Reforms 2.0

Empower Our Cities

Reform idea

Empower municipalities by codifying their responsibilities in a separate list and removing them from the state list.

Why is this reform necessary?

Around 33% of India lives in its cities as per the 2011 Census, and the number is going to increase to 40% by 2030. These cities will contribute 70% of India’s GDP by 2030. However, these engines of growth have been facing governance failures, and are reliant on state devolution to manage their finance.

As per the current setup, Indian cities are governed by the state legislature, which oversees major policy matters like the election at municipal level, tax devolution and so on. These policies are implemented by the Municipal Corporation – a government institution headed by the Municipal Commissioner, an IAS officer who reports to the chief minister, and is not accountable to the citizens.

To add to this, the revenue earned by the Municipal Corporations is deplorable.

What will this reform achieve?

By creating a strong legislative body with the authority to oversee rule of law and collect taxes, we will empower our city administrators to take up the herculian task of managing our rapidly growing cities.

What is needed to carry it out?

In order to create this body, Part XI of the Constitution of India, which defines the legislative and administrative relationship between the Union and States, would have to be amended. Relevant provisions would have to be made to create a city legislature that is run by a Mayor, an elected head and a city council comprising of corporators elected from various wards. The legislative body will be responsible for policy making at the municipal level, and for all the functions of a municipal corporation.

More importantly, this amendment would also require the addition of a Municipal List in the Seventh Schedule to complement the State and Union Lists. Such a list would enable municipal bodies to no longer be reliant on state governments. It should also broaden the powers and responsibilities beyond what is currently granted to municipal bodies.

The items in this new Municipal List should include elections to the municipal legislature, public order at city level, city police, prisons and reformatories, cultural necessities like libraries and museums, markets, and collection of taxes on land and vehicles in the city. It is a combination of these items that would economically, politically and socially empower municipalities to properly administer their cities.

What are the obstacles to this reform?

It is evident that such a List would require major amendments to the Constitution and would need to be passed by both Parliament and a majority of the states. Therefore, one of the biggest hurdles would be to generate enough political pressure, at both national and state level, to push the amendment through.

That said, the rising governance failure worsened by the increase in urban population has not left enough scope for minor modifications in the old 74th Constitutional amendment. It is time that we realise that we need to alter the Constitution significantly if we want our cities to prosper.

The author would like to thank Madhav Chandavarkar for his contributions.

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About the author

Devika Kher

Devika Kher is the Programme Manager for the Takshashila Institution's Graduate Certificate of Public Policy. She is also a Policy Analyst at the Takshashila Institution and her areas of research focus are urban governance and public finance.