Don’t Make Reunified MCD a ‘Political Football’
Beware Delhites! The rainy days are just round the corner. Another Covid-19 wave and water-borne diseases are threatening to hit the national capital. But the recently reunified three municipal corporations into one large civic body seems to be indifferent. A silent “political slugfest” is going on between the BJP, which ruled erstwhile three DMCs for 15 years, and the Aam Admi Party (AAP)-ruled Delhi government. Ultimately, the common man will pay the price.

No Salaries
About 1.25 lakh employees, including officers, of the “reunified MCD” are getting restless and may soon hit the streets—because they have not been paid salaries for months. Only ‘safaikaramcharies’ have been paid salaries as the authorities fear their style of agitation; they throw garbage on roads and outside VIPs’ residences. The morale of employees is down as they are just thinking about the release of their salaries, dues and pensions rather than contributing for improving civic amenities. And the food inflation is disturbingly record high.

No sign of elections in near future
Now, the reins of the MCD are totally in the hands of the bureaucracy as there are no elected councilors. Ashwani Kumar, IAS, is the Special Commissioner who reports to the Lieutenant Governor. There appears to be no signs of MCD elections in near future. As per the mandate of The Delhi Municipal Corporation (Amendment) Bill 2022, the delimitation process of MCD to 250 wards from present 272 municipal wards is yet to begin. No one knows when it will be completed once initiated by the Central government.

What Is Going On?
One has started wondering whether the recent reunification of MCD is a solution for better maintenance of the national capital or a matter of one-upmanship. The civic bodies are always closest to citizens from cradle to grave and run various public services such as dispensaries, hospitals, schools, roads, sanitation cremation grounds, primary schools, etc. Now, the new reunified MCD is without funds for delivery. The AAP keeps on teasing the BJP that its services are “better than the saffron controlled MCD.”

The Trifurcation of the MCD
In 2012, a historic decision was taken by the then UPA government and the Congress-ruled Delhi government Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit; the MCD was trifurcated by Delhi Municipal Corporation (Amendment) Act into three smaller corporations as a part of decentralization of administration and for better delivery of civic amenities and good governance to the people across 272 municipal wards. Dikshit was apprehensive that a huge BJP-controlled MCD and its one Mayor might become “parallel power centers.” Her aim was defeated. The said trifurcation led to an increase in the number of offices, committees, and departments by three times. Instead of one commissioner and 22 key heads of department, three local bodies had three commissioners, 66 HODs, three standing committees, three Mayors and so on and so forth.
Some years later, the financial health of these corporations began to deteriorate. Though South MCD was relatively better than the other two corporations, lately during the Covid-19 pandemic, salary delays and non-payment of arrears to employees, non-disbursal of terminal benefits to pensioners and non/delayed disbursal of medical reimbursement bills were reported frequently from South MCD.

Back To Square One
The mandate and implementation of the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992, for setting up of stronger Municipal bodies including urban local bodies got defeated in the political battle between BJP and AAP. The MCD which was reunified in April 2022 by amalgamation of earlier trifurcated South, North and East DMCs in a hurried manner just before scheduled civic bodies elections, presumably to resolve the problem of funds shortage in the three corporations has rather escalated the fund crises as Corporations are finding it difficult to clear the employees’ salary, arrears and medical benefits for months on end at a time when coffers are being filled with revenue generated through property tax collection. The SDMC though a tad better has also been affected. The BJP-led Central government, after having achieved its end of postponing the municipal elections, is now dithering to take upon the responsibility to save the reunified civic body from financial mess by providing a much needed bailout package. Rather, the Centre is asking reunified MCD to enhance its resources and reduce the number of employees. It is back to the square one for employees and citizens. “Non-payment of employee dues for months on end is threatening to become a breeding ground for more corrupt practices,” an officer observed.

A Vicious Cycle
The corporations have limited resources for revenue generation and these are especially property tax, toll tax and by advertisement departments. Three corporations were caught in the political tug of war between the BJP-led MCDs and the AAP government at the state level over the last seven years in the matter of allocation of funds. It is a vicious cycle and for the sake of poor Delhites and suffering employees hope the powers that be take some concrete steps to resolve the issue instead of making the MCD a ‘political football’.