Thursday, December 9, 2021

Where do you think Citizen is at the centre: Panchayat or Municipality?

Lately, lots of Panchayats and Municipalities elections are becoming front-page news, more so if AAP or Congress do well in some dusty hamlets. An educated guess of course is you might not have visited either though I won’t put it beyond you to know that one is for rural and the other for urban local governance. 

Now below is not to embarrass you but kind of early brush-up to this piece, and we begin with Saddi Dilli. 

a) 5 different Municipalties, 3 from the MCD known as South, North and East Delhi Municipal Corporations (SDMC, EDMC and NDMC-MCD), one in the centre called the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (also known as NDMC) and another one known as the Delhi Cantonment Board (DCB). 

b) Delhi has 23 Delhi Police “Districts”, but for Judicial purposes, Delhi has 11 “Districts”. 

c) For elections to Parliament, Delhi is divided into 7 different constituencies.

d) There are multiple agencies that “own” or “control” common lands in Delhi and the debate is on whether they are “public spaces/places” or not.

e) Sewage does not respect these artificial “borders”, nor does the flow of water, and most certainly air-quality or the lack thereof travels to and fro without demur.

f) Going across all these divisions are the Delhi Jal Board for water and the Electricity agencies.

g) And God alone can help you if you try to disentangle yourself from documentation pertaining to anything that involves all these agencies and authorities who pretend to run our lives.

I come under South Delhi Municipal Corporation in Delhi, controlling probably the costliest real estate anywhere in non-Coastal India. The SDMC, in turn, was one of three offspring born out of the older Municipal Corporation of India. And therein lies the root of the multiple issues that the little city-state of Delhi faces.

Please try making sense of all this as a resident of Delhi. Filling up a simple form for, say, PAN Card or Aadhaar or motor vehicle registration requires the skills of Kafka and Chanakya put together. The existentialist question in Delhi is not “Who am I” but “Where am I”. There are multiple hubs around which power and authority rotate and the Citizen is crushed through them as grain is through a series of grinders.


Are you an urban Indian who also has a life in rural India, either ancestral or through evolution, and in the bargain are an observer of the difference between Municipalities in one segment and Panchayat in another? For multiple reasons, I am part of both, and a keen participating observer of Municipalities in Delhi, Bengaluru and Mumbai, as well as an equally keen participating observer of Panchayats in Goa, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Bihar and Kerala. In addition, I receive first point feedback on Panchayats from Indians in Uttarkhand, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. Goa, in my estimation, is way ahead of many other parts of India – one big reason for that the feudal and colonial baggage of the British never really messed this part of India up as much as other parts.

The last one year has seen much of these observations go online, rural and urban, and the sheer change in both is not just amazing but also an example of what my friend Om Malik calls the “Present Future“, described best as “if you pay enough attention, you can see the future. You can learn, adapt, and be ready for a world reshaped by science and technology.” Today, more than ever, I can see the “Present Future” in non-Municipality India, which is mostly Panchayats, but also Cantonment Boards and some other small elected and selected governance modules.

So what is it about Panchayats that makes them a better bet than Municipalties for the “Present Future”? While the obvious elephant in the room is that Municipalities in most of India are still enmeshed in a master-slave or ruler-ruled overlord-native kind of time-warp for the benefit of the Babu and the Neta, Panchayats are increasingly more about governance by sensible consensus for larger social benefit across most segments of society therein. The term “public servant” in a Municipality is either a  joke or a patronising broad brush; the term “public servant” in a Panchayat is exactly what it says and means.

In a municipality, it is different, the “officials” who form the municipality are little overlords, direct descendants of the various invaders who arrived over India’s mountains and alongside India’s shores. Their wide assortment of complex rules, regulations, policies and penalties were designed more for foreign rulers to keep a tight grip over the natives who lived outside their forts and cantonments. The proof can be seen in the way those Laws are still retained – as well as often the unchanged names of the habitats reflecting and reminding us of our slavery. Just read the fine print here, for example, the richest Municipality in India. 

By contrast, in a village Panchayat, everything happens at one location and then onwards in a hub and spoke manner – with the Citizen and her Panchayat at the centre of the hub.

Do I need to say any more?

Veeresh Malik was a seafarer. And a lot more besides. A decade in facial biometrics, which took him into the world of finance, gaming, preventive defence and money laundering before the subliminal mind management technology blew his brains out. His romance with the media endures since 1994, duly responded by Outlook, among others.

A survivor of two brain-strokes, triggered by a ship explosion in the 70s, Veeresh moved beyond fear decades ago.



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