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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Why has Panchkula been without a House for more than a year?

The case that was filed in the first week of January 2018, has had only four substantial hearings over the span of two years, compared to the 12 times it was listed to be heard.

Written by Pallavi Singhal | Panchkula (haryana) | Published: February 3, 2020 4:57:30 pm
It will take at least another six months for a council to be elected due to its lengthy process, once the Court’s final order is out. (File Photo)

The final hearing of the case filed against the Municipal Corporation and the government of Haryana over the issue of the Panchkula MC bifurcation has been listed for February 3 at the Punjab and Haryana High Court. As the case comes up for final arguments on Monday, we take a look back.

Even though the High Court has not hinted at staying the MC elections, the people, Residents Welfare Associations, former MC councillors and MLA Gian Chand Gupta seem to think so.

A lawyer privy to the case, spoke to Chandigarh Newsline and confirmed that no such order has been passed. “No order has been passed to stay the elections of the city. However, a report was submitted by the government of Haryana, asking for the bifurcation of Panchkula Corporation into two, one for Panchkula and the other for Kalka, it was stayed and the Court had ordered that the government should not act upon its recommendation until a Court order is issued on the same,” clarified the lawyer.

Speaking to Newsline in November 2019, Gian Chand Gupta had said, “The stay (on the report to bifurcate Panchkula city and Kalka into two municipalities) by the High Court has stopped us from holding an election.” Meanwhile, others including residents, former councillors and even the former MC councillor Satinder Singh Tony, who has filed the case, seemed oblivious of the fact.

When informed about the same, former councillor and resident of Sector 12 A, Lily Bawa had said, “I was clueless about the fact. This is the first time I am hearing of it. In fact, I highly doubt anybody else knows it.”

Commenting on the state of a civic body without elected councillors, she had said, “Since the past one and a half year, the power of the civic body lay in the hands of two select people. There have been no checks and balances. Everything is done behind closed doors. Nobody knows what is being spent and where. There is no transparency in the MC. I am sure we will find the MCs account blank once we get the council back.”

The Municipal Corporation of Panchkula has thus been without an elected council for more than a year and a half now and is expected to be so for at least another year to come. In the Court’s hearing on November 11, while the case was further adjourned to February 3, it will take at least another six months for a council to be elected due to its lengthy process, once the Court’s final order is out.

Inception of the Municipal Corporation of Panchkula

The Municipality of the area was working in Kalka as a Municipal Committee and went on to be so, till Panchkula was declared a district in 2009. In 2009, a different municipal council for Panchkulka city was formed and two different civic bodies, a Municipal Committee for Kalka-Pinjore and a Municipal Council for Panchkula operated till 2010. On March 17, 2010, the state government, under Congress’ leadership, issued a notice stating the creation of a Municipal Corporation by merging the committee and council of the two constituencies. V K Kapoor and others filed writ petitions in the High Court, following which, on October 29, 2010, the court quashed the state government’s notification. The government then took the matter to the Supreme Court. On August 10, 2011, the apex court stayed the High Court order, pending disposal of the appeal, and directed the corporation to hold elections.

The court had clarified that the validity of the election would be subject to its final ruling on it. After a gap of almost two years, the first elections for the corporation, were held in 2013. On February 24, 2015, the Supreme Court upheld the creation of the Panchkula Municipal Corporation. The apex court said it did not want to disturb the corporation status as elections had already been held, and added that some people who had approached the High Court challenging the government’s issue, had also successfully contested the poll which included VK Kapoor and Seema Chaudhary (former councillor and mayor).The Municipal Corporation of Panchkula has only had a single five year tenure of elected councils, before being brought to a halt due to the case.

Why were the two councils merged to form a corporation?

According to Section 3 of the Municipality Act of Haryana, no municipality, comprising rural area or part thereof, can be declared a Corporation unless the population is three lakh or more. According to the 2011 census, the population of Panchkula district (which includes Panchkula and Kalka) was 5.61 lakh and that of the city, 2.11 lakh. It was thus necessary to merge the two, to make the population appropriate to form a council. The next census will be conducted in 2021, following which, new population will be defined.

When did the current High court case begin and how?

In December 2017, the then MLA of Kalka, Latika Sharma wrote to the Chief Minister to exclude Pinjore and Kalka from the Municipal Corporation of Panchkula, which had earlier been included to constitute the Municipal Corporation, Panchkula. She had suggested that the Municipal Council/ Municipal Committee for Pinjore/Kalka be restored as earlier. It was considered that Panchkula will have a separate Municipal Corporation of its own, based on the population decennial growth rate from the last two census.

As per the 2001 and the 2011 census, the population of the city was 2.24 lakh and 2.67 lakh respectively. The projected population of this area, as on March 1, 2017 based on the decennial growth rate between the two census was estimated to stand at 3.31 lakhs. The current High Court case, was then filed by a former councillor from Pinjore, Satinder Singh Tony, against this. A part of the petition filed against the move, taking into consideration the population and it’s meaning, states, “‘Population’ means the population ascertained at the last preceding census of which the relevant figures have been published.”

Tony had sought the quashing of a report submitted by a government committee which recommended the separation of Kalka and Pinjore areas from the Municipal Corporation. Tony had alleged that the then Kalka MLA Latika Sharma for “reasons best known to her” had written to the Chief Minister for exclusion of the areas of Pinjore and Kalka from the Municipal Corporation Panchkula following which the Directorate of the Urban Local Bodies asked the Commissioner Ambala Division to get the matter examined by a committee of officials. The committee had recommended that the Panchkula area, including the 21 villages and erstwhile Panchkula Muncipal Corporation, should be separated from Kalka and Pinjore, adding the two areas should be constituted as one Muncipal Council. “The Kalka and Pinjore area may be constituted as one Muncipal Council and the remaining area of the existing Muncipal Corporation Panchkula (Panchkula area) may be retained as Muncipal Corporation,” it said in the report.

What is the status of the case?

The case that was filed in the first week of January 2018, has had only four substantial hearings over the span of two years, compared to the 12 times it was listed to be heard. No major hearings have taken place during these four sessions as well and only replies have been filed at each. The High Court had earlier fixed the hearing for final disposal on November 16, 2019. However, no hearing took place on the date and the matter was simply adjourned to February 3, 2020. There has not been any application for pre-ponement in the case.

What can be done?

An application to take the case on urgent hearing or priority basis can be filed, citing that the district’s elections have been held up due to the on-going court case can be filed by the government including the department of Urban Local Bodies of Panchkula or the MLA of Panchkula.

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