As part of its series, The State of Cities – #CityConversations, #IMPRI Center for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies (CHURS), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, organized a panel discussion under IMPRI #WebPolicyTalk on the topic Municipal Legislative’ Reform’ through the Lens of Politics and Techno-Bureaucratic Processes on March 23, 2022 with Mr Vinay Baindur, Researcher and Activist, Urban Reforms, Governance, Water Reforms, and Policy, as the speaker.
The panel discussion was moderated by Dr Soumyadip Chattopadhyay, Associate Professor at Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan and a Visiting Senior Fellow at IMPRI, New Delhi explaining the various constituents and institutions with different mandates of urban governance and how the vision of these institutions for their cities have an impact on the urban poor and content of the law. The discussants for the panel discussion were Prof Manjula Bharathy, Professor at the Centre for Urban Policy and Governance, School of Habitat Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai and Dr Anant Maringanti, Director at Hyderabad Urban Lab.
Mr Vinay Baindur used a variety of original and secondary source materials as well as replies to Right to Information (RTI) from various institutions and Ministries of Government, etc, for over 60-70 questions to illustrate these cases. He brought our attention to the right of participating in elections, claiming that on an average 35-80% of citizens vote for different levels of government, and the processes have moved to shut out people from participating in local government. This limited participation costs both the citizens and the elected government certain losses and it mostly favours those who are either privileged or have special arrangements.
In his presentation, he focused on three primary topics, beginning with the legislative processes in the Union administration and Parliament for the 65th (August to November 1989) and 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts (CAAs) (1991-94). He pointed out that the 65th and 74th amendments have a lot in common, and the processes are essentially identical and went through several stages of discussion and the 64th and 65th CAAs, the greatest textual additions to the constitution, were defeated in the Rajya Sabha vote in October 1989, but the 74th CAA was passed by both houses in 1992 and came into law later that year. Second, he concentrated on the Techno-bureaucratic approaches utilized to design the Specimen (Model) Municipal Law (MML) from 2000 to 2003.
He described how, in 2001, the urban ministry invited FIRE(D) to participate in the drafting process of the Specimen (Model) Municipal Law but the RTI reply received from NIUA in August 2009 stated that the MML eluded public scrutiny and debate and was passed by state legislatures (like Bihar, Sikkim, etc.). The MML introduces outsourcing infrastructure development for water supply and solid waste depending on the capacity of the local government concerned. He also brought up the inherent irregularity in the ward committee’s growth, with counsellors wielding executive power. Mr Baindur also discussed the role of several financing entities in developing the Specimen Model Municipal Law. Finally, sir addressed vital issues such as federalism, sub-national autonomy, and constitutional provisions.
For example, Regional parties in states which are in coalition with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) (Bihar/Odisha), among the least urbanized states, passed their new municipal acts during the United Progressive Alliance-I and II (UPA-I and II) union government tenures. In contrast, in 2012, the Congress chief ministers of Assam and Haryana raised the issue that Art 252 should not be used to force states to adopt MML under the UPA-II administration. In concluding his speech, he highlighted the low level of citizen participation in local administration. He also mentioned policy difficulties in the Model Municipal Law, such as that Ward Committees made up entirely of councillors will have executive powers. In contrast, the ward committee made up entirely of residents will only serve as an advisory body.
Dr Anant Maringanti was invited to continue the speaker series to expand on this issue. He noted the differences in political cultures and the technical networks’ interconnection. He also discussed the political cultures in the city of Hyderabad. Political cultures, he claimed, could never be cleansed from techno-bureaucratic networks. He also highlighted how municipal politics were deactivated and how the Hyderabad municipal corporation became obsolete. He also talked about the India Infrastructure Report, which came out in 1996 and rendered the Planning Commission redundant.
This is the first document to argue that urban infrastructure is critical and cities are growth engines, but in actuality, sir focused on the fact that only some cities are growth engines, not all. He illustrated this with the example of Sholapur, which was once a major textile hub but has since become entirely unimportant. He then completed his presentation by emphasizing the importance of paying attention to the numerous uneven energies and regional formations forming in small communities and towns in the last 5-6 years. He proposed that looking at this problem from the point of view of resistance, point of view of friction, and point of view of traction could be helpful because none of these laws can be implemented uniformly everywhere.
Prof. Manjula Bharathy discussed the complexity and disconnect between the rhetoric and realities of democratic decentralization, as well as the civil and political societies. Democratic decentralization, she claims, is a political project. According to Prof. Manjula, decentralization is made up of two distinct ideas: one is a technocratic vision, and the other is a participatory mobilizing communitarian perspective. The effort of constructing an adequate institutional structure, which can be derived from public administration finance and planning, is equated with the task of looking at decentralization from a technocratic vision of local governance.
The constitutional amendment’s most significant contribution is that it aims to strengthen democracy, political inclusion, and marginalized people’s participation. She closed her speech by emphasizing the need to comprehend devolution of power rather than delegation of power. Devolution of power will aid in setting up new power channels that can penetrate social spaces and disrupt existing hegemonic power structures. Dr Soumyadip also remarked, in addition to Prof. Manjula’s remarks, that the concept of party society is an essential theoretical instrument for analyzing relational power struggles.
Babu Jacob concluded the conversation by giving his findings from research he conducted, which revealed that decentralization has not occurred in the majority of Indian states, i.e., following the 74th amendment for municipalities, all states passed the legislation necessary by the constitutional amendment within a year. However, the law failed to decentralize government power to local governments truly. The whole point of a local government is to get people to participate, yet they don’t have it and are unable to do so effectively. He maintains that even the government does not participate because it lacks the necessary jurisdiction as provided by the constitutional amendment and because Ward bodies do not exist in many states.
He believes the local government is ineffective due to two factors: first, they are not given the flexibility to make internal decisions and are instead guided directly by state governments, and second, they lack a separate entity to oversee their operations. Mr Vinay went on to say that if we’re talking about changing political culture, we need to think about how authority can be re-established, how a new vision for the city might emerge, and how the local governments can be freed of such encroachments of powers and authority.
Acknowledgement: Aanchal Karnani is a research intern at IMPRI.