HT Special | Panchkula pangs: No work, all fight
It is a painful irony. In the last three years of the Bharatiya Janata Party rule in Haryana, Panchkula has bagged many big-ticket projects, including the 500-crore Ayurveda college and hospital, NIFT centre, a scheme for widening of national highways and so on. But closer to the ground, it remained bereft of bare civic necessities such as roads and bins.
Craters mark the roads here, often leading to accidents. There is a large disparity in civic infrastructure between the sectors populated by bureaucrats and businessmen and the trans-Ghaggar sectors. The residents of Kalka and Pinjore have to contend with filth as the MC is unable to requisition enough bins and safai workers for these townships. As if this wasn’t enough, the municipal corporation continues to spring rude surprises on the residents in the form of faulty house tax notices in bulk.
NOT FULLY EMPOWERED SINCE BEGINNING
Panchkula Municipal Corporation’s executive officer Dr Arvind Balyan says the city has been suffering because of the grossly under-staffed MC. “Our area stretches from Panchkula to Kalka but there are not enough foot soldiers and technical staff to plan and execute the work,” he rued. There is no disputing his contention as the MC is yet to be fully empowered despite its inception in 2010. But the rot runs much deeper.
POLITICAL BICKERING TAKING CENTRE STAGE
Just a year after then Congress chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s aide Upinder Kaur Walia became the corporation’s first female mayor, BJP swept the state elections and that was the beginning of an all out political warfare. It started with the Mayor disapproving the work of contractors close to local BJP leaders on quality parameters.
But what started as a petty bickering has now turned into an all out war with the Mayor blaming local MLAs of planting their agendas through government officers, and the latter accusing her of deliberately derailing development for her narrow political gains.
With this wrangling taking the centre-stage, important business has been lost in procedural delays. For instance, files regarding sanction of road projects or other development works have been pending with the state government for months now. There is no focus on staff recruitment, even as its responsibilities have increased after Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA) has several sectors to MC. The last serious discussion about city’s development was held in May 2016.
DECISION-MAKING GOES FOR A TOSS
The decision making has definitely gone for a toss. By the mayor’s own admission, she wrote over 300 letters to MC commissioner Lalit Siwach, who she claims is BJP MLA Gian Chand Gupta’s appointee, complaining about delays in development issues, even though he sits just few yards away from her room. He has long gone into his shell, not responding to her letters many of which attack him personally as well. The commissioner is often heard telling media that he has already requested chief minister for transfer and is awaiting orders.
Recently, he came under pressure after the Punjab and Haryana high court pulled up the MC for not doing enough for the area residents.
MORE RESPONSIBILITIES, LESS WILLPOWER
Earlier, the MC was responsible for maintaining only internal roads of the sectors but since December 2016, it has also been given the responsibility of developing new sectors and the external roads as well. Then there is the perennial sanitation problem in outer Kalka and Pinjore. “Till the time both the mayor and top executives set aside their differences and think of public welfare, we can never see development,” said S K Nayyar, president of Citizen’s Welfare Association.
PANCHKULA MC FACT FILE
The corporation was set up in March 2010 by merging the municipal council of Panchkula and the municipal committees of Pinjore and Kalka. After years of opposition, the municipal elections were finally held in June, 2013. A section of local politicians believe the merger was done to benefit the real estate lobby that invested heavily in the Pinjore-Kalka area.
Elected body of 20 councillors
The MC is an elected body of 20 councillors- 13 from the Congress party, three from BJP and the rest from INLD. The Pinjore and Kalka areas are covered under ward 1 to ward 7, while the Panchkula city area, Mansa Devi Complex and trans-Ghaggar Panchkula extension sectors, including several villages, fall under wards 8 to 20.
First mayor, a woman
Congress’ Upinder Kaur Walia emerged as the first mayor of the corporation. Her husband Dhanendra Walia is an influential Congress leader and preparing the grounds to contest the next assembly elections.
Was the MC a historic blunder?
Sector 25-based lawyer Hemant Sarin says the then state government made a blunder by expanding the MC limits merging Panchkula, Pinjore and Kalka areas. Several stretches in between have no semblance to a town. But since they fall within MC limits, everyone demands the same civic amenities. “MC should be divided into zones with a senior functionary taking responsibility for all works and complaints in his zone,” he said.
Re-carpeting of roads:
For close to a year now, three major road re-carpeting projects worth ~20 crore are pending at various stages of technical and administrative approvals. These include road from Sectors 7/6 rounabout to the Sectors 12/4, Bella Vista Chowk to the Sector 11/15 roundabout while the third project covers the road starting from the Labour Chowk to the dividing road between Sector 12A and Industrial Area, Phase 1.
Status MC commissioner Lalit Siwach said these projects are soon expected to be sanctioned by the local bodies department. The construction will start as soon as the approval comes, he added.
New cattle pound still on paper:
The stray cattle have a free run in Panchkula since the existing cow shelters are packed to the brim and new shelters are yet to be constructed. The corporation had proposed to construct a new shelter near Ramgarh to accommodate more stray cattle but nothing has come out of the proposal in the past one year.
Status Mayor Upinder Kaur Walia said the MC will soon take up this project with help of NGOs
Dos sterilisation contract not renewed:
The sterilisation of dogs is being delayed despite the panic created by the recent spate of dog bite cases in Panchkula. A helpline started by MC receives hundreds of calls from panic-stricken residents wanting MC to shift dogs from their area. The irregular sterilisation programme is blamed for the rising canine population here.
Status Executive officer Dr Arvind Balyan said the contract can not be allotted because only one bid was received. “We have referred the matter to the local bodies department,” he added.
Solid waste management project:
Though the MC is not the executing agency for the municipal solid waste management project, it is the worst hit in terms of managing waste generated in its area. The implementation of the project will streamline the collection and dumping of garbage.
Status HUDA wants to set up the project in Jhuriwala village near Sector 25, but the residents are opposing it and the National Green Tribunal is yet to take a final call on their petition.
“We are deputed here by the state government to ensure development irrespective of any political consideration. But those who are propagating otherwise, have their own political agenda,” MC commissioner Lalit Siwach on mayor’s charges
Politics should not hinder the development of the town. Just because the people have differences, the common man should not be made to suffer.
Sanitation and staff shortage are two main problems of MC. Kalka and Pinjore are terribly neglected. Saini Mohalla in Pinjore is the worst-hit.
--Satinder Singh Tony
No institution can work without positivity and people’s participation. The government is not concerned about providing space and staff to the MC.
All work in the MC has stopped since July 2016. Estimates are not being passed. Officials do not listen to us. The roads are in a mess.
--Ravi Kant Swami
MAYOR vs MLA
‘BJP’s vested interests stalling development’: Upinder Kaur Walia, Panchkula mayor
Why is the MC not able to perform well? I want development but there is a constant effort by local leaders of ruling government, including both the MLAs, to create hurdles in my working through their officers in the MC. The MC Commissioner has not responded to or acted on 300 letters I wrote, seeking his attention on important issues affecting the city and its outskirts. The development is being heavily politicised in the MC.
Some officials accuse you of blocking development over petty issues. This is wrong. The MC Commissioner has been clearing only those files which are given the green signal by his political masters. The city is short of over 200 sanitary staff. The commissioner has the power to appoint them by outsourcing their recruitment, but he is taking no action.
What should be done to run the MC smoothly? The government should appoint honest and efficient officers besides empowering the MC with enough staff so that it can serve its area from Panchkula to Kalka. if the corporation works well, it will only help the ruling government.
‘People are suffering due to mayor’s incompetency’: Gian Chand Gupta, BJP MLA
How will you respond to Mayor’s accusation that you are politicising development? This is rubbish and people will not buy her lame excuses. Mayor has been proved incompetent in using MC funds and has failed to maintain cordial relations with executives. In fact, she has a hidden agenda in stalling development and showing me in a bad light so that her family can prepare ground for next elections.
But don’t you think people’s welfare has suffered due to political wrangling? There is no doubt that MC working has suffered and unnecessary interference of mayor’s family members has created a lot of confusion. I only hope that she works for the welfare of the people and rises above narrow political gains.
Being an elected MLA, how will you ensure that the city does not suffer from broken roads and poor services? I have already held a meeting with the minister and secretary of urban local bodies department who assured me that all the road estimates sent to them for approval will be cleared soon so that construction can start .