Local Government IV: India’s municipal bodies

Municipal Corporations

Municipal corporations are formed in large urban areas, and usually have one head appointed by the government who is the ‘Commissioner’.  The other head of the municipal corporation is the Mayor, who is elected either directly by the people, or indirectly from among the elected members of the municipal corporation.[i] Though the Mayor is the formal head of the municipal corporation, real administrative authority lies with the Commissioner.  Table below compares the powers of the Mayor in municipal corporations in various states.

Powers of Mayors and Commissioners in Bangalore and Kolkata
Bangalore Kolkata
Mayor Commissioner Mayor Commissioner
Presides over meetings of the corporation. Any power or function vested in the corporation shall be discharged by the commissioner. Presides over meetings of the corporation. Discharge of all duties vested under any applicable law.
General powers of inspection. Discharge of all duties vested under any applicable law. Can give directions for implementing projects he thinks are important. Assign duties and supervise the functioning of all officers and employees.
Can give directions to the Commissioner for the implementation of any decision of the corporation. Power to act in emergencies for public safety or to prevent damage to property. Prepare the annual report and be responsible for the custody of all records of the corporation.
Sources: Karnataka Municipal Corporations Act, 1976; West Bengal Municipal Corporation Act, 2006.

Apart from these two officials, some municipalities also have standing committees which form policies, and direct the functioning of the corporation.  The elected councillors recommend policies to govern the municipal area to the administrative organization led by the Commissioner, and have supervisory as well as financial powers.[ii] These powers are clearly defined by state legislations.  Among these powers are (a) deciding which taxes are to be imposed, and in what proportion, (b) formulating and passing a budget and raise loans if required, (c) formulation of bye-laws relating to water supply, building and construction, public markets, regulation and use of public streets, control and supervision of slaughter houses etc, and (d) preparation of draft development plans.[iii]

Municipal Councils

The governor of a state has the power to notify any area as a smaller urban area for which a municipal council must be set up.[i] Usually, factors such as the population or the economic importance of such an area are considerations for creating a municipal council.  Members of municipal councils are usually elected directly, and the number of members in a particular council is decided in proportion to the population of that area.[ii]The state of Maharashtra for example has created three different categories of councils with fixed number of seats for each category.[iii] Karnataka has also made such a classification.

The head of the municipal council is elected from among the councillors, and is called the President.  Though the president is the elected head similar to a mayor, his powers are much broader.  The president not only presides over all the meetings, he is also required to watch over the financial and executive functioning of the council.  The president is helped in the discharge of his functions by an executive officer usually appointed by the state government.  The powers and functions of municipal councils are almost similar to those of municipal corporations.  Municipal councils may also have to discharge duties under some other acts, which may be specified by the state government.[iv] West Bengal has created a Chairman-in-council for municipal councils, similar to the Mayor-in-council for municipal corporations.

Structure of local governments in other countries

Brazil United States Philippines Malaysia
Constitutional arrangement: Municipal government bodies are independent organs of government. Constitutional arrangement: Largely autonomous and independent municipal bodies exist either on a territorial basis, or are incorporated for specific reasons by the state governments. Constitutional arrangement: The country is divided into a number of provinces (states) and municipalities are subordinate to the provinces.  Apart from this, there are also chartered cities which are not part of any province. Constitutional arrangement: local councils are appointed by the state governments.  Urban local government bodies are divided into city councils and municipalities.
Elections: There is a scheme of separation of powers.  The Mayor is directly elected, and the legislative council elections are held separately. Different models: There are three different models of local government in cities: (a) Mayor-in-Council, (b) the Commission, (c) the City-Manager. Municipalities: Each municipality is headed by a Mayor who is elected directly.  In addition, eight councillors, and presidents of youth councils and local unions form the legislative council. City Councils: Executive power is vested with the Mayor, who is appointed by the state government.
Powers: Municipal bodies share powers regarding health, education, and infrastructure with state governments.

Primary responsibility for pre-school education and urban development plans if the population is greater than 2,00,000

Mayor in Council: The Mayor is elected directly, a legislative council for which elections are held separately.

The Mayor appoints the officials of the departments in the city, and has veto powers in some matters as well.  The Council passes ordinances, decides house-tax rates and allocates money among the departments.

Chartered cities: They are at the same level of government as the municipalities, but are given more subsidies by the central government to fulfill their duties.  They stand on their own and have powers to levy some taxes. Municipalities:Municipalities are led by Presidents who are also appointed by the state governments.  State governments also elect all the councillors.

  1. Primary source of revenue is federal transfers.
  2. Other sources of funding are taxes on industrial production, vehicle and rural property taxes, and short-term loans.
The Commission: Both executive and legislative functions are combined in one group of Commissioners who are directly elected.  Each commissioner supervises the work of one or more departments. Functions: Local branches of government are responsible for public health, sanitation, waste removal, and management.  They also have responsibilities with regard to town planning, and social and economic development.
City manager: A directly elected legislative council appoints a highly trained professional manager to run the administration.  The elected council sets the policies, and the manager implements them.
Sources: Various sources[1].

[1]. “Malaysia’s towns and cities are governed by appointed mayors”,  by Andrew Stevens, athttp://www.citymayors.com/government/malaysia_government.html;  “Mayors play the central role in US municipal government”, by Nick Swift, athttp://www.citymayors.com/usa/usa_locgov.html;  “A country of many governments”, at http://countrystudies.us/united-states/government-17.htm;  “Brazil’s latest constitution guarantees local government significant autonomy”, by Guy Burton and Andrew Stevens, athttp://www.citymayors.com/government/brazil_ government.html;  “State and Local Governments”, at http://countrystudies.us/brazil/89.htm;  “Local government” at http://countrystudies.us/philippines/81.htm.

[i]. See for example, Karnataka Municipalities Act, 1964.

[ii]. West Bengal also provides for appointment of certain members to the council. Appointed members and elected members are collectively referred to as the Board of Councillors.

[iii]. Maharashtra Municipalities Act, 1965. West Bengal has also done the same under the West Bengal Municipal Act, 1993.

[iv]. In Maharashtra, the municipal councils execute the provisions of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act.

[i]. In Karnataka, the Mayor is elected indirectly from one of the Councillors as per the Municipal Corporations Act, 1976.

[ii]. “Local government in India still carries characteristics of its colonial heritage” by Mayraj Fahim, athttp://www.citymayors.com/government/india_government.html.

[iii]. Karnataka Municipal corporations Act, 1976, West Bengal Municipal Corporation Act, 2006, Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, athttp://www.mcgm.gov.in/.

6 thoughts on “Local Government IV: India’s municipal bodies

  1. Thanks for the encouragement!! If there are some subjects you think I should write about, please let me know. I’ll try and respond.


  2. Hi,
    Great to see a post on Urban Local Bodies in this Blog. Having been researching on the same issue for more than a year now, i think this short write-up, especially the comparison with the foreign countries, is enlightening. Here are some links to what i have written on the municipal corporation of Bangalore.

    Click to access cbps.pdf

    Also read “What is BBMP?” in Page 8 of the magazine to know how a city corporation works

    Click to access citizenmatters_2010mar26-de.pdf


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