THE CITY’S hopes for a temporary deferral in water taxes were washed away today after the IMC General Council voted to raise domestic tariffs from Rs 60 to Rs 150 per month to bankroll phase three of the Narmada project. The hike will be effective from October 1, 2006.
Consumers who have paid water bills in advance will, however, be exempted from the hike and will be charged the revised rates only from FY ‘07.
Amid vociferous protests by Congress corporators, the General Council gave the nod to the Mayor-in-Council (MiC) proposal for an across the board hike in water taxes with minor modifications after a marathon debate lasting more than four hours.
So dominant was the water tax debate that other issues, including the contentious lease policy draft, did not come up for discussion at all.
Pandemonium erupted as soon as the hike was cleared by a majority vote with MLA Ashwin Joshi, leader of Opposition Suresh Minda and half-a-dozen Congress corporators storming into the well shouting “Paani Sasta, Khoon Mehenga”.
Immediately after declaring the proposal cleared IMC Speaker Shankar Lalwani adjourned the house for 20 minutes. Upon resumption only one more proposal, the construction of a shopping complex opposite Lalbag Palace, was taken up and Speaker Lalwani wound up proceedings after ruling that the matter be referred to the Town and Country Planning Department.
Cognisant of its importance both the treasury and Opposition benches turned out in full strength for the meeting held at IMC headquarters. MLAs Laxman Singh Gaud, Mahendra Hardia and Usha Thakur led the ruling BJP while MLA Ashwin Joshi bolstered the Congress ranks.
While matters remained relatively low-key during the question hour (actually, hours as it lasted more than 120 minutes after the meeting began at 11 am) things changed rapidly as soon as the water tax hike proposal came up for debate.
The treasury benches termed the raise ‘imperative’ and listed high costs incurred in supplying Narmada water, the skewed income-expense ratio (Rs 90 crore: Rs 16 crore) and the ADB loan preconditions in support of the proposal.
The Congress on the other hand ridiculed the attempt to hike taxes without first ensuring steady water supply and demanded that the tariff be revised only after Narmada-III became operational in 2009.
Ashwin Joshi, Suresh Minda and Ramesh Gagre all highlighted the high incidence of water contamination, irregular supply and demanded that the Corporation first spruce up supply before saddling residents with an additional tax burden.
With both the ruling and Opposition parties stubbornly sticking to their stands heated exchanges ensued. As the debate wore on, both parties abandoned attempts to prove their points on the basis of reason and logic and simply concentrated on out-decibelling each other.
Matters threatened to get completely out of hand after an argument between MiC in-charge of Public Works Lalit Porwal and MLA Ashwin Joshi degenerated into a slanging contest.
Bristling at being asked to ‘shut up’ by the MLA, Porwal retorted with “Teri auqaat kya hai (What are you worth) and this was followed by both the worthies declaring the other to be a ‘Chor’ (thief).
The duo finally cooled off after an admonition by the Speaker. Unfortunately for the City’s denizens the shouting matches drowned out the few voices of logic. For instance, MLA Mahendra Hardia’s proposal to constitute an inter-divisional Jal-Mal (Water Drainage) Board.
“The scheme will benefit not just Indore City but also Rau, Pithampur and Dewas (in Ujjain division). Therefore, it is unfair to impose the cost burden on IMC alone. An inter-divisional Board comprising Indore and Ujjain officials should be
constituted to run and maintain Narmada-III.”
Concurring with his suggestions Speaker Lalwani asked the MiC to prepare a proposal to this effect so that it could be forwarded to the Centre via the State Government.