MCD Election 2017: Delhi's muddled authorities leave only one clear loser, the citizen

In the 1943 novella ‘The Little Prince,’ the protagonist is surprised when he visits a tiny planet inhabited by a king with no subjects. The king believes that he rules over the entire universe when, in reality, he rules over no one. But had the little prince visited Delhi, he would have been even more confounded. He would have witnessed a whole lot of kings ruling over a whole lot of planets, each having authority over everything and nothing at the same time.

Delhi is a prime example of how multiple centres of power do not necessarily mean better governance. There are three levels of political and administrative powers operating in Delhi – the central government, the government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi and the three municipal corporations of Delhi. Within these levels, there are several authorities with overlapping responsibilities.

In the blame-games between the overlapping civic authorities in Delhi, key issues concerning the city are ignored. Reuters

In the blame-game between the overlapping civic authorities in Delhi, key issues concerning the city are ignored. Reuters

For example, constructing and maintaining roads could be the responsibility of the municipal corporations of Delhi, New Delhi Municipal Council, public works department (PWD), Delhi government, Delhi Development Authority (under the central government), Delhi Cantonment Board or National Highways Authority of India (under the central government). So, if you’re an average citizen of Delhi, trying to complain about pothole-ridden roads, good luck figuring out which authority is the right one.

Several other key sectors of governance are within the domains of all three levels of government. These include education and health, which deeply affect the daily life of citizens. Further, while the Delhi Legislative Assembly, as it exists today, was established in the year 1991, the Centre has retained the sectors of police, law and order, and land.

This situation has now been further complicated by political rivalries. For several years, the same political party was in power, both at the Centre and at the government of NCT of Delhi, because of which there were no major tussles. Now, with the lieutenant-governor (L-G) and the Delhi government engaged in a perpetual turf war, the day-to-day administration of the city is often a casualty.

This state of affairs also affects the working of the municipal corporations. Any changes to the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, 1957, can be made only by Parliament, as it is a central Act. When the corporation was trifurcated, the final approval had to be sought from the Union Home Ministry. These examples are merely indicative of the fact that Delhi stands apart in terms of the existence of multiple levels of authority managing the same city.

As Delhi is, for the most part, an urban agglomeration, it is a question worth asking as to whether the existence of a state government facilitates better governance or muddles it further. This is particularly so because, in any case, several key functions are the responsibility of the central government.

Further, many functions given to the Delhi government are not its exclusive domains. One way of ensuring more accountable governance could be to have a single municipal corporation for the city, while aiming for greater decentralisation. This can be done by devolving more power to ward committees, so that civic problems can be resolved in people’s neighbourhoods.

Delhi has made two major experiments with its governance structures in the past three decades. The first one was in the year 1991, when the Legislative Assembly in its present form was created. The second one was in the year 2012, when the Municipal Corporation of Delhi was trifurcated. It would now be a good time to dispassionately analyse the costs and benefits of both these experiments. The ultimate objective must be to make governance accessible to citizens. The administration must make the extra effort to reach out to citizens, and not the other way round.

Below is a table depicting the responsibilities of the different levels of government for services in Delhi:

SERVICE State MCD Centre
DTC ( Delhi Transport Corporation)
Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Fisheries
Water supply
Ration Shops
Storm Water Drainage
Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) Related
Disaster Management
Hospitals/Dispensaries (Health Care)
Nuisance due to stray dogs, monkeys etc
Pest control
Mosquito nuisance and fogging
Solid Waste Management
Naming/Renaming of Roads/Chowks/ Monuments/ Buildings/ Stations
Slaughter House related
Town Planning
Environment Management Services
Shop and Establishment
Public Health

Praja Foundation is a non-partisan organisation working towards enabling accountable governance

Updated Date: Apr 19, 2017 11:20 AM

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