Recently, the Karnataka legislature passed the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) Bill, 2020. BBMP is the municipal corporation of the Greater Bengaluru metropolitan area. The BBMP Act, 2020 seeks to improve decentralisation, ensure public participation, and address certain administrative and structural concerns in Bengaluru. In this blog, we discuss some common issues in urban local governance in India, in the context of Bengaluru’s municipal administration.
The Constitution (74th Amendment) Act, 1992 provided for the establishment of urban local bodies (ULBs) (including municipal corporations) as institutions of local self-government. It also empowered state governments to devolve certain functions, authority, and power to collect revenue to these bodies, and made periodic elections for them compulsory.
Urban governance is part of the state list under the Constitution. Thus, the administrative framework and regulation of ULBs varies across states. However, experts have highlighted that ULBs across India face similar challenges. For instance, ULBs across the country lack autonomy in city management and several city-level functions are managed by parastatals (managed by and accountable to the state). Several taxation powers have also not been devolved to these bodies, leading to stressed municipal finances. These challenges have led to poor service delivery in cities and also created administrative and governance challenges at the municipal level.
BBMP was established under the Karnataka Municipal Corporation Act, 1976 (KMC Act). The BBMP Act, 2020 replaces provisions of the KMC Act, 1976 in its application to Bengaluru. It adds a new level of zonal committees to the existing three-tier municipal structure in the city, and also gives the Corporation some more taxation powers. Certain common issues in urban local governance in India, with provisions related to them in the BBMP Act, 2020 are given below.
Functional overlap with parastatals for key functions
The Constitution (74th Amendment) Act, 1992 empowered states to devolve the responsibility of 18 functions including urban planning, regulation of land use, water supply, and slum upgradation to ULBs. However, in most Indian cities including Bengaluru, a majority of these functions are carried out by parastatals. For example, in Bengaluru, the Bengaluru Development Authority is responsible for land regulation and the Karnataka Slum Clearance Board is responsible for slum rehabilitation.
The BBMP Act, 2020 provides the Corporation with the power and responsibility to prepare and implement schemes for the 18 functions provided for in the Constitution (74th Amendment) Act, 1992. However, it does not provide clarity if new bodies at the municipal level will be created, or the existing parastatals will continue to perform these functions and if so, whether their accountability will shift from the state to the municipal corporation.
This could create a two-fold challenge in administration. First, if there are multiple agencies performing similar functions, it could lead to a functional overlap, ambiguity, and wastage of resources. Second, and more importantly, the presence of parastatals that are managed by and accountable to the state government leads to an erosion of the ULB’s autonomy. Several experts have highlighted that this lack of autonomy faced by municipal corporations in most Indian cities leads to a challenge in governance, effective service delivery, and development of urban areas.
An Expert Committee on Urban Infrastructure (2011) had recommended that activity mapping should be done for the 18 functions. Under this, functions in the exclusive domain of municipalities and those which need to be shared with the state and the central government must be specified. Experts have also recommended that the municipality should be responsible for providing civic amenities in its jurisdiction and if a parastatal exercises a civic function, it should be accountable to the municipality.
Stressed municipal finances
Indian ULBs are amongst the weakest in the world in terms of fiscal autonomy and have limited effective devolution of revenue. They also have limited capacity to raise resources through their own sources of revenue such as property tax. Municipal revenue in India accounts for only one percent of the GDP (2017-18). This leads to a dependence on transfers by the state and central government.
ULBs in states like Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, and Haryana are in poor financial condition. This has been attributed to limited powers to raise revenue and levy taxes, and problems in the management of existing resources. For instance, the finances of Bihar’s ULBs were assessed to be poor because of: (i) delays in release of grants, (ii) inadequate devolution of funds, and (iii) delays in revision of tax rates and assessments of landholdings.
In comparison, Karnataka ranks high among Indian states in key indicators for fiscal capacity like collection of property taxes, grants from Central Finance Commissions, and state government transfers. The BBMP Act, 2020 further increases the taxation powers of the Corporation, by allowing it to impose taxes on professions and entertainment.
Experts have recommended that the central government and the respective state government should provide additional funds and facilitate additional funding mechanisms for ULBs to strengthen their finances. The revenue of ULBs can be augmented through measures including assignment of greater powers of taxation to the ULBs by the state government, reforms in land and property-based taxes (such as the use of technology to cover more properties), and issuing of municipal bonds (debt instruments issued by ULBs to finance development projects).
Powers of elected municipal officials
The executive power with state-appointed municipal Commissioners and elected municipal officers differs across states. States like Tamil Nadu and Gujarat, and cities like Chennai and Hyderabad vest the executive power in the Commissioner. In contrast, the executive power of the Corporation is exercised by a Mayor-in council (consisting of the Mayor and up to 10 elected members of the Corporation) in Kolkata and Madhya Pradesh. This is unlike large metropolitan cities in other countries like New York and London, where elected Mayors are designated as executive heads. Experts have noted that charging Commissioners with executive power diluted the role of the Mayor and violated the spirit of self-governance.
Under the BBMP Act, 2020, both the elected Mayor and the state-appointed Chief Commissioner exercise several executive functions. The Mayor is responsible for approving contracts and preparing the budget estimate for the Corporation. He is also required to discharge all functions assigned to him by the Corporation. On the other hand, executive functions of the Chief Commissioner include: (i) selling or leasing properties owned by the Corporation, and (ii) regulating and issuing instructions regarding public streets.
The Expert Committee on Urban Infrastructure (2011) has recommended that the Commissioner should act as a city manager and should be recruited through a transparent search-cum-selection process led by the Mayor. A Model Municipal law, released by the Urban Development Ministry in 2003, provided that the executive power should be exercised by an Empowered Standing Committee consisting of the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, and seven elected councillors.
Management of staff and human resources
Experts have noted that municipal administration in India suffers from staffing issues which leads to a failure in delivering basic urban services. These include overstaffing of untrained manpower, shortage of qualified technical staff and managerial supervisors, and unwillingness to innovate in methods for service delivery.
The BBMP Act, 2020 provides that the Corporation may make bye-laws for the due performance of duties by its employees. However, it does not mention other aspects of human resource management such as recruitment and promotion. A CAG report (2020) looking at the implementation of the Constitution (74th Amendment) Act, 1992 in Karnataka has observed that the power to assess municipal staff requirements, recruiting such staff, and determining their pay, transfer and promotion vests with the state government. This is in contrast with the recommendations of several experts who have suggested that municipalities should appoint their personnel to ensure accountability, adequate recruitment, and proper management of staff.
Other states including Kerala, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu also allow the state governments to regulate recruitment and staffing for ULBs. In cities like Mumbai, and Coimbatore, and some states like Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, while the recruitment process is conducted by the respective municipal corporations, the final sanction for hiring staff lies with the state government.
On June 13, 2022, the West Bengal government passed a Bill to replace the Governor with the Chief Minister, as the Chancellor of 31 state public universities (such as Calcutta University, Jadavpur University). As per the All India Survey on Higher Education (2019-20), state public universities provide higher education to almost 85% of all students enrolled in higher education in India. In this blog, we discuss the role of the Governor in state public universities.
What is the role of the Chancellor in public universities?
State public universities are established through laws passed by state legislatures. In most laws the Governor has been designated as the Chancellor of these universities. The Chancellor functions as the head of public universities, and appoints the Vice-Chancellor of the university. Further, the Chancellor can declare invalid, any university proceeding which is not as per existing laws. In some states (such as Bihar, Gujarat, and Jharkhand), the Chancellor has the power to conduct inspections in the university. The Chancellor also presides over the convocation of the university, and confirms proposals for conferring honorary degrees. This is different in Telangana, where the Chancellor is appointed by the state government.
The Chancellor presides over the meetings of various university bodies (such as the Court/Senate of the university). The Court/Senate decides on matters of general policy related to the development of the university, such as: (i) establishing new university departments, (ii) conferring and withdrawing degrees and titles, and (iii) instituting fellowships.
The West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 designates the Chief Minister of West Bengal as the Chancellor of the 31 public universities in the state. Further, the Chief Minister (instead of the Governor) will be the head of these universities, and preside over the meetings of university bodies (such as Court/Senate).
Does the Governor have discretion in his capacity as Chancellor?
In 1997, the Supreme Court held that the Governor was not bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, while discharging duties of a separate statutory office (such as the Chancellor).
The Sarkaria and Puunchi Commission also dealt with the role of the Governor in educational institutions. Both Commissions concurred that while discharging statutory functions, the Governor is not legally bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers. However, it may be advantageous for the Governor to consult the concerned Minister. The Sarkaria Commission recommended that state legislatures should avoid conferring statutory powers on the Governor, which were not envisaged by the Constitution. The Puunchi Commission observed that the role of Governor as the Chancellor may expose the office to controversies or public criticism. Hence, the role of the Governor should be restricted to constitutional provisions only. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 also mentions this recommendation given by the Puunchi Commission.
Recently, some states have taken steps to reduce the oversight of the Governor in state public universities. In April 2022, the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly passed two Bills, to transfer the power of appointing the Vice-Chancellor (in public universities) from the Governor, to the state government. As of June 8, 2022, these Bills have not received the Governor’s assent.
In 2021, Maharashtra amended the process to appoint the Vice Chancellor of state public universities. Prior to the amendment, a Search Committee forwarded a panel of at least five names to the Chancellor (who is the Governor). The Chancellor could then appoint one of the persons from the suggested panel as Vice-Chancellor, or ask for a fresh panel of names to be recommended. The 2021 amendment mandated the Search Committee to first forward the panel of names to the state government, which would recommend a panel of two names (from the original panel) to the Chancellor. The Chancellor must appoint one of the two names from the panel as Vice-Chancellor within thirty days. As per the amendment, the Chancellor has no option of asking for a fresh panel of names to be recommended.