Why in news?
A private member’s bill was introduced in the parliament to provide for direct election, and empowerment of the office, of mayors in large Indian cities.
Why elect mayors directly?
Currently multiple civic agencies operate in cities which creates accountability issues.
A Mayor is responsible for governance and remains accountable to citizens. He has responsibilities but no authorities.
Weak urban governance and consequent urban mess that India finds itself today can be largely traced to weak city-level institutions.
Hence, an empowered office of a directly elected mayor is desirable.
What is the current framework in cities?
Currently, the executive, financial and administrative powers are vested with the municipal commissioner and his team of deputies, appointed by the state government and drawn from the IAS cadre.
What are the challenges in implementing this?
The concept should face the following challenges before it becomes a reality:
State governments do not wish to delegate more authority to city-level institutions. Often, urban resources are transferred to rural areas in the name of development. Even if the mayor is directly elected, the state governments can refuse to devolve power and resources, effectively reducing him to a figurehead.
Municipal commissioner also, sometimes, becomes hurdle. Even if some powers are delegated to the municipality, the state governments have in place municipal commissioners to perform the executive functions, again cutting the mayor to size, the nature of mayoral election notwithstanding.
A legislator will always see the directly elected and empowered mayor as a potential future rival and will do everything in his command to undercut his authority.
It is also widely felt that elected mayors may blur the lines between the three tiers of government: the Union, the states and the local self-governments.
What needs to be done?
In the light of development, state governments should take up this issue seriously and confer necessary powers upon mayor to effectively discharge his duties.
To avoid conflict between elected mayor and municipal commissioner, mayor may be made the executive head of the municipality. Additionally, mayor may also be given the power to “authorize the payment and repayment of money relating to the Municipality”.
What is the current scenario?
At present, six states – Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu – provide for mayors that are elected directly by voters for a five-year term. However, they remain mere figureheads with limited financial and functional independence. The actual power continues to lie with the state government, which runs the city through the municipal commissioner.
What else should be ensured?
A mayor should have a fixed tenure.
A mayor would be effective only if the post carries financial and executive powers.
This calls for amendments to various Acts and laws, and these are likely to be contested. It necessitates the re-drawing of the administrative command structure, for example, the reporting relationship of the city’s police commissioner to the mayor and so on. Currently, the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act provides for the transfer of 18 different powers to urban local bodies, including the election of a mayor.
The post of mayor should be important in itself and not just be seen as a stepping stone to state or national level politics. A directly elected mayoral system with a five-year term is a huge positive. However, for it to yield results, the government will have to ensure mandatory devolution of functions to municipalities, a more robust fiscal decentralisation and empowering of the mayor to hire staffers. In the present system, a mayor is not able to function because the power remains with the state government.