Friday, July 27, 2012

Lessons from Shimla: Direct Election of Mayor in India



Bhanu Joshi




The outcome of elections held in one of India’s oldest Municipal Corporation, the Shimla Municipal Corporation had some important lessons for other Indian cities. The Mayor of the hill town was to be directly elected by the residents of the city after an amendment was made to the Municipal Corporation Act in 2010. The Congress which had dominated the Corporation since 1986 was stunned out of majority. The BJP which had hoped to use to its advantage the new law it passed for direct elections to the posts of Mayors and Deputy Mayors had to be content with 12 of the 25 seats in the Corporation Council. The CPI(M) Mayoral candidate Sanjay Chauhan won by 7868 more votes than his BJP counterpart; this when of Shimla’s estimated electorate of about 84,000, 64% turned up and 40% voted for Sanjay Chauhan and Tikender Panwar  of the CPI(M) for Mayor and Deputy Mayor’s post. Even though the corporation is not dominated by the BJP & Congress, electors opting for different candidates for the Mayor’s post beckon analysis.The Himachal Pradesh Municipal Corporation (Amendment) Act 2010 provided for direct election of Mayor to the corporations in Himachal Pradesh and removed the no confidence motion clause, which is different from Rajasthan which adopted for direct election last year but the directly elected mayor can be removed by bringing a motion of no confidence after one year of his election. Even though the functions & powers of the Mayor weren’t ‘enhanced’ in the Himachal Pradesh Amendment, the newspaper reports are full of Sanjay Chauhan’s enthusiasm and his declared objective of making the Corporation “Mayor-centric” rather than “Commissioner-centric” and thus rendering the position politically accountable.


The 1991 74th Constitutional Amendment seeks to bring governments closer to the people by enlargement of the political class and was re-envisioned in the JNNURM to make cities take care of their own destinies which involved financial, functional and political autonomy. Even then corporations and municipalities in the country continue to be marginal stakeholders in domains of urban planning and development of the city. Mayors, in particular, are by and large ceremonial. In most cities they are elected by and from amongst the Councillors rendering them vulnerable to their pressures. While the term of the Corporation itself is five years, the Mayor’s tenure is two and a half years in Maharashtra and Karnataka and one year in Assam, Chandigarh and Delhi. Table 1 & 2 show the current status of term & mode of election of Mayors in India. Even the five year term is granted to the mayor, an internal arrangement among coalition partners is worked out as in Hyderabad where the Congress nominee was the Mayor for two and a half years and now the position has been taken by an MIM representative. Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and recently Himachal Pradesh have now amended their previous laws to provide for direct election of Mayors.

This point to the larger question of who is in charge of the city? Mumbai introduced the Commissionerate system in which the policy & deliberative wing lies with the council but the execution & implementation of these policies are with the Municipal Commissioner. The concentration of executive powers in Municipal Commissioner has made the system more bureaucratic and inefficient and brought inevitable conflicts when the Municipal Commissioner ‘representing’ the State government of a party is different than the party in power in Municipal Corporation. This system with some minor changes exists in all other cities like that of Chennai, Delhi & Hyderabad excepting Kolkata which follows the Mayor in Council system where the municipality is entrusted to three authorities: the Corporation, the Mayor in Council and the Mayor. The Kolkata Corporation consists of 141 ward councilors while the Mayor in Council consists of the Mayor, the Deputy Mayor and ten other elected members of the corporation, of which each member is allotted a portfolio. Executive power is exercised by the Mayor in Council. This system is a deviation from other states and has fared well largely attributed to the same party rule in the corporation and the state (barring 2000-2005 when TMC was in the Corporation and Left was in power in the State)[1]. Since 1996, Chennai has alternated between the directly and indirectly elected mayors with change in the State governments.  The direct elections stipulated in the 1996 Local Bodies Act, its suspension, the resurrection of the ancient 1919 Madras Corporation Act providing for a one year indirectly elected Mayor and the most recent reintroduction of the directly elected mayor in Chennai and other major cities is now part of Tamil Nadu’s chequered local government history. Yet the extent of executive power available to the Mayor appears unclear. The situation is no different in the nation’s capital, where the corporation was trifurcated with no changes in the power of the Mayor or the councilor. Clearly the division went awry when the ruling Congress lost all three corporations in the recent elections, beckoning question on can three govern better than one? Safe to say, in city after city, it is the state political agenda that appears to prevail over any possible local agenda.

Lessons from Shimla are similar to Rajasthan where elections to the various Corporations, including that of direct election of the Mayor were held in October last year. In Jaipur, Udaipur, Ajmer and Jodhpur, the directly elected Mayors obtained a better percentage of winning votes than individual Councilors( Table 3).In some Corporations, the winning Mayor is not of the same party as the one with a majority of seats in the Municipal Council and this might lead to an impasse but a directly elected Mayor being politically accountable has to work his way through a complex situation of pressures and influences, and it is the public confidence and evidence of performance that will enable a Mayor to steer a municipal agenda to success, something that the elected Mayor of Shimla has been outspoken about in his public speeches post his election.

This in contrast with elections in Maharashtra which were held almost the same time and where the state level leadership picked the candidates for local elections, who were chosen to steer the state & national agenda rather than addressing the local issues. The same stands true for Kolkata Municipal Corporation elections in 2010 where the march to Writers Building became the default poll begul or the Bruhat Bengaluru Municipal Corporation polls in 2009 which were delayed for more than four years because of state government’s casual approach on delimiting boundaries of the expanded corporation.

What Shimla does tell us is that a system of direct elections can throw candidates who have to identify and project issues relevant to the city and the candidates also have to make a special effort to portray themselves as not mere extensions or fragments of a state political party but someone with a better identity and a focus on the city. The urban citizen needs the local agenda prioritized and an identifiable person who needs to perform if he or she is to be reelected and this can happen only if power is delegated so that citizen can hold the single person accountable. A ceremonial mayor without authority cannot be held responsible. In fact, it is an encouragement for a political person to interfere in executive actions avoiding responsibility.

Table 1: Election of Mayors in Megacities – Direct or Indirect  and the Tenure
No
State
Election
Term
1
Andhra Pradesh
Indirect
Five years
2
Karnataka
Indirect
Two and a half year
3
Tamil Nadu
Direct
Five years
4
West Bengal
Indirect
Five years
5
Maharashtra
Indirect
Two and a half year
Source: Respective State Laws


Table 2: Election of Mayors in other cities – Direct or Indirect  and Tenure
No
State
Election
Term
1
Assam
Indirect
One year
2
Bihar
Indirect
Five years
3
Goa
Indirect
Five years
4
Haryana
Indirect
Five Years
5
Himachal Pradesh
Direct
Five Years
6
Orissa
Indirect
Five Years
7
Punjab
Indirect
Five years
8
Rajasthan
Direct
Five years
9
Sikkim
Indirect
Five years
10
Uttar Pradesh
Direct
Five years
11
Chandigarh
Indirect
One year
12
Delhi
Indirect
One year
13
Kerala
Indirect
Five years
14
Madhya Pradesh
Direct
Five years
Source: Respective State Laws


Table 3: Votes secured by Councillors & Directed elected Mayor in Rajasthan
Vote share for Winning Councillor
Vote Share for Winning Mayor
Municipal Corporation
Wards
50%
40-50%
Below 40%
Ajmer
55
16
19
20
49%
Jodhpur
65
26
16
23
49%
Jaipur
77
21
22
34
47%
Udaipur
55
27
19
9
51%
Source: Rajasthan State Election Commissions website & primary data collection.


Picture Courtesy of: Indo Asian News Service

[1] Rewal Tawa Lama, Governing India’s Metropolis (pages 35-36)

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