Why does Maharashtra not have a single elected municipal body? | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times

Why does Maharashtra not have a single elected municipal body?

Jan 04, 2024 08:30 AM IST

As the state heads to assembly and Lok Sabha elections this year, all of its 27 corporations are being run by administrators. Here's why

As 2023 drew to a close, so did the terms of two of Maharashtra’s municipal corporations — Ahmednagar and Dhule. These were the last two local bodies with elected officials. As of today, there is not a single elected body in all of the state’s 27 municipal corporations. This means that the total budget — a whopping 1,10,556 crore — is under the indirect control of the state government through its appointed ‘administrators’. Why did this happen?

The elected term of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the richest among all, came to a close in February 2022(HT File) PREMIUM
The elected term of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the richest among all, came to a close in February 2022(HT File)

Ward increase and restructuring

The terms of the elected bodies began to end starting 2020. Navi Mumbai, Kalyan-Dombivli, Vasai-Virar, Aurangabad, and Kolhapur municipal corporations started the trend. The elected term of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the richest among all, came to a close in February 2022. The terms of the last two, Ahmednagar and Dhule, ended on December 28 and December 30, 2023, respectively. The two newly formed municipal corporations of Ichalkaranji and Jalna are yet to face their first election.

When the term of the first five municipal corporations ended in 2020, the Covid pandemic was rife, and restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the disease meant that there was no scope to hold the elections.

Once normalcy was restored in the second half of 2021, the then Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, under the chief ministership of Uddhav Thackeray, began administrative preparation for local body elections. In November of that year, it approved the proposal to increase the number of wards in municipal corporations to match the rise in the population of cities. Accordingly, the number of wards in Mumbai increased by nine, from 227 to 236; the number of wards also increased in other municipal corporations. In March 2022, the government passed a law permitting the restructuring of wards, a right that earlier lay with the state election commission. Congress, a constituent of the MVA, alleged that the restructuring in BMC benefitted the Shiv Sena. Eventually, the MVA government lost the majority after the Shiv Sena split, and both decisions were eventually reversed.

The parties head to the Supreme Court

The new government under chief minister Eknath Shinde and alliance partner Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) scrapped the decision to increase the number of wards in municipal corporations in August 2022. So the number of BMC wards came back to 227. The ward's borders also reverted to what it was before. However, petitions were filed by people from both the ruling and opposition sides challenging both decisions in the Supreme Court. The matter is still pending and till it is decided, elections in the 27 municipal corporations cannot proceed.

Political equations at stake

It is unlikely that municipal elections will be held before the Maharashtra assembly elections, slated to take place in October 2024.

Political analyst and senior journalist Prakash Akolkar said that running local bodies through administrators without elected representatives is anti-democratic and unfair to the common man who depends on local corporators for civic amenities. However, the BJP leadership wants to win the Lok Sabha elections, he said and “does not want any kind of unrest within the party over ticket distribution before LS and assembly elections”.

“So it is unlikely that local body elections will take place before the assembly elections in the state,” Akolkar said.

“In local bodies elections there are many aspirants in each ward. The MP and MLA of the area can promise candidatures but in the assembly constituency, which covers six to seven wards, many local leaders [who did not get selected] would end up being upset and create problems during the assembly elections. So most MPs and MLAs do not want the local body elections to take place before the Lok Sabha and assembly elections,” an MLA with the ruling party explained the rationale, on the condition of anonymity.

BJP chief spokesperson Keshav Upadhye said that BJP believes in local bodies as it is where the new political leadership develops.

“Most of the big leaders of today have come from local bodies. In a democracy, new political leadership develops in local bodies. So BJP is in favour of municipal elections and believes that the state government will take appropriate measures after SC gives verdict in the pending cases related to elections in local bodies.”

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