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Three years on, promises made by Mohali’s first mayor remain on paper only

Stray cattle and dogs continue to freely roam the streets, there is no sign of any bus service and the city suffered its worst deluge in its history during the extreme rain event of August 21 last year.

punjab Updated: Aug 29, 2018 12:38 IST
Saurabh Chauhan
Saurabh Chauhan
Hindustan Times, Mohali
Mohali,punjab,punjab news
Stray cattle have a free run in Mohali despite the MC claims to rein them in. Here they graze in front of the PUDA Bhawan in Mohali. (HT Photo)

When Kulwant Singh became the first mayor of Mohali on August 28, 2015, six months after the municipal corporation elections, he had promised to make the city free of stray animals and water-logging besides introducing a local bus service. Three years on, these promises remain only on paper.

Stray cattle and dogs continue to freely roam the streets, there is no sign of any bus service and the city suffered its worst deluge in its history during the extreme rain event of August 21 last year. At 3000 dog bites last year, Mohali earned the dubious distinction of recording the highest number of such cases in Punjab.

Though the Mohali corporation claims to have reduced its fiscal deficit, the numbers tell a different story. The MC is running in losses. In 2017, it tabled a budget of Rs 138 crore with a deficit of 21 crore, while this year it cut down the budget to Rs. 128 crore and the deficit to Rs. 16 crore. The revenue from property tax is almost static at below Rs. 20 crore, with no efforts to collect tax from defaulters.

Manoj Aggarwal, president of resident welfare associations, Sector 68, says the MC has dashed all his hopes.

“Three years have passed since Mohali became a Municipal Corporation, butwe are yet to see any improvement in the city,” he said.

CL Garg, president of the Resident Welfare Associations, sums up the sentiments of many when he says, “The city lacks civic amenities. We face water scarcity in the summer and water-logging during the monsoon. Poor sanitation, broken roads... there are numerous issues.”

Political shenangians

The only change that the city has seen is in the parties supporting Singh. In 2015, he fought the MC polls as an independent, a few months later he became the mayor with the support of Congress, a year later he returned to Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).

A real estate magnate -turned-politician, neither politics nor Mohali is new to Singh. He contested his first election in 1995 as a municipal councillor of the Mohali Municipal Council. He was elected president of the council in 2005 when he was considered close to then chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh. Later in 2014, he contested the Lok Sabha elections from Fatehgarh Sahib on the SAD-BJP ticket and came third.

It did not come as a surprise when Singh contested the first election of Mohali Municipal Corporation in February 2015 as an independent candidate after his expulsion from SAD over differences with party leader Balwant Singh Ramoowalia. His support to several independent candidates in the 50-member house led to Congress supporting his candidature for the Mayor’s post.

But three years on, there is little that Mayor Singh has done to change the face of the city. The cattle menace continues unabated and the mayor’s ward is the biggest defaulter. It is common knowledge that enforcement officials are hand in glove with dairy owners who let their cattle loose to graze. Polluting autos continue to ply on Mohali roads as it continues to chug on without a local bus service.

Ever since the Congress government came to power last April, the mayor has been claiming that he proposes but the state government deposes. His proposal for a local bus service, he claims, is buried under heaps of files with the local bodies department.

Singh spent his first year planning and proposing some projects. The most ambitious was the replacement of the 40-year-old brick dart sewerage and storm water line in September 2015. A detailed project report pegged the cost of the project at Rs 50 crore and the state government agreed in principle but later it said instead of replacing the entire line, the MC should just replace the damaged lines. The project is virtually shelved though the mayor has of late been talking of reviving it.

Mayor-government tiff

Mohali appears to be held hostage by the Mayor’s changing political affiliations in a bid to hang on to the mayoral seat. In August 2016, he returned to the Akali fold along with his Azaad group councillors. The support by the Akali-BJP combine helped Kulwant to retain his Mayoral post. But his alliance with SAD pitted him against the new Congress government at the helm of Punjab in 2017. Local bodies minister Navjot Singh Sidhu made no effort to hide his dislike for Singh and openly accused him of corruption in the Rs 1.80-crore tree pruning machine order. The department slapped a show-cause notice on the Mayor and started the process to remove him. However, Singh approached the high court which quashed the notice.

Needless to say, civic affairs took the back seat as the Mayor fought his personal battles. As Aggarwal puts it: “ We are the receiving end of the Mayor- government tiff.”

It was only a month ago that councillors supporting him forced the MC house to discuss the issue of pending agendas. It was found that 55 agendas passed by the house were pending with the state government. The house passed a resolution deciding to move the court, if the government did not pass these agendas.

The civic matters are again getting the short shrift as Akali-BJP councilors are now ganging up to oust Rishav Jain, senior deputy mayor and close confidante of local MLA and cabinet minister Balbir Singh Sidhu.

Congress government not addressing crucial issues on priority: Mohali mayor

How will you rate your three years?

They were challenging but I am satisfied that I could make efforts to improve the state of Mohali. There were some political developments necessitated by time. My dream to make Mohali the best city is yet to come true.

Is your frequent change of parties the reason behind the Congress government’s sour ties with you?

It is quite common in politics. I was in Akali Dal and contested independently due to some issues. I did not join Congress but it supported me. Later independent councilors who supported me decided to return to the Akali fold. If the Punjab government is stalling projects in Mohali to take political revenge, it is unfair to the residents. Politics and governance should go along but never encroach upon each other.

What is the way out of this mess?

I wanted Mohali to have a local bus service and new sewerage, and stormwater line. We decided to order a multi-functional pruning machine but everybody knows what happened earlier this year. Though the state government is helping us in various issues, crucial issues are not being addressed on priority. I don’t think going back to Akali Dal should be the cause of government’s indifference towards Mohali.

You promised to make Mohali free of stray cattle, yet your own ward suffers this menace.

The MC is working to contain this menace. We have issued notices to cattle owners and lodged cases. You won’t believe it, but it took us more than ten months to register cases against erring cattle owners. Still, we are trying our best.

What are your future plans?

I have many promises to fulfill. But you know there is nothing certain in politics, so sometimes planning doesn’t work.

First Published: Aug 29, 2018 12:38 IST