The 74th Amendment Act of 1992, a pivotal moment in India’s constitutional history, sought to strengthen urban local bodies (ULBs) by transferring powers and responsibilities related to urban governance. However, the realization of this devolution has been uneven across states, leading to the perception that states are hesitant to fully empower ULBs.
Reluctance of States to empower ULBs:
- The 74th Amendment lists 18 functions for ULBs, yet many states have not fully devolved powers, especially in urban planning and public health.
- Town planning remains under state jurisdiction in numerous states, limiting ULBs’ influence over city development.
- ULBs’ revenue sources, such as property tax, are underutilized, and state grants meant to aid ULBs can be sporadic and insufficient.
- A 2018-19 report by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs revealed that ULBs generate only about 37% of their total revenue, relying on grants and contributions for the rest.
- State governments often control key municipal officer appointments, diminishing ULBs’ administrative autonomy.
- In cities like Bengaluru, state agencies like the Bangalore Development Authority often overshadow municipal corporations in critical urban development projects.
- States may perceive strong ULBs as potential political challengers, leading to frequent delays in conducting local body elections, as seen in Tamil Nadu from 2011 to 2019.
- Some ULBs lack the necessary expertise to handle transferred functions, especially in smaller towns.
- A 2017 study noted that over 50% of municipalities in Maharashtra lacked town planning officers, hampering their urban planning capabilities.
Steps to Empower Urban Local Bodies (ULBs):
- Deepen Devolution: As recommended by the High Powered Expert Committee (HPEC) in 2011 on Urban Infrastructure and Services, states should fully transfer the 18 functions listed in the 12th Schedule to ULBs, particularly in the areas of urban planning and land use regulation.
- Financial Autonomy: Following the 14th Finance Commission, states should ensure timely grants to ULBs and encourage them to enhance property tax collections and explore Public-Private Partnerships.
- Capacity Building: Drawing from Dr. Isher Judge Ahluwalia’s insights, states should collaborate with academia to train ULB officials in urban management and governance.
- Democratic Governance: The Second Administrative Reforms Commission recommends regular ULB elections and the prompt devolution of resources and powers.
- Public Participation: Urban planners, echoing figures like Charles Correa, advocate for ULBs to involve citizens more in decision-making, using platforms like ‘Ward Committees.’
- Accountability Mechanisms: Based on HPEC’s advice, states should introduce city ombudsman mechanisms to address grievances and enhance ULB accountability.
The intent behind the 74th Amendment was decentralization, but the actual empowerment of ULBs remains inconsistent. For holistic urban development, states must genuinely devolve power, ensuring that ULBs are both functionally and financially robust.
In summary, the full potential of urban local bodies in India can only be realized when states commit to empowering them, making them key players in the nation’s urban development landscape.