CPM to bow out of Shimla Municipal Corporation on a high note
As the term of Shimla Municipal Corporation (SMC) comes to an end on 5 June, the CPI(M), represented by Mayor Sanjay Chauhan and Deputy Mayor Tikender Panwar will be bowing out on a high note.
The two came to head the SMC after direct elections were held for their positions in India’s oldest and most prestigious local bodies. Despite the fact that Congress and the BJP formed the two dominant poles in the SMC as the two parties had won most of the seats from the 25 wards, the two won the elections, marking themselves as the people’s favourites.
For good reason: Over the past five years, the CPM says, its has been successful in providing an alternative model of governance - that too at the level of an urban local body when these bodies are seen as mere extensions of the state government.
“We have been able to demonstrate that the local body too is a people's government where basic amenities are managed and innovated,” says Chauhan.
A model tenure
There have been several achievements under their tenure that could serve as a lesson to other local bodies across the country.
Primary among them is the management of public toilets. “We not only made 25 new public toilets, but renovated another 100 that were in a pathetic condition. Today, all these toilets are well lit, neat and have an ample supply of water. Urinals are free both for men and women, while it is pay and use principle at work if it is used for soiling. We even have proper dustbins for disposal of sanitary napkins. Every complex has both Indian and western commodes,” Chauhan disclosed. The toilets also have a rating meter for feedback from the users.
Another major achievement has been regarding drinking water. Late 2015, Shimla was hit by a jaundice outbreak because of contaminated water. At the time, the system in place was this: the corporation was responsible for distribution; the Irrigation and Public Health Department (IPH) of the state government did the lifting and supply.
It was Chauhan himself who lodged a police case in the matter against the laxity of officials that had led to the outbreak of jaundice. Soon enough, the corporation stopped the supply from Ashwani Khud, from where the contaminated water was coming. It took up the matter with the state government, and said clearly that that the water lifting, supply and distribution should be with one agency.
“The existing set up was that of a milkman cow relation where the milkman could do nothing if the cow refused to give milk. When the IPH expressed its inability to do so, we took the responsibility. Thereafter we also got the pipes of the water scheme from Giri river replaced to plug the distribution losses amounting to eight to twelve million litres daily (MLD). The scheme has the capacity to supply 20 MLD. Now we manage an alternate day supply not only to entire area under the municipal corporation, but also the adjoining localities. We have also set up the Greater Shimla Water Supply and Sewerage Circle that is managing this. Our biggest achievement is that we stalled the privatisation of water that was almost done,” Chauhan disclosed.
He also claims that the SMC has been able to set a new precedent in financial management. “When we took over the budget was Rs 40 crore and now it is Rs 401 crore. Previously the budget under planned category was being used for non plan expenditures. Now this is no longer the case. We have also been able to give an annual bonus of Rs 1000 to every employee. Today, Rs 1.75 crore is being spent for development daily,” he said.
The Mayor agrees that there have been many things that have been left undone. “We were not able to constitute the mandatory ward committees. But this was mainly because most of the councilors were from the other parties and were not keen in doing so. We also wanted to run Pink Taxis run by women for the women since they have a lot of problem commuting in public transport buses. But the state government did not allow us to do so,” he pointed.
Complains from critics
Their critics point out that the CPM-led SMC functioned like an autocratic institution following 'pick and choose' principle when it came to taking action against violations. “They cannot shift the blame entirely on others. They should have taken the blame for the supply of contaminated water,” says a senior media person based in Shimla.
There is now a new challenge at hand with the fresh SMC polls having been postponed on account of large-scale anomalies in the electoral rolls.
The BJP is going to the town attacking the Congress for the postponement. It has alleged that since the Virbhadra Singh-led government is facing defeat in the Assembly polls scheduled for the end of the year, it has manipulated the postponement of local polls.
The CPM says that it was the first to have raised the issue of the flaws in the electoral roll. Chauhan says that he is in favour of polls on time, but the right of the people to vote must be protected. Polls cannot be held with people's names not figuring in the electoral rolls. He attacked the BJP on the double speak, asking why it has postponed local polls in Goa while talking a different tune in Himachal Pradesh.
He is also critical of the BJP having first brought in the amendment to the law during Prem Kumar Dhumal's regime for electing Mayor and Deputy Mayor directly and then supporting the Congress regime once again in amending the law to go back to the old system of indirect elections to the post.
The BJP has never won the SMC polls and had made the amendment under the impression that its candidates would win the top two posts in 2012.
“Why did the two join hands to amend the law again? Isn't it double speak when there is a talk at the national level about direct elections to the top posts of local urban bodies? There is even a private members bill presented by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor lying in the parliament. It is in this scenario of two political poles of the BJP and the Congress that we were able to give a new experience to the people. We gave them an alternate model of governance,” says Chauhan.