New Delhi: The Union Cabinet Tuesday cleared the bill to merge the three municipal corporations in the national capital into one, as it used to be until 2012, ThePrint has learnt.
The Municipal Corporation (Amendment) Bill 2022 is likely to be tabled in the Parliament in the ongoing session, which is scheduled to end by 8 April, a senior government official told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.
Municipal elections in Delhi, which were likely to be scheduled in mid-April were deferred, by the State Election Commission for this bill.
The poll panel had called a press conference on 9 March to announce the municipal poll dates in the national capital, but during the conference it said that it had received a letter from lieutenant governor Anil Baijal conveying the Union government’s intention to bring the bill.
The proposed move triggered a tussle between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which is in-charge of the elected state government in the national capital, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which rules the three municipal corporations.
The AAP also held a protest outside the BJP headquarters in Delhi last week.
Until 2012, Delhi used to have one municipal corporation — the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD). It was divided by the Congress’ then-CM, the late Sheila Dikshit, with the North and South bodies receiving 104 wards each and the East 64 wards.
The new bill is essentially aimed at undoing the trifurcation.
Politics behind the move
The unified MCD was the second-largest civic body in the world after Tokyo, Japan, and provided services to 97 per cent of Delhi’s population. It had 272 wards distributed among 12 administrative zones, with 22 departments and a single commissioner. After the trifurcation, it had three commissioners, 66 heads of departments, and three mayor officers.
The trifurcation was seen as not only a way to “decentralise” the civic body, but also as a bid by the Congress to capture power in one or two bodies that the BJP had been winning for long.
Senior leaders of the BJP maintain that they have always been against the trifurcation.
While BJP leaders assert that unification of the municipal corporations in Delhi will resolve their poor financial conditions to a large extent, leaders of the AAP allege that it is nothing but a tactic to delay the polls because the BJP fears defeat.
Demands for unification of the three MCDs have emerged on and off but never materialised into anything substantial, senior leaders in the AAP, Congress and the BJP told ThePrint.
Political power in Delhi
The reunification of the MCDs is not just geared to bring about greater administrative efficiency, but also to consolidate political power in the national capital.
Highlighting an aspect of the bill, several political leaders across parties told ThePrint that the basic idea is that the mayor of a unified MCD is likely to have influence and power to take on CM Arvind Kejriwal on administrative affairs concerning Delhi.
The last time the BJP was in power in Delhi was in 1998, under the chief ministership of Sushma Swaraj. However, in the ensuing 24 years, the party has been unable to win at the assembly level, with the Congress (1998-2013) first, and then the AAP, establishing themselves at the helm. Where the BJP did come to power was in the MCD, and later the trifurcated civic bodies, which it has controlled for more than 15 years.
Now, the BJP has a laundry list of complaints about how the AAP government in Delhi is hindering the functioning of the civic bodies, including blocking funds meant for them.
According to BJP workers, many employees had not been getting their salaries as a result. Last year alone saw 10 strikes by employees, mostly over non-payment of dues.
On its part, the AAP has blamed the commissioners of the North, South and East bodies for not releasing funds. In December last year, the party also launched a campaign to bring “badlaav” (change) in the municipal corporations, alleging that they were rife with corruption and were responsible for mounds of garbage being left on the streets.
Notably, in the Swachh Survekshan (cleanliness survey) of 48 local bodies in 2020, the North Delhi Municipal Corporation ranked a dismal 45, while the East Delhi Municipal Corporation came in at number 40. The South Delhi Municipal Corporation ended up 31 in this survey.