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

Introduction: The 74th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992, aimed to empower urban local bodies (ULBs) in India to achieve democratic decentralization. However, ULBs continue to face challenges related to funds, functions, functionaries, and functionality. This has led to a reluctance among states to empower ULBs both functionally and financially.

Challenges faced by urban local bodies in India:

  1. Greater autonomy: State governments have devolved only a limited number of taxes to ULBs, resulting in increased dependence on higher levels of government.
  2. Devolution of power: Despite the 74th Amendment, there has been no significant improvement in the functioning of municipal corporations, leading to poor availability and quality of essential services for the urban population.
  3. Staffing issues: ULBs face a shortage of skilled staff, leading to inefficiencies in service delivery and governance.
  4. Poor cost recovery of services: Inadequate collection of user charges and fees has resulted in a vicious cycle of poor quality services and unwillingness to pay for them.
  5. Improper maintenance of accounts: CAG reports point out several lacunae in the preparation of municipal accounts, such as lack of budget preparation, accuracy, updating, and timely presentation of accounts by ULBs.

To address these challenges, the following measures can be taken:

  1. Enhance financial autonomy: State governments should devolve more taxes to ULBs and encourage them to explore innovative alternative sources of financing.
  2. Strengthen devolution of powers: The implementation of the 74th Amendment should be reviewed to ensure that ULBs are effectively empowered to perform their functions.
  3. Capacity building: States should focus on capacity building of local bodies to improve their functioning, as seen in Karnataka and Mizoram.
  4. Improve cost recovery: ULBs should focus on improving the quality of services and enhancing the collection of user charges and fees.
  5. Streamline accounting practices: ULBs should adopt better accounting practices and ensure timely preparation and presentation of accounts.

Conclusion: Empowering urban local bodies is crucial for effective governance and service delivery in India’s rapidly urbanizing cities. By addressing the challenges faced by ULBs and implementing the necessary measures, India can strengthen its urban governance and improve the quality of life for its urban population.

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