Amid a tussle with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over seat-sharing, the Shiv Sena continued its spree of promising freebies to voters ahead of the elections, targeting Thane residents this time around.
The glossy list of poll promises includes exemptions and rebates on property tax, a health scheme, a new dam, a 30-acre central park and a stadium.
In a repeat of his performance in Mumbai last week, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray promised to waive property tax for houses of up to 500 sq ft carpet area, and heavily discount tax for houses of up to 700 sq ft in the municipal council limits of Thane and Ulhasnagar. On Sunday, Thackeray said that if he was voted to power, houses larger than 700 sq ft located in societies that undertake activities such as rainwater harvesting would get incentives. He also promised a free health-care services scheme to those who do not qualify for the state government’s health-care schemes.
The subtext of Thackeray’s promises was that the Sena was ready to contest polls solo, without its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“Along with Mumbaiites, Thane residents too have stood firmly behind the Shiv Sena. In these days of uncertainty, when distress can suddenly befall people, the Shiv Sena wants to provide them with some respite and affirm that we will always work in their interest. I fulfilled all the promises I had made till now,” Thackeray said.
The Sena chief had earlier assured Mumbaiites of property tax rebates and a health services scheme. It sparked off a freebie war, as the BJP took credit for coming up with the idea of exempting small home owners from property tax. The BJP then upped the ante by promising to waive street tax.
Promising to release a full manifesto for Mumbai soon, Thackeray promised school children in uniform free travel in BEST buses. He also promised insurance cover to BEST employees, similar to the one Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) employees have.
Thackeray said he would build an independent dam for Thane, similar to how the BMC built the Middle Vaitarna dam for Mumbai.
“Thane’s water supply situation is bleak. If water continues to be mismanaged, in a few years, the area will suffer in the same way Marathwada is suffering today. The BMC could complete the Middle Vaitarna dam in 3.5 years, but the Union government took 10 years for clearances. We appeal to the state and Union governments to fast-track approvals for the dam in Thane,” said Thackeray.
The Shiv Sena chief said a central park at Kolshet would be built and equipped with an amphitheatre, walking and jogging tracks and a tree park. The party promised to recreate Singapore’s Marina Bay at Kharegaon chowpatty. It has also promised Thane traders exemption from cleanliness tax, and assured residents of a large sports complex and stadium at Ghodbunder Road.
The Shiv Sena has dominated the Thane Municipal Corporation since it was founded in 1982. It has been in power for three consecutive terms. Mumbai and Thane are considered to be the party’s bastions, which it will guard fiercely, leaving no stone unturned. With pre-poll talks with the BJP stuck over disagreements, especially in Mumbai, both parties are preparing to contest independently if the alliance falls through.
Thackeray refrained from commenting on the alliance talks. “I have neither received a proposal, nor has the BJP contacted me,” he said.
Shiv Sena leaders Anil Desai, Anil Parab and Ravindra Mirlekar have been negotiating a seat-sharing deal with the BJP. The talks reached a stalemate on Saturday, with the BJP demanding 114 of the BMC’s 227 seats and the Shiv Sena unwilling to part with more than 60, lower than the 63 that it had given the BJP in the 2012 polls.
With the BMC polls scheduled for February 21, Thackeray declined to comment on the date by which the seat-sharing issue would be resolved.
“We were given several deadlines after demonetisation, but not all were met,” Thackeray said.