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CEO push for mayor power

Chennai, Dec. 19: Nandan Nilekani today claimed one reason why city infrastructure had not improved since independence was that chief ministers had refused to empower mayors for fear that they might become bigger power centres.

To illustrate his point, the Infosys CEO compared the role of the mayor in the aftermath of 9/11 in New York and 26/11 in Mumbai.

“Whereas after 9/11 you had New York mayor Rudy Giuliani holding fort and calling the shots, there was no sign of the Mumbai mayor after 26/11,” he said at a session on infrastructure at Pan-IIT 2008 at IIT Chennai.

As chief ministers wanted to control the money and power generated by large cities, they denied power to local corporations and mayors, which in turn affected urban development, he said.

“As citizens, we should demand more power to local governments and mayors as they would devote more attention and energy in developing their cities, being more accountable to voters.”

Nilekani said, historically, cities had been frowned on after independence because of the Gandhian philosophy that India lived in its villages and because the British had ruled from the cities.

“But after economic liberalisation, cities have been recognised as instruments of development and as crucial to the nation’s economy. Cities are important providers of economic growth and innovation and also dissolve castes and backgrounds,” he said, urging greater power to city administrators.

Chennai mayor M. Subramaniam would only say that he enjoyed more powers than his counterparts 10 years ago.

“In reality the corporation of Chennai, the oldest in the country at more than 350 years, cannot commence any project that is more than Rs 2 crore, though its total revenue for 2008-09 is expected to be Rs 1,278 crore,” a former deputy mayor said.

“For any project beyond this, it has to get the sanction of the state government.”

In spite of the financial cap, Chennai has been fortunate because five ministers, including chief minister M. Karunanidhi, have been elected from Chennai and have pushed infrastructure development.

“It is unfair to compare American mayors with Indian mayors since in India state governments have always commanded more powers than local bodies,” a municipal administration officer said.

“Indian mayors are empowered to look after roads and sewerage only, whereas the New York mayor administers all major services in the city — police, fire, public property and enforcement of city and state laws.”

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