Shimla, Aug 16 (IANS) The civic body in this erstwhile summer capital of the Raj — the oldest in the country after Chennai and Kolkata — is facing a grave financial crisis and acute shortage of staff.
The first and probably the last Communist mayors of the Shimla Municipal Corporation (SMC) blame successive governments for eroding autonomous character and financial resources of the civic body. They say the corporation has been literally reduced to a waste collector.
“The state doesn’t help us financially and this was a serious challenge for us in all these years,” Deputy Mayor Tikender Panwar told IANS.
“In fact, the strengthening of governance and urbanisation per se has been a reverse metamorphosis because the once powerful and empowered body has been literally reduced to a waste collector,” he said.
Panwar and Mayor Sanjay Chauhan, both of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), came to power in May 2012 through the first ever direct elections for the two top posts in the corporation that had been ruled by the Congress for 26 years in a row.
Now the direct polls have been stopped by the present Congress government.
“I don’t think we are going to be in the fray in the next polls (in June 2017),” Panwar said.
He said the CPI-M, which expanded its support base in Shimla, would contest the polls for the civic body but they as individuals would not.
The 25-member house currently has 10 Congress, 12 BJP and three CPI-M councillors. From the next elections, the top two posts will be filled by the elected councillors.
Blaming the previous Congress and BJP governments in the state for the fiscal mess, Mayor Chauhan said that at one time the corporation was a financially independent body.
“Its deterioration started when the government abolished octroi in the 1980s and the corporation has not been compensated for that loss,” he said.
Chauhan, who twice unsuccessfully contested the assembly elections from Shimla, said most of the public services like education, transport and health have been taken over by the government.
“The corporation’s autonomous character was eroded and all financial resources were taken over by the government,” he said.
He said the government had cancelled the collection of a “green tax” from the tourists to raise its income and also scuttled projects like plying of golf carts to check Shimla’s deteriorating environment.
In fact, he said, no regular appointment was made after 1984 and 169 posts ranging from engineer to clerk to food inspector are lying vacant, hampering provision of basic facilities to the residents.
“We don’t get 10 per cent of the tax what the state collects from this town,” Chauhan added.
In the past four years, the Left leaders tried their best to preserve and restore the rich heritage of Shimla, besides beautification of the town.
Planned for a maximum population of 16,000, Shimla now supports 236,000, as per the Census figures for 2011.
Blaming haphazard and illegal constructions for converting the once scenic seven hills on which the town stands into an ugly concrete jungle, Deputy Mayor Panwar said Shimla doesn’t have a master plan for development.
“Interim development plan of 1979 still exists in Shimla which is completely erroneous. I would rather say what is required immediately is a master plan to ensure systematic development of the town and adjoining areas,” he said.
Blaming government buildings for violating building bylaws, he said: “Many state buildings have violated norms in the heritage zone. Who is responsible for this?”
Panwar favoured a complete moratorium on new constructions to check mushrooming of haphazard construction in Shimla, which falls in seismic zone IV-V, suggesting severest seismic sensitivity.
He also questioned the inordinate delay in the restoration of the iconic Town Hall, the building constructed in 1908, and the beautification of The Mall, a favourite haunt of those out for a stroll.
The Asian Development Bank provides Rs 8.3 crore for the Town Hall conservation and Rs 23.7 crore for restoration and beautification of The Mall.
Even High Court Chief Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir said in October last year that he was not impressed by the cleanliness of Shimla.
“I belong to a hill state (Jammu and Kashmir) and have a special attachment with Shimla. I was under the impression that it will be one of the cleanest cities,” he said while flagging off a cleanliness drive here.
During the British Raj Shimla was one of the country’s cleanest cities, he added.
As per archives, the Shimla civic body was first constituted as a municipal committee in December 1851. Its first elections were held on August 26, 1855.
It was upgraded to a corporation in 1969 under an administrator and its first elections were held in 1986.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)