16th January – Directly Elected Mayors

Metros have been deprived of empowered Mayors who can raise efficiency, productivity and liveability. Mayors in many global cities go on to lead their country, which possibly explains why they have been reduced to obscure, ceremonial figures by national parties in India.

Need –

  • The Economic Survey of 2017-18 notes that a third of the population now lives in urban areas which produce three-fifths of the GDP.
  • India’s overflowing cities lack capacity, infrastructure and leadership. The Survey acknowledges this, attributing it to the absence of a single city government in charge, and low spending on infrastructure.
  • State governments amass the large economic output from urban agglomerations, but are averse to a strong Mayoral system.

Challenge –

  • Chief Ministers see a potential threat from a charismatic and empowered Mayor with progressive policies. Some of them have used the excuse of poor performance of urban local bodies as a justification to replace direct election of Mayors with an indirect system.
  • The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government in Tamil Nadu issued an ordinance last year to amend the law, and remove any possibility of prominent Opposition politicians becoming the face of any big city. 
  • In some States, elections to urban local bodies have not been held for years, defeating the lofty goal of decentralised governance. Tamil Nadu is a prominent example.
  • in spite of the 74th Constitution Amendment Act of 1992 identifying 18 local level functions to be devolved, including planning for economic and social development, regulation of land, construction of buildings, urban planning and public health. The average of subjects devolved in all these years is nine, and does not include the major municipal services which continue to be run by parastatal authorities that answer to State governments.
  • Newer devices are used to bypass local bodies and priorities are styled as special schemes, such as urban renewal and smart cities, directly supervised by the Central government and partnered by State governments.

Leading the way –

  • The Annual Survey of India’s City-Systems (ASICS) 2017 covering 23 cities across 20 States published by Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy found 33% of medium and large cities with a provision for directly-elected Mayors, but none in the mega cities.
  • An empowered Mayor is required for the Government departments to feel accountable for urban services and infrastructure as they can function effectively only under the watch of an empowered leader, who enjoys the mandate of the city’s residents.
  • Lack of coherence in government is hindering better productivity, and causing losses through pollution, congestion and poor outcomes on infrastructure investments. The priorities are flawed, the administration is fragmented and the capacity of city governments is low.
  • In the coming decade, progress on Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the UN Habitat New Urban Agenda will come under close international scrutiny. India’s cities need a new deal, one that is focused on development. Only elected, empowered and accountable Mayors can deliver on that.

SourceThe Hindu

QUESTIONExamine the need to provide for directly elected and empowered Mayors. Discuss the hindrances in the step and suggest a way forward.

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