The issue of imposition of house tax in the city has kicked up a storm. In an interview with Kartik Kumar, Mayor Poonam Sharma laments not having been taken into confidence over the issue, the need to transfer more departments to the MC and plans of the civic body to improve sanitation in the city
How do you perceive the implementation of house tax in the city?
My understanding is that the administration should have taken all elected councillors into confidence before implementation the decision. I had proposed this to Governor Kaptan Singh Solanki in a meeting that he should have asked the councillors about the problems in their respective wards. But that was not to be.
The implementation of house tax is a setback as it is too high. I believe the worse affected would be those who have inherited large properties in the city and are now having middle class salaries. They would not be able to pay the tax amount. A major clause is that a majority of the ground rent would have to be paid by the people living on ground floors.
However, the worse part of this implementation is that serving and retired defence personnel have also been asked to pay. Only those conferred with gallantry awards have been exempted from paying taxes. This is unfair as a defence official may not have been hit by a bullet but they too have protected the border. They all have given equal sacrifices. Hamne unhi ko baant dala (We have segregated them.)
Further, the ruling says that for the passing of house tax, a file has to come from the administration seeking the Mayor’s signature. I was never asked to sign any documents. If the administration wants to do everything on its own, then I see no point of municipal councillors having any say regarding important issues of the city.
As a former advocate, I went through the contents of the house tax and sent a letter to the administration that there was no continuity in the implementation of the tax. The administration’s argument was that it had gone ahead with the implementation as the corporation had failed to do the same.
A recent government survey has ranked Chandigarh 21 in respect to civic amenities. In the preceding three years, surveys had put Chandigarh at number 1. What do you have to say regarding this?
I am still baffled by the rankings. People come to our city to see its beautification and planning. MC Commissioner, Bhawna Garg, and I discussed the matter and a call was made to the survey office in New Delhi. They informed us that the rankings were based on a survey conducted in 2014. They have not conducted any surveys in 2015.
In 2014 we had slums. There were open toilets. The surveyors would have seen colony number 4 and 5, whose inhabitants were relocated to the newly built EWS societies in Dhanas, which are provided with basic civic amenities. Four thousand houses were allotted to the EWS section, 4,000 more are to be given.
In the new rankings, we will become number one in India. Since there will be no slums, there will be no open toilets. In my perspective, that is the reason why we have been ranked poorly. I am also looking into the other categories which need improvement.
Another contributory factor to the poor ranking could be that people throw garbage in the open. We cannot depute sweepers round-the-clock, the residents need to become responsible. At times, people also dump construction material in drains, which leads to blockage of pipes. We are in the process of framing policies to eliminate these problem areas.
What steps is the civic body taking in the area of waste management?
A meeting in this regard will take place soon. I will be able to divulge the details only after that. I am very practical. I visit villages to make sure people are aware of waste management practices.
What measures are being taken by MC in the fields of primary health and primary education where the conditions are appalling?
I have a dream for these fields to come wholly under the corporation. What happens is that two (administration and corporation) parallel bodies cannot work together efficiently. The corporation is sidelined in maintenance work, while other key areas fall under the ambit of the administration. We lack doctors at the dispensaries, and infrastructure in schools is in a terrible shape. I had a meeting with the Adviser, where I told him that if the corporation be given charge of the primary health and primary education wings, then all powers should be transferred to the corporation for a better outcome. People will not have to wait for delivery of medicines and uniforms, benches will not be broken, and adequate toilets will be provided.
In spite of assurances from the Municipal Corporation officials and councillors, the problem of waterlogging persists every year. Is there any constructive solution to this?
First, the corporation officials have done a lot of work to ensure that the city faces minimal waterlogging. Despite the MC being short-staffed, the work is laudable.
I have asked the Adviser to hire more officials in the sewage department to ensure that the issue is completely addressed. Give me two months, and I will provide a solution to this matter. The next Mayor would not have to face this problem.
Any departments you would specifically want the administration to transfer to the Municipal Corporation?
I want the malaria wing of the UT Health Department to come under the corporation as our area councillors have to request the administration every year to spray insecticides. This leads to wastage of time and mosquitoes reach their breeding period by the time action is initiated. Thus, malaria and other diseases caused by mosquitoes cannot be prevented.
This city is working towards gaining the smart city status. What measures are being taken by the corporation in regard to same?
Most of the work is being done by the administration. The corporation has a minimal role to play.
The corporation recently released Rs 98 crore to the Punjab government for the execution of phases 5 and 6 of a water pipeline project at Kajauli. Repair work is being carried at the water works in Sector 39, which will increase the water output of the city.
Steps towards e-governance have been initiated; a newsletter has been released outlining the achievements of the corporation, and which also bears a column dedicated to the grievances and suggestions of the residents. A website of the civic body will be launched soon. However, it is too early to disclose the details of this website.
Following your intervention last month, a gambler was arrested in Sector 26. The incident also invited criticism from some quarters. What do you have to say about that?
I agree that it is not the job of a Mayor to take the law into her own hands. But I wanted to eradicate this gambling menace in my area. I would not profess any matter which would be in praise of Chandigarh Police. Par main itna zaroor kahoongi, ki Chandigarh Police soye nahi. Mayor jag sakti hain, toh aapko bhi sone ki ichah nahi rakhni chahiye. (I would like to say that the Chandigarh Police should not sleep. If the Mayor can stay awake, then the police should also not have the desire to sleep.)