A month after unification, miles to go for promises of a leaner, more efficient

A leaner structure, slashed costs, uniform planning and an end to the financial crisis – the unification of Capital’s three municipal bodies a month ago promised much, but has made little headway in any of those directions, with the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) weighed down by much of the baggage that the merger was supposed to do away with, officials aware of and involved in the body’s functioning said.

The North, East and South Delhi municipal corporations were merged on May 22, and though officials said there has been significant progress made to stabilise the administrative structure and office operations of the unified behemoth, many of the other objectives for unification laid down by the Delhi Municipal Corporation (Amendment) Bill — including ensuring synergised planning, optimal utilisation of resources, greater transparency and more efficient delivery of civic services — haven’t progressed at the same pace.

Leaner administration

Despite the merger, several of the MCD’s core departments continue to be headed by multiple people, in accordance with the arrangements in the three corporations.

One of the key goals behind the merger was to reduce the extra expenses incurred due to the triplication of the departmental and political wings. With the civic body in transition and elections still to be held (polls will have to wait for a comprehensive delimitation exercise), MCD does not currently have a political wing, but the executive wing continues to follow the patterns of the trifurcated bodies.

For instance, the unified MCD still has three engineers-in-chief, three horticulture directors, three municipal health officers and other key portfolios with continued expenses on offices, salaries and other benefits.

MCD has argued that such steps are being taken to avoid largescale litigation and legal complications, even as experts have argued that the accommodative stance has defeated the goals of unification.

Subhash Arya, former mayor and veteran municipal councillor with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who worked with MCD for over 25 years, said the body should cut its expenses and re-allot those funds for development work.

“It has been a month since unification, but the progress has been very slow and not much has been achieved. We don’t need three sets of departmental heads and people working on deputation in the corporation. Chief engineers involved in planning can easily be appointed to administrative posts to manage zones,” he said.

Financial crisis continues

With liabilities of over 16,415 crore, including a 3,472 crore debt to the Delhi government, financial self-sustainability was always expected to be the unified MCD’s major challenge.

The Union ministry of home affairs argued that the financial difficulties of the three corporations left them unable to pay either salaries or retirement benefits, resulting in frequent strikes that have not only affected civic services, but also impacted hygiene and cleanliness across the city.

The unified MCD was, on June 20, able to release a month’s salary and pension worth 547 crore for all its employees, but a large section of staffers (especially those absorbed from the erstwhile North and East civic bodies) continue to face large-scale arrears. MCD has 120,000 employees and 52,000 pensioners.

AP Khan, convener of the Confederation of MCD Employees Unions said unification so far has “only delayed elections and left other promises pending.”

“We have been betrayed. Employees of erstwhile East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC) still have four-month long salary and five-month-long pension delays and north MCD employees are facing a two-month delay. The salary pendency is exactly as it was earlier. Unless the Centre announces a special financial package, unification will not translate to much and its purpose will be defeated,” he said.

An absence of councillors

The unified body will remain under the bureaucratic control of a special officer and commissioner till the delimitation exercise is carried out and elections held.

The Centre named Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer Ashwani Kumar the special officer of the MCD and Gyanesh Bharti its commissioner.

In the absence of a grievance redressal mechanism through elected councillors, the MCD has started a ‘Jan Sunwai campaign’, which allows residents to approach senior civic staff in zonal offices as well as at the MCD headquarters.

The response to this arrangement has been lukewarm, as HT reported on June 7, with few complaints being registered since its launch on June 6.

The corporation received 43 complaints on Day One of the programme. But since then, till June 18, the civic body got just 570 complaints, at an average of around five at each of the 14 demarcated ‘redressal sites’ across the city.

Disparate regulations

The MCD has also not undertaken any major steps to make uniform disparate regulations and varying fee structures between the three previous bodies, except for a recommendation to increase the transfer duty by 1%.

The three corporations had variations in terms of regulations and legal positions on multiple subjects. For instance, the South body charged 1% education cess along with the property tax, but the other two local bodies did not. There are also largescale differences in license fees to operate restaurants as well as for factory licenses. There is also no uniformity in the meat policies of the three corporations.

Each department head has been asked to start work to even out regulations and submit three-month and six-month action plans. These proposals will need to be cleared by the special officer.

A senior MCD official said ensuring a common administration and allocating office spaces was a “massive exercise” and that policy decisions on making uniform regulations and tax structures will be carried out in another two-three weeks.

“No taxes have been increased so far. In fact, some of the tax rates may drop after the uniform numbers are applied. We have also started the Jan Sunwai campaign and a new anti-corruption cell to address the needs of citizens. Both the platforms are operating well and residents will see the pace of reforms get faster,” an MCD official said.

The official said that though no common financial package has been announced so far, efforts are on to make “the corporation financially sustainable.”

Read more at:


Categories: News