the second instance, if the councillor is ordered to withdraw a second time within 15 days, the Mayor may suspend the councillor from attending the meetings of the Corporation for a period of not exceeding 15 days. The suspension is a state of exception. It is a matter a pertinent concern to delve into the constitutionality of frequent suspension of opposition members in the House. Also, it is a pointer towards the dismay at the silent transition and tweaking of democratic procedures for political convenience.

The contention between the AAP and BJP councillors, in this case, was renegotiating the agenda of the House to allow the opposition to initiate discussion on matters of financial impropriety in the MCD. The debate around fixing accountability for the poor financial condition of the civic body became the point of dissidence. The question of sharing of revenue between municipal units has generated considerable tension in public forums. It is alleged that approx. Rs 2100 crores is lying in the coffers of South MCD that was borrowed from North MCD. It is anticipated that once there is repayment of borrowed money the financial woes of North MCD will be sorted out. There have been massive protests by municipal employees over non-payment of their salaries and pension dues. AAP has been rallying about the corruption in MCD that has structurally destroyed its governance architecture as well as the cleanliness quotient of the city. They have made steady demands about equal resource sharing and answerability. A more strenuous campaign by the opposition will establish an ecosystem of stability and prosperity in municipalities. A critical engagement with re-politicisation of municipal administration has brought common citizens’ routinised struggles to the forefront.

The decline of political institutions is a visible trend in our democracy. A well-informed debate in the House only strengthens and reinforces citizen’s confidence in the democratic system. Building political consensus on matters of public interest is essential for effective governance. Intimidating tactics to circumscribe the power of councillors to a limited role in opposition is a sign of institutional decay. Political accountability of all councillors from both the ruling party and opposition has to be fixed so that democracy does not get suspended in the near future.

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

Writer

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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