By Suresh Ghattamaneni
It’s been a fantastic Friday for Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), the ruling party in Telangana. The streets of Hyderabad reverberated with fire crackers, drum beats and dances of visibly elated supporters. TRS has royally debuted into Hyderabad’s local body politics, recording a landslide victory by securing 99 of the total 150 seats, recording the highest number ever for a single party in the history of the local body elections in Hyderabad.
Kalvakuntla Taraka Rama Rao (KTR), IT and Panchayat Raj Minister of Telangana who is also son of Chief Minister Kalvakuntla Chandra Sekhar Rao (KCR), has become the new poster boy for the party by ensuring that the party forayed into every traditional segment and locality, be it the areas occupied by ‘Andhra Settlers’ or those with other ‘Minorities’.
Allaying the fears spread by the opposition that TRS is an ‘anti-settler’ party, with its stupendous victory it has left the opposition in a dampened state by restricting them to single digits.
Addressing the media after the results, Chief Minister KCR said “People whole-heartedly wanted to see the TRS win and that has led to the historic victory of the party in the GHMC elections or else any amount of effort by the party would not have led to such massive victory”.
With such a huge mandate to the ruling party, it’s time for them to keep up the promises and also work towards governance that is decentralized and more participative.
Governing Hyderabad: Past and the Present
Hyderabad, the capital city of the newly formed state of Telangana and known famously as the ‘land of biryani, kebabs and pearls’ is an evolving metropolis.
Known for its rich heritage, and a destination for IT services, the city aims to be a global city which has been the promises of all the political parties that contested in the local body elections.
In this context, it is important to understand the governance aspects of the city, the constitutional acts that govern them, the way they are implemented currently and the need for a discussion and debate.
“All Politics is Local” said Tip O’Neill, the late chairman of the US House of Representatives. It encapsulates the principle that a politician's success is directly tied to the person's ability to understand and influence the issues of their constituents. This aspect has marked the evolution of city governance systems across the world.
The governance in the city of Hyderabad has been through the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) which oversees the urban planning and execution in the city of Hyderabad and Secunderabad.
First elections to the municipal corporation were held in 1934 and a standing committee was appointed. Numerous issues plagued the administrative structure of corporation until 2007 when it became “GHMC” with few areas in the adjoining districts brought under its control. The corporation in its present form is divided into five zones and 18 circles with a total of 150 divisions represented by the individuals elected by the citizens of the respective division.
Constitutional and Legal Framework
In 1989, the exercise to amend the Constitution to confer a constitutional status on municipalities was commenced. Eventually, in 1992, the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments became Part IX and IXA of the Constitution.
One of the important results of these amendments is significant increase in number of elected representatives. The 74th constitutional amendment specifically deals with the Urban Local Bodies asking the state to ‘devolute’ funds, functions and functionaries on indicative list of 18 subjects which paves a way for decentralized system of governance in the urban local bodies.
In contrast, the system of governance in the city of Hyderabad and also many other cities in the country has been highly centralized, catering to the interests of those who are in close proximity to people in power.
Instead of devolution, most of the state governments including the erstwhile state of Undivided AP had delegated only certain powers that are convenient to them.
The present GHMC will transform into a 2,500 sq km entity with an estimated population of 3 crore in the next two decades.
The erstwhile government of undivided Andhra Pradesh had enacted the AP Metropolitan Planning Committee (MPC) act under Article 243ZE envisaging a MPC for Hyderabad Metropolitan Region (HMR) in the year 2007.
This enactment was part of mandatory reforms stipulated under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) in compliance with the 74th constitution amendment act.
This was a precondition for drawing funds under the JNNURM scheme and hence it was hurriedly passed in the undivided AP legislature. But over the last seven years, the MPC for HMR was not constituted and has remained a non-starter.
Moreover, the accessibility to public goods, infrastructure, livelihood, basic and civic amenities has been a problem for a large segment of the city population over a period of time.
In many ways this is wired to the absence of any state mediated mechanism towards making the city more people centric.
The ‘decision making’ lies in the hands of few people in contrast to what the constitutional mandate says. Constitution of Area Sabhas and Ward Committees by the GHMC which ideally have to reflect the public opinion just like ‘Gram Sabha’ in the rural scenario, has been a mere eye wash without really having an intention to build true democracy.
‘Inclusive and Smart’- Masquerade of Good Governance:
‘Smart city’ has been a buzz word in the contemporary city politics and the same with the city of Hyderabad too. It appears to be mere papering over the contradictions that reflects the real state of affairs in the city.
‘Inclusion’ of the oppressed and underprivileged has been looked at like a charity at the mercy of the behest. Rather than the city being governed by the coalition of poor, homeless, other underprivileged classes and segments of population in the middle income spectrum such as traders, small and medium scale industries etc., the city has been catering to corporate interests alone.
UN Habitat defines Urban Governance as “the sum of the many ways individuals and institutions, public and private, plan and manage the common affairs of the city… It includes formal institutions as well as informal arrangements and the social capital of citizens.”
It clearly states that the importance of accommodating the conflicting and diverse interests of the formal institutions as well as informal arrangements. Now that there is absence of any real opposition to the ruling party, as Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) party which secured 44 divisions is considered an ally, the government needs to accommodate informal arrangements comprising the civil society groups in the discourse on City development.
Way Forward – Democracy and Participative Governance:
It’s time that the popular mandate given to the government is leveraged. In this context, there is a need to look at what the People’s Vision of their City is.
What’s the need for democratic and decentralized governance, and the role of public representatives in it?
Elsewhere in the world, the growth and governance of the city regions has been widely discussed, debated and documented. In India, we are entrapped in the emblematic but uninventive concept of centralized governance in a vertical arrangement.
It’s time we need to understand that in metropolitan areas, the tasks and challenges are of horizontal governance involving more number of stakeholders.
Most importantly, the civil society groups need to re-orient their methodologies on working with the government on issues that concern the citizens of the city.
Looking at the public mandate, there is an urgent need for the civil society that encompass voluntary organizations, NGOs, Residential Welfare Associations (RWAs) and other platforms that work on the issues in the city of Hyderabad to engage with the government in building a discourse on development of the city in a democratic way.
If democracy has to go beyond the sacrament of casting a vote once in five years, reach the grassroots and enable the citizens to participate in the process of governance, the provisions in the Constitution needs to be leveraged. Unfailing mechanisms need to be put in place to let citizens know their rights and responsibilities and make them participate in the governance process.