(Photo: HT)
(Photo: HT)

Why Indian cities need directly elected mayors

Direct elections of mayors would be a step towards efficiency in urban governance, suggests new research

As Indian cities grow in number and size, the pressure for better urban governance increases. However, Indian urban governance in its current form is fraught with inefficiency and mismanagement. According to new research, this is a result of the restricted executive powers mayors of Indian cities enjoy.

In a study published in the Economic and Political Weekly, Niraj Kumar argues that introducing direct election of mayors could improve efficiency in urban governance. At present, mayors are elected by city councillors who themselves are directly elected by urban voters. Despite being considered the political and executive head of the municipal body, mayors assume a largely titular position with the government-appointed municipal commissioner holding executive power. This leaves the mayor with little authority to influence urban development, planning and operation.

The author says a city needs a directly elected mayor for several reasons. First, a direct mandate from urban residents adds to the legitimacy and accountability of the mayor’s office. It would also resolve the power tussles between mayors and commissioners. Second, fixed tenures for mayors offer greater continuity as opposed to state-appointed bureaucrats who can be abruptly transferred. For instance, in the last five years, Kanpur has seen eight commissioners while Jaipur has seen six.

Finally, in the current model, councillor elections are held at the ward level and are based on hyper-local issues, which may not resonate with the whole city. A directly elected mayor would ensure a focus on the whole city instead of certain wards.

The author proposes an alternative model in which simultaneous elections are held for both mayors and councillors. This, he says, will result in democratic decentralization and greater efficiency in urban governance.

Also read: Directly Elected Mayors: A Step towards Democratic Urban Governance

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