Lok Sabha members from several parties expressed concerns on Wednesday over the Union government’s Bill to reunify the three civic bodies in the national capital, with some expressing concern that it amounted to thwarting of the civic election process and undermined the federal separation of powers.
The Delhi Municipal Corporation (Amendment) Bill, 2022 was passed following the debate, weeks before elections to the Capital’s three civic bodies were set to be held. These polls will now be pushed back since the law proposes to redraw municipality wards and cut the number of council seats to 250, a process that could take months.
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Union home minister Amit Shah said the Bill was necessary since the elected Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi government showed a “stepmotherly” attitude towards the body. Following the opposition MPs’ remarks, he said: “Those who are saying that MCD polls have been postponed due to fear of polls, are themselves scared. If you are so confident of the victory then why do you want elections right now? If you have done good work, you will win 6 months later too”.
Soon after Shah’s speech opening the debate in Parliament, Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia said the Bill is only a pretext for the BJP to “run away” from the MCD elections. “The BJP must remember that before 2011-12, the municipality was a single entity under BJP’s rule. There used to be corruption and pollution then as well. You’ll see with three municipalities also, BJP won’t be able to make a change, it can only do corruption. Union home minister Amit Shah knows this well. Currently, they’re just running away from the polls and have, thus, brought the Bill. The people of Delhi have understood the actions of the BJP very well by now,” Sisodia said.
In Parliament, the Bill was opposed by members of the Congress, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Trinamool Congress, Shiv Sena and the YSR Congress (YSRCP). A Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MP welcomed the Bill but reflected concerns of some of the other members, especially on the delay in civic elections it would lead to and the implications of such a decision on federalism.
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“State governments have supervision and law-making powers over municipalities as per the Constitution and rules under transaction of business and allocation of business rules for Delhi. In 2011, this law was amended by the Delhi assembly for trifurcation, therefore, this unification can also only be done by the Delhi assembly,” said Congress MP Manish Tewari.
Tiwari added that with the new Bill, “the central government will control the MCDs till delimitation happens by appointing a special officer. We don’t know when delimitation will happen.”
This, he added, was undemocratic and encroached upon the independence of the Election Commission. The reference to the poll panel was to the timing of the decision – the State Election Commission was expected to announce the dates but deferred the decision after it received communication from the Centre about plans to reunify the civic bodies.
“Parliament does not have competence to make this law,” Tiwari said in conclusion.
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The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) was split into three in 2011 after the Delhi assembly, at the time controlled by Congress, passed a Bill for its trifurcation — amending the original Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, 1957. The Bill was subsequently approved by then President Pratibha Patil, following which the Delhi government at the time issued a notification splitting the MCD into the East Delhi municipal corporation, the South Delhi municipal corporation and the North Delhi municipal corporation.
The second opposition to the Bill in the Lower House came from DMK member Veeraswamy Kalanidhi, who questioned the “urgency” to bring the draft law. “The Supreme Court had observed that the government is bringing Bills without enough thought. Through this Bill, the powers of the Delhi government are being removed. What will give us confidence that Centre will not take up other municipal corporations in future,” he said, adding that the Bill effectively thwarted the civic elections.
The third MP who opposed the legislation on Wednesday was Trinamool’s Mahua Moitra, who drew attention to specific provisions that appear to replace the prerogative of the state government by mentioning central government. “Delimitation, salaries and allowances of corporators and many other powers with state government being taken over by the central government now… BJP also had full statehood of Delhi in its election manifesto, now it seems to have taken a U turn,” she added.
YSRCP member Krishna Devaryalu Lavu said the division of powers across federal lines was “necessary to strengthen grassroot democracy — this Bill is not achieving that and is instead attacking federal structure. The government should disclose reasons behind such drastic step. Many (states) will fear other municipalities will also be taken over,” he said.
Shiv Sena member Arvind Sawant said the Centre’s main motives behind the step were political and amounted to a misuse of Article 239AA of the Constitution. “When there was a need to have more councillors since population is increasing, this Bill reduces the membership of the House. The Centre is also giving itself powers to intervene and the appointment of a special officer will lead to unnecessary conflict with the state government,” he said.
BJD member Chandrani Murmu welcomed the Bill but said there were concerns. “The municipal elections will be delayed till delimitation… there are also questions on which census will be used for the exercise,” she said.
“The move also effectively leads to bureaucratization since a special officer will replace democratically elected mayors and councillors. This is a direct encroachment on federalism,” she added.
Bahujan Samaj Party’s Kunwar Danish Ali too spoke on the delay this will lead to the civic elections in Delhi and asked the Centre if it consulted the state before bringing the Bill.
A second Congress MP, Gaurav Gogoi, speaking after Ali, said the civic bodies were badly managed and there will now be questions over whom the citizens of Delhi should now approach if the Bill goes through. “Will they go to the special officer or the home minister to complain about the problems?”.
Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP) Supriya Sule asked why parliament was discussing municipal issues. “We are here to discuss larger policy issues, let state assembly discuss this… what happened to cooperative federalism?”.
BJP member and South Delhi parliamentary constituency representative Ramesh Bidhuri backed the central government’s decision, accusing the Delhi government of scuttling the functioning of the civic agencies by denying it funding. Delhi, he added, is a globally significant city and the Bill was necessary to make the Capital cleaner.