Ahmedabad mayor elected as President of Gujarat Mayors Forum

Gujarat Mayors’ Forum, an initiative of All India Institute of Local Self-Government, strives to empower the elected representatives and municipal officials so that the corporations can improve service delivery mechanism and hence, improve the quality of life of their citizens

The first meeting of Gujarat Mayors’ Forum was held recently at All India Institute of Local Self-Government, Khanpur, Ahmedabad under the chairmanship of R S Chavan, AIILSG President. Bijalben Patel, Hon’ble Mayor, Ahmedabad; Binaben Acharya, Hon’ble Mayor, Rajkot and Adhyashaktiben Majmudar, Mayor, Junagadh attended the meeting. Ahmedabad Mayor was elected as the Chairman of the Forum till the next meeting. During the meeting, it was felt that more awareness is required amongst the Mayors as well as elected representatives, and therefore, there is a need of organising seminars/conferences, training programmes and research work so as to derive long term benefits.
Gujarat Mayors’ Forum will work to make its presence felt amongst all concerned officials related with urban affairs and urban development in the coming days. It will be a collective effort to rationalise the system and to update the procedures with the intent of making these people friendly, sustainable and environment friendly by accommodating the views and ideas of the people through their participation in the policy making and its implementation in an effective and efficient manner.

Objective
The purpose of such a forum is to discuss, deliberate and evolve new ideas amongst themselves and make strong representation to the competent authorities of State and Central Governments to realise their objectives by remaining within the constitutional limits, but expediting important projects for the overall progress of the cities and providing better amenities to the citizens in a satisfactory manner. It is also suggested to make suitable provisions for endowing sufficient powers to the Mayors for taking policy and administrative decisions, including financial powers.
All the Mayors of eight Municipal Corporations of Gujarat are the members. The President of AIILSG who is the Secretary General and Adviser has been entrusted with the responsibility to coordinate the meetings. The Mayor of the hosting city which convenes the meeting shall be elected as the Chairperson of the Forum till the period of the next meeting in a different city from among the eight cities as per the pre-fixed schedule. The hosting city will have the opportunity of gaining the valuable information shared by the other cities and support to make their representations with the competent State Government authorities. It is the responsibility of the Institute to facilitate the meetings and assist all the Municipal Corporations to take up the issues with various authorities from time to time and to provide administrative and logistic support, if required.
As a matter of fact, there is an extreme need of creating a sense of discipline amongst the civic staff by injecting knowledge with regard to local governance, urban management, urban development etc. Urban governance includes time bound responses to the citizens’ queries, timely decision making, addressing various complaints with regard to basic amenities and initiating new projects as per the demands and expectations of the citizens.
Urban Local Bodies are now under pressure from the people to mend their ways and to do something concrete for the people. The expectations of the citizens are increasing in line with income, development of science and technology as well as the changing way of life. Local Governments are required to provide basic amenities to the citizens and citizens pay taxes against various heads for these services. However, the quality of services extended to the people at large is short of expectations and the responses by the authorities to the citizens’ grievances are not satisfactory. Therefore, people are compelled to approach the elected representatives to redress their grievances. Roads, water supply, street lights, drainage, sanitation, healthcare, education, slum clearance and urban housing, etc. are the major activities being carried out by local bodies. The recent initiatives taken by the State Governments as well as Central Government for making smart cities and other urban issues such as affordable housing, promotion of healthcare for the weaker sections and quality education to be provided in civic schools, building quality roads and better drainage system are discussed in various forums.
One key issue faced by major civic bodies is the migration of people for employment, livelihood, education facilities and better lifestyle. Although migration takes place to meet the aspirations of the people, it puts pressure on the existing urban infrastructure to provide the basic amenities to the incoming population.
However, it is the duty of the civic bodies to provide them better facilities and plan out affordable housing schemes, persuade them to send their children to school, and carryout sanitation work, etc. In these efforts, civic bodies face financial constraints, lack of expertise and manpower shortage. While the main sources of income for them are civic taxes, these are not enough to take up large scale projects like garbage collection, its segregation, treatment of sewage water, beautification of the city with modern street lights, construction of better roads, and provision of entertainment facilities to the urban dwellers.
The development works undertaken by the civic administration from time to time are not implemented within the time limit and the project cost increases due to such delay. The citizens suffer due to non-availability of the services and are forced to pay revised higher taxes decided annually by the civic bodies. Such an atmosphere creates mistrust between the people, the elected representatives and the administrative staff which needs to be resolved through e-governance and by making the systems more transparent and accountable.

Significance of mayors’ role
The Mayor is elected by the majority party in the civic body and is supposed to guide the administrative wing; however quite often the effort is in vain due to the rigid administrative procedures and resource constraints of the civic body. As a leader and head of the elected body, the Mayor should have the power to allocate the funds for priority areas and settle the outstanding major issues on war footing. However, his power is limited and he can only suggest the points to the administrative wing for suitable action.
The strained relations between the elected representative and administrative wings result in delayed implementation of projects. Quite often civic councillors have to hear the grievances of the people in their respective areas and non-responsive or legal issues highlighted by the administrators on the other hand. Therefore, a mechanism is needed to sort out such issues with the involvement of people and taking up high-cost and important projects on PPP (Public Private Partnership) basis. Many issues have to be sorted out by Urban Development Ministry and Finance Ministry to provide funds for priority areas and accomplishing the task timely. To achieve this, there has to be a mechanism and committee comprising Mayors, Commissioners and Urban Development Ministry officials to study the matter and find out amicable solutions and initiate new projects with the involvement of people.
Therefore, the Mayor’s position has to be given due weightage with powers to allocate finance in a transparent and accountable manner, so that the basic amenities are provided and ambitious projects are completed in time. Though there are demands and representations by many civic bodies to empower the Mayors, a concrete decision is yet to be taken by the State Governments in consultation with Urban Development Ministry and Finance Ministry in this regard.

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