March 31, 2022
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether the unification of the three municipal corporations of Delhi will be good for the Union Territory. We also look at Karnataka’s drive against untouchability, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Uniting Delhi’s Municipal Corporations: Political Ploy or Need of the Hour?
A nasty breakup, political inroads and several doublecrosses – that’s what comes with the story of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD). Since the MCD split into three in 2012, the call for unification has been consistent among employees and certain sections of the government. But, unlike in a game of Uno, a reverse card is rather hard to come by in real life, and the uneven split remains.
The Delhi BJP unit has been in favour of unifying the three brothers for years now. But only in the forms of general support and speeches. All of this changed when insiders learnt that the Centre has been actively pushing for this merger in the past couple of months. The conjecture soon became a grave reality for the ruling AAP in the capital, and now, here we are. The one question on all our minds: what’s with all this hoopla anyway?
Let’s start from the beginning. In 2012, the Congress party and then CM Sheila Dikshit split the MCD into three corporations – the North, South and East MCDs. According to the government, they did it to decentralise the local body as it was too large to handle efficiently. And while that may be true, there were some serious political machinations at play.
You see, the civic body had steadily come under the stronghold of the BJP, and with the trifurcation, Congress hoped to change that. Unfortunately, this didn’t really work out that well for them. In fact, even now, the three corporations are run by the BJP. What happened instead was that the civic bodies fell into a financial crisis.
Workers under the MCD, medical staff, engineers, safai karamcharis, etc., have hit the streets in protest around 50 times since 2015. Their reason: salary delays, improper bonuses, cashless medical cards and the like. Obviously, all of them were for financial reasons. The situation got exceptionally difficult then onwards as the BJP retained their power over the MCD while the AAP gained power in the State Assembly.
Political parties have been warring with the BJP over the MCDs for a while, but this time things are a little different. The BJP has a comfortable majority in the Centre, making their say carry a lot more heft. So when the Union Cabinet cleared the Delhi Municipal Corporation (Amendment) Bill last Tuesday, things got a little panicky in the capital. The Bill also makes the MCD fully dependent on the Centre for funds.
While the BJP says that this will help fix the financial issues plaguing the local bodies, the AAP believes that it is just a ploy to delay local elections. Something that was set for April this year, before all this unification talk. Right now, here’s where we are at – the Centre is mulling over the unification of the MCDs; Kejriwal is willing to leave politics if the BJP holds the polls soon and wins; and the State Election Commission is getting legal advice.
VIEW: A simple solution to a longstanding problem
The most eminent reason for this unification is the persistent financial crisis the MCDs have been enduring. And the reason behind that is, in fact, the trifurcation of the local body. Turns out, when the corporation was first split, it was done unevenly. The North MCD and the South MCD were both given 104 wards each, whereas the East MCD was given 64 wards in the trans-Yamuna area. This means that the South MCD got most of Delhi’s posh neighbourhoods that generally paid higher taxes. The North and the East MCDs were given the colonies that fell in the lower taxation category.
When the math is done right, we see that the South MCD gets 30% of its internal revenue from property taxes. The North MCD, however, gets around 15% of its revenue covered, and the East, a modest 9%. Even the data released by the bodies in 2017, during the last civic body elections, showed that the East MCD has 2,28,000 taxpayers; the North, 3,35,000; and the South, with 4,75,000 taxpayers. Obviously, some regions of the capital territory will be better treated than others. Logistically too, the trifurcation simply tripled the cost of running the civic body.
The MCDs employees have constantly complained about the delay in payment of their salaries, with doctors and teachers going on regular strikes from mid-2020. Several corporations are also yet to be paid for their completed public works projects. In January 2021, the employees even moved the Delhi High Court to get their dues but, unfortunately, the pot isn’t deep enough for all. The MCDs and the BJP have regularly blamed the AAP government for not allocating an appropriate amount of funds for the proper functioning of the civic bodies. Overall, it’s supposed to bring about better governance locally.
At this point, the BJP isn’t alone in thinking that the reunification of the MCDs is going to help solve the problem. According to a senior official in the Finance Department of the North MCD, “Before the pandemic, the [North] and [East MCDs] were able to manage somehow, and since trifurcation, they have been in hand to mouth situation, whereas the [South], with greater sources of revenue, was able to stay above the survival line. But after the pandemic, even the [South] is creeping towards a financial crisis.” If the change is long overdue, now is as good a time as any.
COUNTERVIEW: An overbearing Centre and fishy timing
When we look at the contents of the Bill proposed by the Centre to unify the local body, the underlying political ploys start oozing through. After the AAP’s roaring victory in the Punjab polls, it isn’t surprising to think that the BJP is choosing its moves rather scrupulously. The general opposition to the reunification of the MCDs seems to be based on this narrative – that the BJP is trying to buy time before the next local body elections. And the leaders of AAP seem to believe this line of analysis.
The State Election Commission (SEC) had scheduled the capital territory’s municipal polls for mid-April. Earlier this month, the SEC had to defer them as the Centre wanted time for the body’s reunification. The Bill proposed by the Centre also proposes to reduce the number of seats in the MCD from 272 to 250. This will evoke another round of delimitation from the SEC and effectively push the elections for a while. The Centre even urged the Delhi government to extend the tenure of those currently holding offices in the MCDs for this process to be implemented.
According to some, the goal of this delay is to get the local elections to coincide with the general elections. If this is pulled off, the results might tip towards the BJP’s favour as voters would be more likely to cast their votes with a wider context, i.e. of the national kind. Right now, the MCD has been accused of various forms of corruption. Despite Delhi being a Union Territory, it still receives certain grants from the Centre. And what happens with that money? Nobody knows. Currently, the AAP and the BJP are in a finger-pointing match regarding that. This delay in elections could also help turn that image of the body around.
Finally, coming to the finances of it all, seeing unification as this heal-all superdrug also doesn’t really help. According to KS Mehra, the last Commissioner of the unified MCD, reunification will definitely save a lot of money on expenditure, but it still does nothing to make the body self-reliant. The tax rate the corporation is running on hasn’t increased since 2004, and that can definitely be felt. Even the Sheila Dikshit administration took loans to run the MCD; it’s just that those loans were paid off on time.
What’s your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) Reunification of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) will be good for the civic body.
b) Reunification of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) will not change much for the civic body.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
Imagine if Umar Khalid, and not PM Modi, were to address ‘Pariksha Pe Charcha’
For the Left:
By criticising liberalism, Kerala Muslim groups are cutting the very bough they are sitting on
🏴 STATE OF THE STATES
AAP’s hopes (Haryana) – In the wake of the party’s victory in Punjab, the AAP wants to repeat its success model in Haryana. One MLA of the ruling BJP-JJP government warned Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar that the AAP is gaining ground in the state. The AAP has an opportunity in the state due to two factors -resentment against the BJP over the farm laws and Congress infighting. Some BJP and Congress party members have also expressed interest in joining the AAP.
Why it matters: In the 2019 Assembly elections, the party secured only 0.49% of the votes. It’s looking to build a base in Haryana. The party does have some history in the state. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was born in Hisar. The 2011 anti-corruption movement had an impact on remote areas of the state. In 2019, the BJP secured 40 seats, Congress 31, and the newly formed JJP 10. The AAP will look to fill the void if one ever opens up.
Drive against untouchability (Karnataka) – The state government is set to launch an awareness programme to tackle untouchability across gram panchayats. It’s called Vinaya Samarasya. For those panchayats that rid themselves of untouchability practices and customs, the government will reward them with more grants. Social Welfare Minister Kota Shrinivasa Poojari said the practice still exists in the state. The proposed launch date could be April 14, Ambedkar Jayanti.
Why it matters: Last October, a clip that showed a man from a backward class being ill-treated at an eatery at Bommagudda went viral. Another incident was cited by Poojari when last September, a Dalit family was fined ₹25,000 after their two-year-old entered the temple premises in Miyapur village. The minister said the child’s education will be borne by the state. These are among the many reported cases of discrimination in several districts across the state.
SC/ST domestic workers (Jharkhand) – A report titled ‘Status of Domestic Workers in Jharkhand’ was released that showed more than 73% of domestic workers in the state are from the SC and ST communities. The study was conducted across several districts, including Ranchi, from December 2021 to February 2022. More than 100 domestic helpers were interviewed according to the Jharkhand Anti Trafficking Network (JATN). 70% of all domestic workers got monthly wages less than ₹3,000. Only 10% were paid more than ₹5,000.
Why it matters: According to the 2011 census, OBCs constitute a little over 46.1% of the state’s population, and STs constitute 26.2%. The state has had issues with SC/ST representation before. Last November, a report stated there was an inadequate representation of SC/ST employees in promotion posts in the creamy layer under the services and posts of the state government.
Water security (Goa) – The state government wants to ensure water security for its urban areas. It has appointed a consultant to ensure universal piped water supply and the rejuvenation of water bodies. As part of AMRUT (Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation) 2.0, the state has allocated ₹170 crores for the initiative. According to the Goa state urban development agency (GSUDA), the aim is for Goans to have access to clean water and proper sewage treatment.
Why it matters: AMRUT 2.0 was launched by Prime Minister Modi in October with a budget of ₹2.9 lakh crores. Last month, residents of Cortalim threatened protests due to irregular water supply. They alleged that neighbouring areas of Vasco and Marmugoa have regular water supply. In September, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant announced the state will provide free water supply to all citizens under the ‘Save Water to Get Free Water’ scheme.
Innovative fish farming (Tripura) – The Centre has provided ₹25 crores to the state for an innovative fish farming project. The Tripura government launched the project by utilising the Dumboor lake, located 120 km from Agartala. Since it’s the largest water body in the state, the government wants to promote fish farming for the economic upliftment of residents living in the area. The government will distribute equipment to 260 families in the first phase.
Why it matters: Fish farming has played an important role in the state, which the government has recognised and encouraged. The government has introduced modern fish culture practices like Bio-floc and Pisciculture. An average person in the state consumes 25kg of fish every year, the second-highest in the country. In January, the government announced it will use government-owned water bodies to help boost fish farming.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
3,399 – The number of communal or religious riots in India from 2016 to 2020. There were over 2.7 lakh cases of rioting during this period. The information was released by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in the Lok Sabha.