HT Explainer: There’s a lot to the parking row in Chandigarh
The recent hike in parking rates across 25 ‘smart’, paid parking lots in Chandigarh’s prime commercial places has ruffled many feathers. Even as mayor Davesh Moudgil pinned the blame on the babus of the municipal corporation (MC), saying that he was kept in the dark about the decision, the officers have simply been stating that a legally binding agreement signed last year is being followed. What’s the technical side of this mess, and who’s saying what and why? Here are some answers.
What is the row over hike in parking fee?
It stems from two consecutive hikes in four months. The charges earlier were Rs 2 for two-wheelers and Rs 5 for other vehicles, which doubled in December and also were made slab-wise. This meant, for first four hours, Rs 5 for two-wheelers and Rs 10 for four-wheelers; and then addition of the same amount every two hours. And these were doubled again to slabs of Rs 10 and Rs 20, respectively, from April 1. Further, double of these rates is charged in lots near three prime malls. The hike was done to discourage use of private vehicles and to provide smart facilities and better management. While mayor Davesh Moudgul, who took office this year, has termed the hike arbitrary, MC officials could not do much since the contractor was free to revise the rates as per the agreement signed between the firm and the civic body in June last year. There is no further revision proposed in the contract. The MC is elected for five years, and a mayor from among the councillors is chosen each year.
Who signed the agreement?
The agreement was signed by the then MC joint commissioner on behalf of the civic body with a director of the Mumbai-headquartered contractor, Arya Toll Infrastructure Limited, which was selected through a tendering process after bidding Rs 14.78 crore for the 25 lots. These lots earlier fetched a fifth of that when auctioned separately; and there were complaints of overcharging and other violations routinely. The terms of the agreement with Arya Toll Infra was approved in the MC House headed by the then mayor Asha Kumari Jaswal, also from Moudgil’s party, BJP in February last year.
What is the rationale behind the hike?
It was a decision of both the MC’s political leadership and the executives to keep parking rates high to earn more revenue due to the MC’s bad financial death. At the same time, the MC wanted smart facilities and better management.
What is new and ‘smart about the parking system?
Every parking lot has an electronic ticketing system, CCTV cameras, kiosks at both entry and exit, uniformed attendants, marking of lanes, signboards to display the rate list, and more, including an app for phones that can be used to check and book parking spaces in advance.
What are the irregularities that have been alleged ?
MC has already penalised the firm for various anomalies, including haphazard parking and attendants’ not wearing nameplates. However, as per the agreement with the firm, these violations cannot lead to termination of the pact, which needs stringent violations such as overcharging, that too several times, before the extreme step. The MC commissioner has formed five teams for regular inspection.
What is mayor's argument, And what do officers say?
The mayor has argued that this was “not the only provision in the contract”. The firm had to provide all facilities and make regular payments to MC — terms that have not been honoured, he said. He has already formed his own inspection team to substantiate his charge and announced to bring the issue in the next House meet. On the other hand, officials say that they allowed the hike since they were under contractual obligation passed by the House. They said the firm’s quarterly payment was late but it was recovered with interest.
What does the contractor say?
As per the firm’s local in-charge Sunil Badlani, they applied for the contract, based on the hike proposed by the MC. “If we had to run the parking as per old rates, with (nearly) Rs 15 crore in licence fee every year, besides huge infrastructure facilities, no firm would have come forward for this job,” he said.
Can the MC House terminate the contract? If yes, how?
Yes, the MC House has the power to terminate the contract via a resolution. However, the contractor can move court to enforce clauses of the agreement against any “one-sided” termination. The firm is all set to move court and seek a stay order if in the next meeting, later this month, the MC House calls for rollback of hike or terminates contract altogether.
What’s the politics behind the mayor’s objections?
First, with just about a year to go for the Lok Sabha election, the hike will go politically against the BJP, whose MP Kirron Kher played a vital role in Moudgil’s election as mayor amid bitter factionalism in the saffron party that dominates the House. Second, the decision of allotting these lots came in the tenure of Jaswal, who revolted against Moudgil before his nomination as mayor. Jaswal belongs to city BJP chief Sanjay Tandon’s camp, which is opposed to Kher’s and other factions. Any rollback can also lead to Moudgil gaining in stature as traders in particular have been protesting the hike.