Banglore debates for direct election of Mayor

Bengaluru got its 51st mayor. However, despite this `worshipful’ post ­ of the first citizen of the city ­ having been in existence for more than half a century, the role of the mayor of Bengaluru has largely remained a ceremonial one. The Kasturirangan committee report on Bengaluru’s urban governance released in 2008, had termed the post as “a one-year wonder intended only for a ceremonial purpose.“

Time and again there has been talking about revisiting the mayor’s role.The latest was in 2015 when the BBMP Restructuring Committee recommended a directly-elected mayor with a five-year term.

Need for directly elected mayors:

While there are multiple reasons for India’s urban woes, one of the underlying problems is the absence of powerful and politically accountable leadership in the city. Our cities have a weak and fragmented institutional architecture in which multiple agencies with different bosses pull the strings of city administration.

Currently, the head of the municipal corporation, the mayor, is merely a ceremonial authority and executive decisions are carried out by the municipal commissioner appointed by the state government.

An elected mayor with substantial powers of his own not only provides a single point for negotiations with outside agencies and investors but also ensures greater coordination among the different city departments and promotes decisive decision making.

A popularly elected mayor with a fixed tenure also offers more stability in governance as the person is not dependent on the elected members of the council or on the local or state level political leadership for his survival in office. A stable leadership can also afford to roll out long-term plans that will ensure major changes in the cities political and economic landscape.

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.

The municipal commissioner also, sometimes, becomes a 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.

If a directly elected mayor belongs to a party in the minority in the municipality, it becomes difficult to get other municipality members on board in making decisions. This was witnessed in Himachal Pradesh, which ultimately led to the scrapping of this system.

Also, a mayor executing projects will tend to gain popularity at the expense of the local legislator whose job is to legislate and scrutinise the performance of the executive. 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.

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