2023 GS2 Answer

Q. “The states in India seem reluctant to empower urban local bodies both functionally as well as financially.” Comment.

Question from UPSC Mains 2023 GS2 Paper

Model Answer: 

Urban Local Bodies

Urban local bodies (ULBs) are the institutions of local self-governance in urban areas in India. They play a crucial role in managing urban development and providing essential services to citizens. However, there has been a noticeable reluctance among states in India to empower these bodies, both functionally and financially. This reluctance is evident in the lack of devolution of powers and resources, poor capacity building, and the centralization of decision-making processes.

Lack of Devolution of Powers

The 74th Amendment Act of 1992 provided a constitutional status to ULBs and mandated the devolution of powers, functions, and responsibilities to these bodies. However, most states have been slow in transferring these powers. For example, in Maharashtra, despite having a progressive legislation like the Maharashtra Municipal Councils, Nagar Panchayats and Industrial Townships Act, 1965, the devolution of powers to ULBs has been limited and slow.

Financial Constraints

ULBs are heavily dependent on state governments for financial resources. They have limited resources of their own and are not allowed to raise funds independently. This financial dependence hampers their ability to carry out their functions effectively. For instance, in Uttar Pradesh, the financial condition of most ULBs is precarious due to the heavy dependence on state grants.

Centralization of Decision-Making

Despite the provisions of the 74th Amendment, decision-making powers in urban governance remain centralized in the hands of state governments. This is evident in the appointment of administrators and CEOs of ULBs by state governments, undermining the elected representatives’ authority.

Poor Capacity Building

ULBs often lack the capacity and skills to carry out their functions effectively. There is a lack of training and capacity building programs for the elected representatives and officials of ULBs. This leads to poor service delivery and inefficient management of urban affairs.

Political Interference

Political interference from state governments often hampers the functioning of ULBs. State governments often use their control over ULBs to further their political interests. This undermines the autonomy and effectiveness of these bodies.

Absence of Accountability Mechanisms

There is a lack of effective accountability mechanisms to hold ULBs accountable for their performance. This leads to inefficiency and corruption in these bodies.

Inadequate Citizen Participation

Citizen participation in urban governance is crucial for the effectiveness of ULBs. However, there is a lack of mechanisms to facilitate citizen participation in most states. This leads to a lack of accountability and responsiveness in these bodies.

Legal Hurdles

In many cases, state laws do not provide for the adequate empowerment of ULBs. These legal hurdles prevent these bodies from carrying out their functions effectively.

Conclusion

Empowering ULBs both functionally and financially is crucial for effective urban governance in India. However, the reluctance of states to do so hampers the potential of these bodies to deliver effective urban governance. The need of the hour is to address these challenges and ensure the effective devolution of powers and resources to ULBs. This will require political will, legal reforms, capacity building, and the creation of effective accountability mechanisms.

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