You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Insecure officials, over-burdened councillors, cynical voters ail civic bodies

LiveMint logoLiveMint 07-03-2017 Dipti Jain

What would it take for a civic body to function efficiently? An intuitive answer would list three factors: experienced officials, adequate democratic representation and an aware citizenry. India’s urban local bodies (ULBs) are cursed on all these counts, shows a Mint analysis.

Municipal corporations in India are under the charge of a municipal commissioner, a bureaucrat appointed by the state government. In addition to the bureaucracy, these bodies also have councillors and a mayor.

Data from the Annual Survey of India’s City-Systems (ASICS) 2016, by Janaagraha, a non-profit organisation based in Bengaluru, shows that city corporations see frequent change in commissioners, so much so that often times a commissioner’s tenure at a corporation is less than one year.

For instance, Raipur has seen nine commissioners in the five years up to 2016. Jaipur and Ludhiana saw seven commissioners during the same time period. What is even more worrying is these officials do not have much experience in urban departments before they are appointed to this important position.

//datawrapper.dwcdn.net/Y5Ufo/4/414px

This seems to be in keeping with the notorious transfer culture in India’s bureaucracy as was pointed out in this Mint article. With no fixed tenure for the municipal commissioner, experts say they are transferred frequently on the whims and fancies of the state governments. “When there is conflict of interest between the commissioner and the state government, the commissioner is transferred to a different place. The commissioner needs to have a fixed tenure so that long term plans for the city can be worked upon,” said K. K. Pandey, Professor of Urban Management, Indian Institute of Public Administration.

If the bureaucrats are kicked around according to the whims and fancies of political players, elected representatives have to cater to an increasing number of people in corporations of bigger cities, which defeats the very logic of effective local governance.

For instance, population per councillor in Mumbai, which is the richest corporation in India, stood at 54,812 in 2016. Other metros such as Hyderabad, Bengaluru, and Delhi also fared poorly in terms of the number of councillors per hundred thousand people. According to data compiled by Janaagraha, Thiruvanananthpuram had the lowest number of voters per councillor among 21 major cities in the country. The ratios are likely to have deteriorated further, as population figures used for the calculation are from the 2011 census.

//datawrapper.dwcdn.net/DkbDa/3/611px

Are India’s urban citizens waking up to these problems facing the management of their cities? Polling figures from latest ULB, Lok Sabha/assembly elections shows that ULBs often witness lower turnout of voters than state or national level elections.

To be sure, Mumbai saw a record 55% voter turnout in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections last month—much higher than the near 45% turnout in its last elections. The BMC polls had become an important political event given the tussle between BJP and Shiv Sena, two parties running the state government in Maharashtra. However, the overall situations shows poorer turnout in local body polls.

//datawrapper.dwcdn.net/XsnEB/6/414px

Experts say differences in resources deployed during state and local body elections could be a reason for different in voter turnouts. It is also possible that poor management of ULBs at various levels generates cynicism within voters’ minds about the efficacy of their votes.

The first part of this data-journalism series had highlighted the poor fiscal condition of India’s ULBs. The sorry state of administrative and political management of ULBs in India’s major cities further underlines the fact that civic management figures very low in priorities of our political class.

This is the last of a two-part data series on urban governance. The first part looked at finances of urban local bodies

More From LiveMint

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon