If Not Modi, Then Who? Maybe, You!

If not Modi, then who? This question comes up every single time there is criticism of Modi. And let me be very clear I’m not trying to talk with people who like him or call themselves “neutral”. This is about the rest of us, who understand/believe in democracy. The fact that the majority of us are either fearful or don’t care enough beyond social media is pretty clear. But should we be scared all the time? Can we really not do anything? I’m going to try and answer that.

What can we do?

I believe we can take part in our municipal corporation elections. A corporator/councillor lives in most cases in our neighborhood, and even then we might not know who s/he is. But before I go into details of where we went wrong, lemme tell you what are the responsibilities of a municipal corporation for a city/urban metropolitan area.

According to the ​12th Schedule of Indian Constitution(Article 243W)​, this is what they are supposed to do:

  • Urban planning including town planning.
  • Regulation of land-use and construction of buildings.
  • Planning for economic and social development.
  • Roads and bridges.
  • Water supply for domestic, industrial and commercial purposes.
  • Public health, sanitation conservancy and solid waste management.
  • Fire services.
  • Urban forestry, protection of the environment and promotion of ecological aspects.
  • Safeguarding the interests of weaker sections of society, including the handicapped and mentally retarded.
  • Slum improvement and upgradation.
  • Urban poverty alleviation.
  • Provision of urban amenities and facilities such as parks, gardens, playgrounds.
  • Promotion of cultural, educational and aesthetic aspects.
  • Burials and burial grounds; cremations, cremation grounds; and electric crematoriums.
  • Cattle pounds; prevention of cruelty to animals.
  • Vital statistics including registration of births and deaths.
  • Public amenities including street lighting, parking lots, bus stops and public conveniences.
  • Regulation of slaughterhouses and tanneries.

The ​Art. 243W​ that references the schedule:

“243W. Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the Legislature of a State may, by law, endow— (a) the Municipalities with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self-government and such law may contain provisions for the devolution of powers and responsibilities upon Municipalities, subject to such conditions as may be specified therein, Disqualifications for membership. Powers, authority and responsibilities of Municipalities, etc.

THE CONSTITUTION OF INDIA (Part IXA.—The Municipalities.—Arts. 243U—243W.) 143 with respect to— (i) the preparation of plans for economic development and social justice; (ii) the performance of functions and the implementation of schemes as may be entrusted to them including those in relation to the matters listed in the Twelfth Schedule; (b) the Committees with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to carry out the responsibilities conferred upon them including those in relation to the matters listed in the Twelfth Schedule”.

For details on the powers of the State Legislature over Municipalities as well as details on functioning powers of the municipalities, you can refer to the Indian Constitution [​PART IXA THE MUNICIPALITIES​].

Where did we go wrong?

So most of the issues that we keep blaming the state government for, can be partially addressed by taking over our own city civic administrations.

Did we show up to vote?

In recently concluded civic polls, Mumbai in 2017 had its highest voter turnout in ​25 years​ at ​55%​ according to ​Hindustan Times​. Delhi MCD in 2017 had ​54%​ voter turnout according to ​Live Mint​. Bengaluru in 2015 “lived up to its reputation for low voter interest” at 45% according to ​Hindustan Times​. Ahmedabad in 2015 had its highest voter turnout in ​15 years ​at ​45%. ​Now I know literacy and civic duty dont go hand in hand, but this is shameful. So I guess we didn’t show up to vote. But did some of us who actually did understand their civic duties; were they on streets volunteering for higher voter turnout? I’ll let you answer it for yourself.

The fear

Most of us think politics is not for us. People with power would just run over us, to a certain extent that is true. But do we really think a corporator has that kinda power? And if s/he does, most of the corporators usually live like next street to us, do you think they can pull that shit and still be around? Cause these are not national or state elections where the person can be a jackass and still be around. It was pretty easy to find articles related to voter turnout issues, but very difficult to find civic polls violence.

A lot of the related articles pointed to West Bengal civic polls, which I’m going to ignore for the time being. ​This ​one about Mumbai police detaining about 2000 criminals so they don’t harass or create nuisance during civic polls. Then ​one ​where someone was murdered in one of the Tamilnadu rural civic polls. But like can we atleast try at this level? People we disagree with, be it BJP or Congress, are at each level of the system, and we are just on social media and on our sofas.

Do we know who these candidates are?

We probably don’t even know who is standing in the election let alone who is elected. Data of corporators and their contact information is public information. But I’m pretty sure none of us have ever gone on our municipal corporation websites to read up who is responsible for what.

The problems

So most of the powers that the municipal corporations have are given by the state government as mentioned in the constitution. Which means if there are different parties in power in the civic body and state government, there would obviously be a power struggle. But they can’t take away already given powers.

I mean like the municipal corporation is responsible for things from our birth certificate to where we can eat or not, to where our kids can study, to the roads we will drive on, to the parks our kids will play in, to where our shit will go, to where we will die and go. But we don’t care jack shit about the civic bodies. Let me shed some light on some of the more prevalent issues:

  • One of the more discussed reforms of the current structure of power is that indian cities need Mayorships and more power given to the city government for them to be managed more efficiently, let the city for real manage itself, its economy and not by the state governments. Now how a mayor is elected or how these powers are divulged is a matter of a separate discussion, some links ​here​, ​here​, ​here​ and ​here​.
  • Most of the civic bodies have several committee’s with several responsibilities with overlapping responsibilities or not very well defined responsibilities, leading to accountability issues and efficiency goes for a toss. I’ll get into more details of the functioning and power structure of a typical municipal corporation in my coming blogs, but interested readers can look at yearly reports published at ​praja.org​. ​Link to urban governance report for Mumbai and Delhi​. ​State specific reports.

Mayor or the municipal commissioner?

Mayor is from the elected branch whereas the municipal commissioner is from the administrative branch of the government. The Constitution doesn’t specify how a mayor should be elected, so it’s up to the state governments to decide. Usually, all the councillors vote and appoint their Mayor, just like state or national elections with CM or PM respectively.

Now, since we live in a democracy, the Mayor should have control and more power since the mayor represents the “will of the people”. But what happens is most of the power is concentrated with municipal commissioners, which the party in power in the state can use to control/stall functioning of corporations.

Problems are endless and hence the opportunities for change as well. But it’s not going to change if we don’t change, if we don’t take part in our democratic setup. It tells so much about the rot in our system and our mindsets that we don’t even understand the smallest level of elected government. In my next blog, I’ll walk you through the definition of civic bodies, their structure and the problems that plague them in detail. I’ll also come up with details of how some civic bodies are trying to address these issues. Till then sorry you had to read an idiot’s sermon.

(This article was written for The Deshbhakt by Rushabh Shah, Deshbhakt Member)

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