The 74th Amendment to the Indian Constitution, enacted in 1992, provided the constitutional status to urban local bodies (ULBs) such as Municipalities and Municipal Corporations and mandated a devolution of powers and responsibilities to them to function as effective self-governing entities.
The reasons for such reluctance:
1. Retention of Power: State governments often perceive decentralization as ceding control and authority. Entrusting ULBs with more functional autonomy may be viewed as diluting the state’s own control over key policy areas and decision-making.
2. Political Considerations: In many instances, the political party or coalition in power at the state level may differ from that governing the ULB. This can lead to reluctance in devolving power and resources, stemming from political considerations and apprehensions about the rival party gaining prominence at the urban level.
3. Financial Dependence: While ULBs need financial autonomy to address the unique challenges and demands of their respective jurisdictions, most remain heavily dependent on state grants. Many states have not made sincere efforts to allow ULBs to tap into diverse revenue sources or bolster their financial capacities.
4. Institutional Capacity: There is often a perception, rightly or wrongly, that ULBs lack the institutional capacity – both in terms of manpower and expertise – to handle the devolved powers and responsibilities effectively. This becomes a reason, or sometimes an excuse, to retain functions at the state level.
5. Overlap of Functions: In many states, the functions between parastatal agencies (like development authorities or water boards) and ULBs overlap. Since many of these parastatals report directly to the state government, it becomes a way for the state to retain control over urban governance.
6. Incomplete Devolution: The 74th Amendment lists 18 functions in the Twelfth Schedule that states may devolve to ULBs. However, the word used is “may,” making it discretionary. As a result, many states have either partially devolved these functions or not devolved them at all.
7. Elections and Tenure: While the 74th Amendment mandates regular elections for ULBs, there have been instances where elections have been delayed. Moreover, the state government holds the power to dissolve ULBs, which sometimes is used as a tool to control or influence urban governance.
While the 74th Amendment was a significant step towards decentralization, its potential remains under-realized due to the reluctance of many state governments to fully empower ULBs. For cities to address the multifaceted challenges of the 21st century – from rapid urbanization and infrastructural needs to environmental concerns and service delivery – it is imperative that ULBs are given the functional and financial autonomy envisioned in the Constitution.