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.
In the last few years, several states have enacted laws to curb cheating in examinations, especially those for recruitment in public service commissions. According to news reports, incidents of cheating and paper leaks have occurred on several occasions in Uttarakhand, including during the panchayat development officer exams in 2016, and the Uttarakhand Subordinate Services Selection Commission exams in 2021. The Uttarakhand Public Service Commission papers were also leaked in January 2023. The most recent cheating incidents led to protests and unrest in Uttarakhand. Following this, on February 11, 2023, the state promulgated an Ordinance to bar and penalise the use of unfair means in public examinations. The Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Bill replacing the Ordinance in March 2023. There have been multiple reports of candidates being arrested and debarred for cheating in public examinations for posts such as forest guard and secretariat guard after the ordinance’s introduction. Similar instances of cheating have also been noted in other states. As per news reports, since 2015, Gujarat has not been able to hold a single recruitment exam without reported paper leaks. In February 2023, the Gujarat Assembly also passed a law to penalise cheating in public examinations. Other states such as Rajasthan (Act passed in 2022), Uttar Pradesh (Act passed in 1998) and Andhra Pradesh (Act passed in 1997) also have similar laws. In this blog, we compare anti-cheating laws across some states (see Table 1), and discuss some issues to consider.
Typical provisions of anti-cheating laws
Anti-cheating laws across states generally contain provisions that penalise the use of unfair means by examinees and other groups in public examinations such as those conducted by state public sector commission examinations and higher secondary education boards. Broadly, unfair means is defined to include the use of unauthorised help and the unauthorised use of written material by candidates. These laws also prohibit individuals responsible for conducting examinations from disclosing any information they acquire in this role. The more recent laws, such as the Gujarat, Uttarakhand, and Rajasthan ones, also include the impersonation of candidates and the leaking of exam papers within the definition of unfair means. Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh prohibit the use of electronic aids. Maximum prison sentences for using such unfair means range from three months in Uttar Pradesh, to seven years in Andhra Pradesh.
Issues to consider
The Gujarat and Uttarakhand anti-cheating Acts have relatively stringent provisions for cheating. The Uttarakhand Act has a fixed 3-year prison sentence for examinees caught cheating or using unfair means (for the first offence). Since the Act does not distinguish between the different types of unfair means used, an examinee could serve a sentence disproportionate to the offence committed. In most other states, the maximum imprisonment term for such offences is three years. Andhra Pradesh has a minimum imprisonment term of three years. However, all these states allow for a range with respect to the penalty, that is, the judge can decide on the imprisonment term (within the specified limits) depending on the manner of cheating and the implications of such cheating. Table 1 below compares the penalties for certain offences across eight states.
The Uttarakhand Act has a provision that debars the examinee from state competitive examinations for two to five years upon the filing of the chargesheet, rather than upon conviction. Thus, an examinee could be deprived of giving the examination even if they were innocent but being prosecuted under the law. This could compromise the presumption of innocence for accused candidates. The Gujarat and Rajasthan laws also debar candidates from sitting in specified examinations for two years, but only upon conviction.
These laws also vary in scope across states. In Uttarakhand and Rajasthan, the laws only apply to competitive examinations for recruitment in a state department (such as a Public Commission). In the other six states examined, these laws also apply to examinations held by educational institutions for granting educational qualifications such as diplomas and degrees. For example, in Gujarat, exams conducted by the Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board are also covered under the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2023. The question is whether it is appropriate to have similar punishments for exams in educational institutions and exams for recruitment in government jobs, given the difference in stakes between them.
Sources: The Rajasthan Public Examination (Measures for Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2022; the Uttar Pradesh Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 1998; the Chhattisgarh Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2008; the Orissa Conduct of Examinations Act, 1988; the Andhra Pradesh Public Examinations (Prevention of Malpractices and Unfair means) Act, 1997; the Jharkhand Conduct of Examinations Act, 2001, the Uttarakhand Competitive Examination (Measures for Prevention and Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2023, the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Methods) Act, 2023; PRS.