Urban governance system is not fit for purpose

In need for a comprehensive institutional reform in India: implementing a directly elected executive mayor with mayor-in-council system


 and need critical reform to enable sustainable urban development(UN Habitat III-Urban governance, capacity and institutional development,2016).

Certainly, India falls in this category where old British legacy still carrying on, in which role of bureaucracy is paramount. Irony is, public representatives have accountability towards citizens but no authority? whereas bureaucracy has no accountability but have all authority to govern the city. In this colonial legacy, the State government-appointed Commissioner is the executive head of the city while the Mayor has a largely ceremonial status.(In foreign countries, Mayors of cities like New York, Paris, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, and London are Chief Executive and major national figures, often holding national offices. In China, the Mayor of Shanghai is a powerful figure in the national ruling elite). However, it would be interesting to know thatin pre- independence time, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose,a veteran freedom fighter was appointed as the chief executive officer of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation by the elected Council and the Mayor (DeshbandhuChittaranjan Das).

Netaji has himself written “Though my appointment to this important post at the age of twenty seven was generally approved in Swarajist circles,it did not fail to cause a certain amount of heat –burning in some circles within the party .To the Government it gave great annoyance and it was not without a great deal of hesitation that they decided to give their approval,as they were required to do under statute” (quoted in the 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission* ,Govt. of India 2005).

However, in post-independence era it is not envisaged that a municipal commissioner can be appointed by the Council, and the Mayor would have real executive authority. This dilution of the role of the Mayor is clearly violative of the spirit of self-governance and local empowerment as envisaged in the constitution of India. Indian Cities have a weak and fragmented institutional architecture in which multiple agencies with different bosses pull the strings of city administration, in fact Urban Local Bodies in the states have become a department of Government rather than an autonomous local self-government. State Government exercises enormous control over ULBs — politically, administratively and financially. This amounts to undermining the very spirit of local Self Government. It could be held that the current form and structure of municipal bodies is based on British Viceroy Lord Ripon’s Resolution on local self-government.adopted in 1882 with sole purpose of having complete control of British Government over this nascent democratic setup. Since then the structure of municipal bodies has essentially remained the same, even in post-independence era.

With such power and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of Self Government. Hence, in tune with this an empowered Mayor is sine qua non.In a democracy, executive power should vest with a person or a body that is democratically accountable.

This underlines the importance of having a Mayor-in-Council system with the executive Mayor. In this Mayor-in-Council system, the Mayor should appoint the Mayor’s ‘Cabinet. The members of the Cabinet should be chosen by the Mayor from the elected representatives  The Council will exercise executive authority on matters entrusted to them by the Mayor, under his overall control and direction. The Mayor should be the Chief Executive of the municipal body while the Commissioner should perform the functions delegated to him/her. Even if this is an isolated example, in metropolitan city of KolkataWest Bengal, the Mayor-in-Council system is working for past many years. This model was introduced in 1984 and is known as the Mayor-in-Council form of city governance that can be described as a cabinet government replicating the formula operating at the State and National levels. This system is composed of a Mayor and a ten-member cabinet with individual portfolios chosen from among the elected councillors (in the context of Kolkata there are 141 wards in a single member ward system, rather than a multiple member ward system). It is in essence a hybrid between a mayor-council CAO system and the integrated federated framework. The Municipal Commissioner serves as the Principal Executive Officer subject to the control and supervision of the Mayor as the Chief Executive Officer in this model. (www.citymayors.com)

For long, the demand to have a uniform system of governance in India has been raised. In India the election of Mayors is indirect i.e. through councilors except 5 states Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Uttarakhand, where mayors are elected directly. Secondly, the term of Mayors in different states varies from 1 year to 5 years. Globally, in cities like New York, London and Tokyo Executive Mayors are elected directly. The 74th constitutional amendment has given constitutional status to local self-government but fails to address the issue of governance i.e. it did not prescribe the manner of election, tenure or powers of the Mayors of Urban Local Bodies. Municipal matters are State-subjects, which means that States have the mandate to regulate the municipal affairs (2ndAdministrative Reforms Commission*). Shashi Tharoor, a Member of the Indian Parliament has issued a “private member bill” which states the need for directly elected Mayors and, in general, for implementing a Mayor-in-Council system. His text mentions the following principles:

The Chairperson of a Municipality to be known as Mayor shall be chosen by direct election by electors of the territorial constituencies of a Municipal […] The term of the office of the Mayor shall be co-terminus with the term of the Municipality. The Mayor-in-Council shall consist of the Mayor and other members to be nominated by the Mayor from amongst the directly elected members of the Municipal Corporation or the Metropolitan Authority, as the case may be. The Mayor-in-Council shall exercise such powers and perform such functions as may be assigned to it by the Mayor. A member of the Mayor-in-Council shall hold office as long as he is a member of the Municipal Corporation or the Metropolitan Authority, as the case may be, unless he resigns or is removed from office by the Mayor by order in writing.” (Tharoor 2016, THE CONSTITUTION (AMENDMENT) BILL, 2016, shashitharoor.in)

Although a private bill stands a negligible or extremely low chance to become a law, but it has already served the purpose of highlighting the much-needed reform in the sphere of urban governance, which has so far been neglected. Similar recommendations are also issued by the 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission, as shows the following quote;

“Direct election of Mayor with a fixed tenure of 5 years; Mayor/Chairperson should be the Chief Executive of a city or urban government, and the city government should have the power to appoint all officials including the Commissioner and to hold them to account. In municipal corporations and metropolitan cities, the Mayor should appoint the Mayor’s ‘Cabinet. The members of the Cabinet should be chosen by the Mayor from the elected corporators. The Mayor’s Cabinet shall not exceed 10 per cent of the strength of the elected Corporation or fifteen, whichever is higher. The Cabinet will exercise executive authority on matters entrusted to them by the Mayor, under his overall control and direction. Further The whole logic of local government empowerment is to facilitate people’s participation and democratic governance as close to the people as possible. Only when the elected executive exercises real authority can people understand the link between their vote and the consequences of such a vote in terms of provision of public goods and services. Such a clear link also ensures fusion of authority and accountability. If the elected local government has no real authority and if executive powers are vested in an unelected official appointed by the State government, then local governance is reduced to mere symbolism.” (2ndAdministrative Reforms Commission*)

These statements are aligned with the New Urban Agenda recommendations, issued by the UN, to support local government and self-local determinism.

It is hard to overlook the fact that the growing popularity of the system of direct election of mayors with substantial power, is the globalization drive which has pitied cities against one another in their efforts to mobilize resources and provide infrastructure for attracting investments and enthusing entrepreneurs. An elected empowered Mayor not only provides a single point for negotiations with outside agencies and investors but also ensures greater coordination among the different city departments and promotes decisive decision making. A popularly elected mayor with a fixed tenure also offers more stability in governance as the person is not dependent on the elected members of the council or on the local or state level political leadership for his survival in office. A stable leadership can also afford to roll out long term plans that will ensure major changes in the cities political and economic landscape. One can now certainly hope that the direct election of mayors with Mayor –in-Council system will make a sea change in the domain of Municipal governance. (http://www.citymayors.com)

Therefore, given the rapid urbanization, smart cities mission and the complex challenges confronted by cities in India, a long-term vision and stability of empowered leadership are vital to promote good urban governance. Time to get rid of the bureaucratic dominance. The need of hour is to let the Local Self Government to function as Local self-government through empowering them by implementing the direct election of Mayor with fixed tenure and Mayor-in-Council system uniformly across the length and breadth of country. In the year 2018 the Union Minister of Ministry and Housing and Urban Affairs has said that the time has come to implement the recommendations of 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission* .

*-2nd Administrative Reforms Commission (Constituted by Government of India under the chairman ship of Shri VirappaMoily, 2005,for giving recommendations for reviewing the public administration system of India.),

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