Aashika Jain (Student of AMPPP Class 2023)
Deputy Commissioner, Mohali
I have been meaning to write to you. You have toiled hard to occupy the chairs in the Committee Hall and make meaningful choices for the city’s residents. You went house-to-house, pitched your ideas, garnered peoples’ favour, and here you are, in the saddle driving your city’s development! Every morning, visitors complain about a garbage dump waiting to be cleared, an open overflowing drain, or a water supply disruption. You listen patiently and ensure that the concerned official resolves these issues. While there is no denying that you are engaged in providing public services for your residents who look up to you to get their grievances addressed and their suggestions implemented, there is also a massive responsibility that you are expected to shoulder – and that is, to think beyond your ward and work for your city.
With the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Indian Constitution, the municipal body was created and made responsible for the upkeep of the civic amenities in the city–sanitation, water supply, sewerage, parks, roads, signages, etc., for which it collects property taxes and utility charges. The powers were devolved upon local area representatives to make decisions locally as it was presumed that there would be much greater precision in need assessment and problem-solving at the town/ward level. Accordingly, the municipal house was made to constitute ward-level area representatives, i.e., counsellors headed by a popularly chosen Mayor—the town’s first citizen. It is upon this house of people as the custodian of the interest of its residents to ensure that the city’s priorities are addressed primarily.
As local area representatives, while you must address the grievances of your residents, it is your utmost vital responsibility to ensure that the city’s concerns find a voice in your decision-making. If you look closely, you will realise that the city is being looked at from the prism of its constituents, i.e., wards, rather than as a conjoint entity. Therefore, while you all may wish garbage would be dumped away from your respective areas, you do not realise that your garbage will still be an eyesore in your neighbour’s vicinity and still be in your city! If you plan to lay interlocking tiles on five small streets in your area, the opportunity cost is the main wide road along the length of the city, which is starved of funds. If you decide to split all the funding received for horticulture among the fifty wards of the town, we will have an additional bench, slide, or running track in fifty parks but never a new asset for the city to call its own! If you compete to exempt your residents from all municipal charges, the city will have an empty treasury to serve your citizens!
Dear Councillors, it is time you realised you are members of the City Council! Your names will be etched in the history of this city as its curators! Just as India is a ‘Union’ of its States, the municipality is a union of its wards. As responsible leaders, you are expected to work for the city first because if you don’t, then who else will? The local body generates its funds from property taxes, water and sewage charges, other utility bills, and grants received from the government and other agencies, and is meant to spend them on development works for the city, such as providing better roads, parks, sanitation facilities, sewerage pipelines and other recreational facilities. If each of the wards is to be rid of solid waste management facilities, where will the green waste generated by your residents be composted? Where will the material recovery facility for dry waste recycling be located? Where will the Sewerage Treatment Plant be installed? Where to procure funds to maintain the City Park where you take your kids?
The convergence of resources can bring about a perceptible improvement in the city’s civic amenities. Identifying garbage hotspots and workforce deployment rationally based on need (rather than on the political weight carried by the local councillor) will improve our sanitation services. The Finance Commission grant would be much more beneficial if spent to build a centre of excellence for the city rather than splurge on ‘maintenance’ and patchwork of four disparate streets. Let us begin thinking of our country, state, and city as one unit! We must start looking beyond our narrow lane!
DISCLAIMER : “The views expressed in this blog/article are personal. Aashika Jain is a student of the Advanced Management Programme in Public Policy at the Indian School of Business.”
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