Delhi Municipal Corporation (Amendment) Act, 2022: Provisions, Benefits and Concerns – Explained, pointwise

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Introduction

The Union Ministry of Law and Justice recently notified the Delhi Municipal Corporation (Amendment) Act, 2022. It seeks to amend the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, 1957 passed by Parliament. According to the new Act, the three MCDs—East Delhi Municipal Corporation, South Delhi Municipal Corporation and North Delhi Municipal Corporation—will be merged into one and called the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD).  The Union Government believes that it would ensure a robust mechanism for synergised and strategic planning and optimal utilization of resources. However the Delhi Government views it as a move to diminish the power of the elected government and undermine the spirit of federalism.

What is the Background?

The Delhi Municipal Corporation was split into three, i.e., East, South and North, in 2011 after deliberation and discussion at various levels. The move was aimed to decentralize the large local body.

The split-up was first proposed in the Balakrishnan Committee Report (1987). The recommendation was reiterated by the Virendra Prakash Committee Report (2001). Another committee was constituted under the chairmanship of Ashok Pradhan to study the issue. The proposal finally took shape in 2011 and the law to trifurcate was enacted. This 2011 law amended the original Delhi Municipal Corporation Act of 1957.

It provided for transfer of some powers from the Union Government to the Government of the NCT Delhi. This included overseeing the functioning of the new municipal bodies as well as approving rules and by-laws framed by them. After the trifurcation, the North Delhi Municipal Corporation and South MCD were given 104 wards each, while East MCD had 64 in mostly the trans-Yamuna area.

The image depicts the zones under the MCD before the Merger of MCD UPSC

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Key Provisions related to Delhi
  • Delhi’s status as a Union Territory with a Legislative Assembly is an outcome of the 69th Amendment Act. The act introduced Articles 239AA and 239BB in the Constitution.
  • The administrator appointed under article 239 gets designated as the Lieutenant Governor. There shall be a council of ministers to aid and advise LG.
  • Provisions related to public order, police and land are not under the jurisdiction of the Government of Delhi. The Union Government will maintain these provisions.
  • Article 239AA(3)(b) allows Parliament to make laws for Delhi ‘on any matter’.
  • Article 239AA(4) mandates that in case of a difference of opinion between the L-G and the Council of Ministers, the L-G has to refer the issue to the President.
  • Until the decision is pending before the President, the L-G can use his discretion to take immediate action if urgency requires him/her to take an action.
2018 Judgment of the Supreme Court
  • The Court said Delhi is different from every other UT and is in ‘a class by itself’. The Court further said that the principles of democracy and federalism must be reinforced in NCT of Delhi in their truest sense.
  • The elected representatives and the council of ministers of Delhi, being accountable to the voters of Delhi, must have the appropriate powers so as to perform their functions effectively and efficiently.
  • The ideas of pragmatic federalism and collaborative federalism will be destroyed if the Union Government has overriding executive powers even in respect of matters for which the Delhi legislative assembly has legislative powers.
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What are the Key provisions of the Delhi Municipal Corporation (Amendment) Act, 2022?

Unification of Municipal Corporations in Delhi:  The Act replaces the three municipal corporations  by one Corporation named the Municipal Corporation of Delhi.

Powers of the Delhi government: The 2011 Amendment gave numerous powers to the Delhi government. This included deciding the total number of seats of councillors, number of seats reserved for members of the Scheduled Castes, division of the area of corporations into zones and wards, delimitation of wards etc. However these powers would now be exercised by the Union Government.

Number of councillors: The earlier Act provided that the number of seats in the three corporations taken together should not be more than 272. The amended act states that the total number of seats in the new Corporation should not be more than 250.

Removal of Director of Local Bodies: The earlier Act provided for a Director of Local Bodies to assist the Delhi government and discharge certain functions which include: (a) Coordinating between Corporations; (b) Framing recruitment Rules for various posts, and (c) Coordinating the collection and sharing of toll tax collected by the respective Corporations.  The amended Act omits the provision for a Director of Local Bodies.

e-governance system for citizens: The amended Act adds some obligatory functions of the new corporation. This will include establishing an e-governance system for citizen services on an anytime-anywhere basis for better, accountable, and transparent administration.

Conditions of service for sweepers: The earlier Act provided that a sweeper employed for doing house scavenging of a building would be required to give a reasonable cause or a 14 day notice before discontinuing his service. The new act seeks to omit this provision.

What is the rationale behind the Delhi Municipal Corporation (Amendment) Act, 2022?

Unequal Resource Distribution: The trifurcation divided resources unequally and created a financial crisis in the civic bodies. Due to the demography of Delhi, the South body ended up with the most ‘posh’ colonies – A and B category taxation zones that paid higher property taxes. The North body, on the other hand, got more un-authorized and lower taxation category colonies, which pay less tax, or not at all.

Stress on Municipalities: The trifurcation tripled the number of officers, increased costs and resulted in unequal distribution of assets and liabilities. The North, being the owner of the biggest civic body, also became the most top-heavy. The North Corporation is struggling with a deficit of over Rs 1,300 crore and East of around Rs 800 crore.

Rising Discontent: Safai karamcharis, medical staff, healthcare workers, engineers, doctors and nurses have gone off the streets since 2015 at least 50 times, in protest against salary delays, bonuses and cashless medical cards.

What are the objections to the Act in the context of Federalism?

The Central government’s stance is that the amendment has been passed in consonance with Article 239AA of the Constitution. It is a provision that provides for special status to Delhi. Further the law is based on the power of Parliament under Article 239AA(3)(b) to make laws for Delhi ‘on any matter’.

However, some constitution experts have argued that the Union Government has overlooked Part IXA of the Constitution. It specifically states that it will be the Legislature of the State that will be empowered to make laws concerning representation to the municipalities. 

The argument of the Centre that Article 239AA can be applied over and above Part IXA of the Constitution does not hold good as the latter is a specific law that will override the general law relatable to Article 239AA.

What are the other criticisms surrounding the new act?

Large Scale Usurpation: The Centre has taken away significant powers from the Government of Delhi. This includes: (a) Power to determine the number of wards, extent of each ward, reservation of seats, number of seats of the Corporation; (b) Power to decide on matters such as salary and allowances, leave of absence of the Commissioner, the sanctioning of consolidation of loans by a corporation etc..

Against Decentralization: The interference of the Centre in matters such as municipal issues appears against the model of decentralization. A reduction in the degree of decentralization may further impede grassroot democracy and local governance.

Lack of Consultation: The Act has been passed without any consultation with the Delhi government.

Undermines the 2018 judgment of the Supreme Court: The Court said that the Constitution has mandated a federal balance wherein certain independence is assured to the State Governments. It also said that a balanced federal structure mandates that the Union does not usurp powers of States and the States enjoy freedom without any unsolicited interference from the Central Government.

Political Considerations: Many experts have criticized that merger of MCD is being undertaken to win the upcoming municipal elections in Delhi.

What lies ahead?

First, the Act might be challenged in Court. A new tussle might emerge between the Union and Delhi government.

Second, the Union Government should be willing to do cautious and effective consultation on the new Act with the Delhi Government and other concerned stakeholders. This will help in addressing the opposition and enhance the acceptability of the act.

Conclusion

In essence, the proposed law effectively takes the Delhi government out of the picture in terms of decision-making in the unified corporation. While the merger of MCD has certain benefits, the concerns related to interference of the Centre in matters such as municipal issues are valid. It goes against the model of decentralization. Such concerns need redressal.

Source: The Hindu, Indian Express, Hindustan Times, PRS

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