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Thursday, 14 June 2018

The Hindu Editorial: The Missing Tiers

Mahendra Guru

Title: The missing tiers 

(The disempowerment and depoliticisation of urban local government has happened in multiple ways) 

Context:- Twenty-five years ago, the Constitution underwent what is arguably its most significant transformation with the passage of the 73rd (mandating the creation of panchayats) and the 74th (creation of municipalities) Constitutional Amendments. As the Central Government’s Smart Cities mission completes three years this month, it’s the right time to examine India’s tryst with municipal governance. 

Much has been written about the failure of States to implement the provisions of the 74th Amendment. However, it is important to examine concerns in the underlying constitutional design of urban local governments and the politics impeding this Amendment’s operation. 

It is also important to explore how urban local governments are actively disempowered and depoliticised as an institution. 

The disempowerment and depoliticisation has happened in multiple ways. First, elected representatives at the city-level are rendered powerless by making them subservient to the State government. 

In most municipal corporations, while the mayor is the ceremonial head, the executive powers of the corporation are vested with the State government-appointed commissioner. This disjuncture in municipal governance has been exploited by State governments to ensure that no city-level politician challenges their control over a city. 

An overshadowing 
Municipal corporations are further denied their political role by the continued operation of various parastatal agencies created by the State government. These may take the form of urban development authorities (which build infrastructure) and public corporations (which provide services such as water, electricity and transportation). These agencies, which function with a certain autonomy, are accountable only to the State government, not the local government. 

Central government programmes such as the Smart Cities Mission seek to ring fence projects from local government. 

This programme mandates the creation of special purpose vehicles (SPVs) for Smart Cities which will have “operational independence and autonomy in decision making and mission implementation”. 

It further “encourages” a State government to delegate “the decision-making powers available to the ULB (urban local body) under the municipal act/government rules to the Chief Executive Officer of the SPV”. 

Municipalities are not yet autonomous units that can be genuinely called as the “third tier” of government in India’s federal system. Even after the 73rd and 74th Amendments, India has effectively only two levels of government — Union and State. 

Future pathways 
The functions listed under the 12th Schedule — which a State government is expected to devolve to the local government — do not include essential civic issues such as urban transportation, housing or urban commons. 

Civic activism has often been focussed on the creation of two bodies mandated by the 74th Amendment — ward committees and metropolitan planning committees. However, an over-reliance on such semi-representative bodies does not augur well for creating a genuinely democratic city government. 

As cities struggle to meet the basic needs of their inhabitants, we must re-examine the existing modes of organising power in urban India. Unlike the 73rd Amendment which provides for three levels of panchayats (village, taluk(mandal), and district levels), power in urban areas is concentrated in a single municipal body (whether it is a municipal corporation, municipal council or town panchayat). 

Final Words 
However, as Indian cities have grown exponentially over the last 25 years, with some crossing the 10 million population mark, we must rethink the present model of urban governance that vests power in a singular municipality. 

Title: Green ambitions 

(Policy tweaks and incentives are needed to meet the renewable energy targets) 

Context:- In a surprising statement this month, Union Power Minister R.K. Singh said India would overshoot its target of installing 175 gigawatts of capacity from renewable energy sources by 2022. India was on track, he said, to hit 225 GW of renewable capacity by then. 

This is a tall claim, considering India has missed several interim milestones since it announced its 175 GW target in 2015. The misses happened despite renewable capacity being augmented at a blistering pace, highlighting how ambitious the initial target was. 
Technological and financial challenges remain: both wind and solar generation could be erratic(unpredictable), and India’s creaky electricity grid must be modernised to distribute such power efficiently. 

Meanwhile, wind and solar tariffs have hit such low levels that suppliers are working with wafer-thin margins. 

Manufacturers of photovoltaic (PV) cells have demanded a 70% safeguard duty on Chinese PV imports, and the Directorate General of Trade Remedies will soon take a call on this. But any such duty will deal a body blow to solar-power suppliers, who rely heavily on Chinese hardware, threatening the growth of the sector. 

There is also the problem of the rooftop-solar segment. Of the current goal of 100 GW from solar energy by 2022, 40 GW is to come from rooftop installations, and 60 GW from large solar parks. Despite being the fastest-growing renewable-energy segment so far — rooftop solar clocked a compound annual growth rate of 117% between 2013 and 2017 — India only hit 3% of its goal by the end of 2017, according to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance report. 

The reason? Homeowners aren’t warming up to the idea of installing photovoltaic panels on their terraces because the economics does not work out for them. Compared to industries and commercial establishments, a home typically needs less power and will not use everything it generates. So, homeowners need to be able to sell electricity back to the grid, which in turn needs a nationwide “net-metering” policy. 

Final Words 

Such challenges can be overcome with the right incentives, but they will take time to kick in. The good news is that even if India hits the 175 GW target, it stands to meet its greenhouse-gas emission goal under the Paris climate agreement. This in itself will be a worthy achievement. 

Vocabulary words:

Tweak (noun) = A sharp twist or pull, a fine adjustment (बदलाव)

Overshoot (verb) = To go further than the end of or past something (without intending to) 

Augmented (adj) = Having been made greater in size or value (बढ़ाना)

Blistering (adj) = Extremely fast, forceful or impressive

Hold off (phrasal verb) = Fail to occur (रोक कर रखना)

Implausible (adj) = Unlikely, doubtful (अकल्पनीय)

Tryst (noun) = A meeting between two people, especially secretively (गुप्त भेंट)

Constrain (verb) = Severely restrict the scope (विवश करना)

Subservient (adj) = Less important, subordinate (अधीन)

Disjuncture (noun) = A separation or disconnection 

Augur (verb) = Portend a good or bad outcome (भविष्य बतलाना)

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