Being India’s first planned city, Chandigarh has required minimal intervention for governance over the years. However, nearly 60 years into its existence, the City Beautiful is grappling with same set of developmental and existential problems that are the norm in unplanned urban areas.

Approaching elections have once again kindled a debate on what system would facilitate better governance for the city. Some stake holders believe the commissionerate system should be brought back, while others want a legislative assembly, or favour granting more power to the municipal corporation.

However, the drive for change faces the risk of losing momentum once elections are done with. As developmental and existential challenges mount for the city, experts are urging for the governance system to be addressed with urgency.

The city’s unique character as the capital of two states, and its status as union territory emerged after the re-organisation of Punjab and creation of Haryana on November 1, 1966. The capital of Punjab since 1952, Chandigarh was made the joint capital of Haryana and Punjab, and given the status of union territory under the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966.

While the Centre took up the reins of the city’s administration, the local bureaucracy, headed by the chief commissioner, took charge of governance. The commissioner was now directly accountable to the union government, with union ministry of home affairs (MHA) in control of UT affairs.

In June 1984, the chief commissioner was re-designated as adviser to the administrator, with the governor of Punjab taking over direct administration of the city as administrator.

Post UT- status, the supervision and involvement of local elected representatives in the city’s governance process remained minimal. In 1967, the UT got its first elected representative in the form of member of Parliament, and in 1994, the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation (MC) was created. Over the years, many civic and developmental works were transferred from the administration to MC. However, the bureaucratic stranglehold over policy making, implementation and finances continues to erode the power of elected representatives.

Ironically, while it is the political class that is usually blamed for slow decisions and implementation, in Chandigarh, it is bureaucracy that sometimes takes decades to implement decisions. Local businessmen, industrialists and residents complain that even simple decisions have been pending for years.

The upper echelons of city’s bureaucracy manned by Punjab, Haryana and UT-cadre officers, having three-year terms are perceived to be unresponsive, short on accountability and lack a connect with locals, a perception that only has gained strength over the years.

“Bureaucrats seldom seek local opinion during decision making and often override local objections to projects and policies. The MC has become ineffective with dependency on the administration for finances and implementation. Even within the corporation, the municipal commissioner (an IAS officer) wields decisive authority over implementation and finances,” said Surinder Bahga, member of the advisory committee on Chandigarh to Union ministry of home affairs, and ex-councillor, MC.

Most experts agree the governance system warrants change, but, differ on the scale of changes needed.

Setting up of a legislative assembly is a suggestion one hears from time to time. “Bureaucratic set-up, even if competent, is bound by several constraints. An adviser is no match to a CM or a state legislative assembly, in status or authority. The legislature via different channels is in touch with people’s needs,” said Malhotra.

However, Kirron Kher, Chandigarh MP, opines that a legislative assembly is not viable for Chandigarh. She said, “A better coordination is needed between MC and UT administration. The MP’s role is crucial in this aspect, as all officers co-operate with a good MP.”

Some think accountability and execution of policies can improve if major chunk of powers, works and funds are transferred to the MC.

The commissionerate system is another popular suggestion for effective governance. Harmohan Dhawan, former Chandigarh MP and AAP candidate for Lok Sabha elections, said, “Interference by Punjab and Haryana should be curtailed and the previous commissionerate system should be reconsidered.”

First Published:
Apr 18, 2019 22:55 IST

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