“Municipal governance” has to be given a centre stage in Indian polity due to already existing demands from the national government to make local governance effective. Initially, the British used their administrative powers to benefit their people while ignoring the needs of the Indian population. This ultimately led to the demand for local-self/municipal government due to the emergence of nationalistic feelings, which were aimed at ensuring that the common man should be the beneficiary of the civic amenities (services provided by municipalities) being provided. India’s municipal government lacks mechanisms to provide sufficient housing, healthcare, sanitation, and livelihood which are an integral part of the services provided by local government, and it is largely due to the non-availability of funds, which it can generate only through property tax and license fees. Municipal governments face a lot of difficulties as there is a consistent influx of people moving from villages to the cities to earn a better living.
A municipality is an urban unit of local government. It is a planning authority given with the task of undertaking development in a city. A municipal corporation is established to provide general local government for a specific population concentration in a defined area. Municipal corporations are organized under the applicable state constitution and laws, with powers of government expressly or implicitly conferred by that constitution and laws, and also by charter. Within the municipality, these powers are exercised by a governing body elected by the people. A municipality is a political subdivision of a state within which a civic body is formed to carry out certain public services like public health, welfare, waste disposal, water supply, public safety, public infrastructure works, and developmental activities as mentioned under the Twelfth Schedule of the Constitution of India.
History and Background
The political arrangements of governance reveal a close linkage between constitutional development and the growth of municipal institutions in India. As early as 1687, Madras received its municipal charter and municipal institutions outside the Presidency cities were created from 1842 onward; it was only after the ‘Mutiny’ of 1857 that the British began seriously to think about the large-scale municipalization of the country so that by 1870 there were about 200 municipalities throughout British India. Despite the famous Ripon Resolution of 1882 that emphasized political education even at the cost of efficiency in local government, Indian enthusiasm in this respect was limited. From the nationalists’ point of view, local self-government was meaningless without political participation at the higher levels of governance; whereas the British officials in India resisted all attempts to free the local authorities from the dominance of district administration. Following the Montague-Chelmsford Report, under the Government of India Act, 1919, municipal institutions were finally released from the control of the district officers and the Indian political leadership became more enthusiastic about municipal affairs. Politically municipal institutions were important for a brief period of only 16 years between 1919 and 1935. They became active only until the passage in 1992 of the constitutional amendments by the Indian Parliament, which accorded constitutional status to local governments under a liberalized economic regime.
Municipal governance in India
The central government attempted to establish a uniform classification of municipalities throughout the country based on the principles of democracy. Though all urban local governments have common objectives and somewhat identical characteristics, the method of their constitution in the extent of delegated functions, powers, and resources available to them lend a distinct status to each category of local government.
The number of municipalities (i.e., municipal corporations, municipal councils, and Nagar panchayats) differs from State to State. States with a large number of urban areas have a higher number of municipalities. There are some States where municipal corporations and/or Nagar panchayats do not exist. Municipalities are constituted by the State government, which specifies the class to which a municipality shall belong under the provisions of the Municipal Act. For this purpose, the size of the urban population is the main criterion. However, in some States consideration is also given to other criteria, such as the location of the urban area and the per capita income.
Changes in Typology of Municipalities
|Earlier Classification (Before 1992)||Current classification (After 1992)|
|Municipal Corporation||Municipal Corporation|
|Municipal Committee/Council||Municipal Council|
|Notified Area Committee||Nagar Panchayat (Town Council)|
|Town Area Committee|
Urban local governments are governed by the provisions of the State municipal Acts. Every state has its municipal Act. The State legislature is empowered by the central government to decide on the structure, functions, and powers to be entrusted to the local governments. Furthermore, municipalities possess powers to draft local byelaws on various provisions for the furtherance of municipal administration. This is because each urban area has a distinct character. The byelaws are sent to the State legislature for approval. Therefore, a municipal Act is a comprehensive guiding legal document for the local government officials and the elected representatives, and byelaws are framed to further clarify the administrative procedures. In every State, two different types of Acts are generally in use – one for the municipal corporations and a common Act for the municipal councils and Nagar Panchayats. In a few States where several municipal corporations exist, the legislature has framed municipal Acts, especially for some corporations. The remaining corporations in the State are governed by a common municipal corporation Act.
Type of urban governments
There are eight types of urban governments in India.
- Municipal Corporation: Municipal corporations are created for the administration of big cities. A Municipal Corporation is composed of three authorities namely, the council (legislative wing of the corporation), the standing committee (to facilitate the working of the council), and the commissioner (chief executive authority of the corporation).
- Municipality: The municipalities are established for the administration of towns and smaller cities.
- Notified Area Committee: A notified area committee is created for the administration of two types of areas- a fast developing town due to industrialization, and a town which does not yet fulfill all the conditions necessary for the constitution of a municipality. As the name suggests it is created by notification and it is an entirely nominated body, i.e. all members are nominated by the state government. Thus, it is neither a statutory body nor an elected body.
- Town Area Committee: It is a semi-municipal authority set up by a separate act of state legislature for the administration of a small town. It may be wholly elected or wholly nominated or partly elected and partly nominated as provided by the state government.
- Cantonment Board: It is established for municipal administration for the civilian population in the cantonment areas (the area where military forces and troops are permanently stationed). It is set up under the provisions of the Cantonment Act, 2006 by the central government, and works under the Defence Ministry of the central government.
- Township: It is established by large public enterprises to provide services like municipalities provide, to its staff and workers residing in housing colonies built near the plant. It is not an elected body and all members, including the town administrator, are appointed by the enterprise itself.
- Port Trust: The port trusts are established in the port areas like Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, and so on for two purposes: (a) to manage and protect the ports; (b) to provide civic amenities. It is created by an Act of Parliament and it consists of both elected and nominated members.
- Special Purpose Agency: The states have set up certain agencies to undertake specific functions that municipal corporations, municipalities, or other local urban governments perform. They are established by an act of state legislature or as departments by an executive resolution and function as an autonomous body.
The area administered by a municipal corporation is known as a municipal area. A municipal corporation is made up of awards committees. Each ward has one seat in the wards committee. The number of wards in a municipal area is determined by the population of the city. The Municipal bodies are constituted of persons chosen by direct election from these territorial constituencies known as wards, in the municipal area.
However, the Legislature of a State may, by law, provide for the representation in a municipal body of persons having special knowledge or experience of municipal administration, the members of Rajya Sabha, Lok Sabha and the members of Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly of the State, representing constituencies, which comprise wholly or partly the Municipal Area. The state legislature may also provide the manner of the election of the Chairpersons of a municipality.
Empowerment of weaker sections of society and women by reserving seats for such groups is one of the important constitutional provisions of the Constitutional Amendment.
The offices of the chairperson are also reserved for SC/ST and women. Thus, at least one year, out of five-year duration of Municipal Corporation of Delhi, the office of Mayor is reserved for a woman, and for one year is reserved for a Councilor of Scheduled Caste. It gives a term of five years to the municipalities and if any of them is to be dissolved, it must be given an opportunity of being heard.
74th Constitutional Amendment, 1992
This amendment act added a new part IX-A to the Constitution titled ‘The Municipalities’ and a new Twelfth Schedule containing 18 functional items for municipalities. Some of the compulsory provisions which are binding on all States are:
- Constitution of Nagar panchayats, municipal councils and municipal corporations in transitional areas (areas in transition from a rural area to urban area), smaller urban areas and larger urban areas respectively;
- Reservation of seats in urban local bodies for Scheduled Castes / Scheduled Tribes roughly in proportion to their population;
- Reservation of seats for women up to one-third seats;
- The State Election Commission, constituted to conduct elections in the Panchayati raj bodies (see 73rd Amendment) will also conduct elections to the urban local self- governing bodies;
- The State Finance Commission, constituted to deal with financial affairs of the Panchayati Raj bodies will also look into the financial affairs of the local urban self-governing bodies;
- Tenure of urban local self-governing bodies is fixed at five years and in case of earlier dissolution fresh elections are to be held within six months;
Some of the voluntary provisions which are not binding but are expected to be observed by the States are:
- Giving representation to members of the Union and State Legislatures in these bodies;
- Providing reservation for backward classes;
- Giving financial powers concerning taxes, duties, tolls, and fees, etc;
- Making the municipal bodies autonomous and devolution of powers to these bodies to perform some or all of the functions enumerated in the Twelfth Schedule added to the Constitution through this Act and/or to prepare plans for economic development.
By the 74th Amendment, municipal corporations and municipalities (municipal boards or municipal committees) are now regulated in a fairly uniform manner in all the States. Thus, the 73rd and 74th amendments provide a framework for the States in respect of local government. Thus, each State has its own Election Commission which conducts elections to all local bodies after regular intervals of five years.
Each State has its Finance Commission to regulate the finances of the local bodies. Seats are reserved in the corporations and municipalities for Scheduled Castes and Tribes. One-third seats are reserved for women in all local bodies – urban and rural.
Reservation of Seats in Municipalities (Article 243 – T)
(1) Seats shall be reserved for the SCs and STs in every Municipality and the number of seats so reserved shall bear, as nearly as may be, the same proportion to the total number of seats to be filled by direct election in that Municipality as the population of the SCs in the Municipal area or of the STs in the Municipal area bears to the total population of that area and such seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in a Municipality.
(2) Not less than one-third of the total number of seats reserved under clause (1) shall be reserved for women belonging to the SCs or as the case may be, the STs.
(3) Not less than one-third (including the number of seats reserved for women belonging to the SCs and the STs) of the total number of seats to be filled by direct election in every Municipality shall be reserved for women and such seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in a Municipality.
(4) The offices of Chairpersons in the Municipalities shall be reserved for the SCs, the STs and women in such manner as the Legislature of a State may, by law, provide.
(5) The reservation of seats under clauses (1) and (2) and the reservation of offices of Chairpersons (other than the reservation for women) under clause (4) shall cease to affect the expiration of the period specified in Article 334.
(6) Nothing in this Part shall prevent the Legislature of a State from making any provision for reservation of seats in any Municipality or offices of Chairpersons in the Municipalities in favor of a backward class of citizens. Source: Constitutional Provisions Relating to Village Panchayats and Municipalities in India
Powers, Authority and Responsibilities of Municipalities (Article 243 – W of the Indian Constitution)
Subject to the provisions of the Constitution, the Legislature of a State may, by law, endow –
(a) The Municipalities with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self-government and such law may contain provisions for the devolution of powers and responsibilities upon Municipalities, subject to such conditions as may be specified therein, concerning: (i) the preparation of plans for economic development and social justice; (ii) the performance of functions and the implementation of schemes as may be entrusted to them including those about the matters listed in the Twelfth Schedule;
(b) The Committees with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to carry out the responsibilities conferred upon them including those about the matters listed in the Twelfth Schedule.
These may be called as deliberative or legislative functions which refer to:
Discussion and debates on general municipal policies and performance pass the budget of the urban local body, frames broad policies relating to taxation, resources raising, pricing of services, and other aspects of municipal administration.
It keeps an eye on municipal administration and holds the executive accountable for what is done or not done. For instance, if the water supply is not being properly managed, or there is an outbreak of an epidemic, the deliberative wing criticizes the role of the administration and suggests measures for improvement.
The Executive part of municipal administration may refer to the following:
It is looked after by the municipal officers and other permanent employees. In the corporations, the Municipal Commissioner is the executive head, and all other departmental officers like engineers, finance officers, health officers, etc. function under his/her control and supervision. In municipalities, the executive officer holds a similar position and looks after the overall administration of a municipality.
The matters listed in the Twelfth Schedule
1. Urban planning, including town planning;
2. Regulation of land-use and construction of buildings;
3. Planning for economic and social development;
4. Roads and bridges;
5. Water supply for domestic, industrial and commercial purposes;
6. Public health, sanitation, conservancy, and solid waste management;
7. Fire services;
8. Urban forestry, protection of the environment and promotion of ecological aspects;
9. Safeguarding the interests of weaker sections of society, including the handicapped & mentally retarded;
10. Slum improvement and up-gradation;
11. Urban poverty alleviation;
12. Provision of urban amenities and facilities, such as parks, gardens, playgrounds;
13. Promotion of cultural, educational and aesthetic aspects;
14. Burials and burial grounds; cremations, cremation grounds, and electric crematoriums;
15. Cattle pounds; prevention of cruelty to animals;
16. Vital statistics, including registration of births and deaths;
17. Public amenities, including street lighting, parking lots, bus stops and public conveniences; and
18. Regulation of slaughterhouses and tanneries.
Areas of problems faced by Municipal Bodies
- Election expenses and code of conduct should be better regulated and more powers should be given to the State election commission to do the same.
- The Municipal Councils/ Municipalities have restricted local autonomy as compared to the Municipal Corporations; with more pervasive state control
- Lack of Finance: Despite many central and state committees sitting and recommending better financial and administrative autonomy for the Municipal bodies, there has been no concrete effort from the legislator’s side to implement the same.
- Local bodies are created by state governments and therefore can be dissolved by them.
- The drawing of rural people and other city people to a place where there is rapid urbanization thus Law and order becomes difficult to maintain and slums develop leading to additional problems.
- Lack of consistent and coherent urban development policy, faulty and improper urban planning coupled with poor implementation and regulation are big challenges for municipalities.
- Lack of proper monitoring system results in inefficient and improper functioning of Local Urban bodies.
Conclusion and Suggestions
In November 2014, Observer Research Foundation in collaboration with the German International Cooperation organized a half-day roundtable discussion in New Delhi, titled “Municipal Governance: The Indian Narrative.”
In the opening remarks for discussion, Prof. P.S.N. Rao from the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi, enquired whether these bodies should be treated as the nurseries of political democracy or as organs of state administration. He observed that in most cases it is the state bureaucrats who control civic agencies, resulting in constant erosion of the functional domain of these bodies, irrespective of the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act, which tried to institutionalize them.
Prof. Chetan Vaidya, the Director of the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi, discussed three different issues. Firstly, emphasized an amendment to the 74th Constitution Amendment Act by way of including a definitive list of resources for the local bodies which would empower them to deliver services. Secondly, suggested for empowering them financially. Finally, he supported in-situ slum upgradation instead of full-fledged housing, as the former would be more beneficial to the people.
Mr. Ajay Suri, Regional Advisor at Cities Alliance, New Delhi, raised concerns regarding municipal governance. He finds no one in charge of the cities or anyone accountable to the citizens for the delivery of services. He suggested that even before worrying about tax collection shares, the fundamentals need to be reworked by looking at the entire institutional, legal, and financial framework of the municipal government. He suggested the creation of an urban forum in cities, similar to that of Peer Experience and Reflective Learning Network (PEARL), which can influence national or state policies on urban development while putting cities at the core of planning.
Giving the concluding remarks, Head of the GIZ Sustainable Urban Habitat Program, Dr. Regina Dube stressed on the need to bridge the divide between the bureaucrats and the Ministries, to facilitate better functioning of the municipalities. She insisted that the Indian government should facilitate the voice of the people in the cities by making them a part of the political process and debate, which ultimately impacts their daily life.
Thus the problems faced by urban local governance and the suggestions stressed upon to be implemented are quite similar.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Provisions under the constitution for local governance in India
- Need for reforms in the urban local government.
- Types of urban governments in India
- Development of local governance in India
- Provision for reservations in the Municipalities.
 https://www.orfonline.org/research/municipal-governance-the-indian-narrative/, https://www.orfonline.org/; Event reports; Nov 25, 2014; Municipal governance – The Indian narrative; by Manish Vaid, Junior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi.