With just a year remaining for BMC elections, also known as the “mini Assembly” polls, political parties have started drawing their strategies. Despite Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress ruling the state in a coalition, the three may contest the civic polls separately. Opposition leader in BMC and Congress corporator Ravi Raja, who has been training his guns against Sena, which rules the civic body, speaks to The Indian Express about a range of issues.
Congress has renewed its aggression against Shiv Sena in BMC. Why?
Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) exists in the state government, not in the BMC. I am the leader of Opposition in BMC. I am clear that I will speak for Mumbaikars. In some cases, we have supported Shiv Sena. But of late, especially amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the party has stopped consulting anyone. Whenever we oppose what is not in the interest of Mumbaikars, the BMC (Standing Committee) chairman (from Sena) says – ‘humko upar se order aaya hain’. We don’t know who this ‘upar’ is, it may be CM saab, Aaditya sahib also. He has to clarify.
Secondly, in the first standing committee meeting in October, of the 600 proposals, over 250 were related to Covid-19 expenditure. They tabled for post facto approval. All were referred back to the administration and all corporators, including those from Sena, supported it. We wanted transparency. But two months have passed since and no reply has been received from the administration. Now they want approval for extra funds. How can we approve?
We have no objection to giving the money, we are objecting to the non-responsive nature of the administration. Shiv Sena is known for taking U-turns. Sena, which had backed the earlier decision to refer the proposals back to the administration, is now saying all proposals have been approved. This is a complete eye wash.
Do you think the renewed aggression would create differences between Congress and Shiv Sena in the state government?
MVA is a separate identity. It is based on a common minimum programme (CMP). In BMC, we don’t have a CMP. We opposed the property tax benefit given to hoteliers and hoarding owners. When your revenue is affected, why give such benefits? We opposed the waiver given to 5-star hotel Taj Mahal Palace. This is only benefiting the rich. This clearly shows that the ruling party is not concerned about the middle class and the poor. The CM is from the ruling party, what is he doing? Property tax waiver for houses up to 500 sq ft was approved but only one of the (eight) components of the tax is being waived. Somewhere, you have fooled the people of Mumbai. How do you expect us to go along with such a party?
After the recent ward committee elections where Congress supported Sena candidates, BJP called you a “friendly opposition”. Do you think this opposition against Sena started too late?
In the ward committee elections, where we did not have the numbers, we withdrew our candidate. This was done to ensure that BJP does not come to power. But that doesn’t mean we have given a blanket sanction to Sena to do whatever it wants.
On occasions, when we opposed Sena, why did the BJP not do the same? Because BJP just wants to play games… I will say this now and in future also, if Sena is trying to fool the people of Mumbai, Congress, along with NCP and Samajwadi Party, will oppose Sena.
Was there an understanding between you and Shiv Sena in the ward committee elections?
In the ward elections, we were offered three posts by Sena. But we refused. We will not share power with Sena in the corporation. That is the stand of the party high command.
Will Congress have an alliance with Sena for BMC polls?
Our new Congress president (for Mumbai) Bhai Jagtap has clearly stated that we will contest from all the 227 wards. I have also said the same. Our stand is clear, we will fight this election alone. We are a national party, our workers are there in each ward.
Many corporators complain that commissioners and other officials don’t meet them or pay heed to their issues.
After October, many instructions were given by the Standing Committee chairman to additional municipal commissioners and the commissioner but hardly anything was followed. In the past, commissioners used to provide answers but now they are not taking corporators seriously. They are answering only to Mantralaya (state secretariat) or Varsha (chief minister’s office). BMC has been totally decimated. Sena is responsible for this unfortunate situation.
As an Opposition leader, haven’t you failed to take on the commissioner if as you say he is running BMC on his own whim?
Standing Committee meetings have been taking place for the last three months. Thrice, Municipal Commissioner (Iqbal Singh Chahal) was called to the meetings but he did not turn up. Earlier, (previous commissioners) Ajoy Mehta and Praveen Pardeshi used to attend Standing Committee meetings when called. This shows he (Chahal) has become bigger than the institution.
Also, while the Standing Committee and other statutory committees have met physically, a physical meeting of the BMC House is yet to take place (amid the pandemic). A physical meeting will bring all corporators together and the commissioner will have to attend. It seems Sena also doesn’t want the meeting or else it could have requested permission from the state government (to hold the meeting). The Sena is happy with video conference meetings since the current set-up is beneficial to it.
Why is the Opposition not bringing a no confidence motion against the commissioner?
For a no confidence motion to be introduced, a physical meeting of the House has to take place. I have already moved a no confidence motion against BEST General Manager Surendra Bagade but it is stuck because no physical meeting has taken place. Most of the time when corporators ask for a meeting with the commissioner, they are informed that he is in Mantralaya. How will he give justice to corporators? The state should also think about this. Otherwise, the corporation should be dissolved… let them run it. This is local self-government and it has autonomy. The independent stature of BMC is in danger.