Government should hold a referendum on amalgamating local bodies, says consumer activist
In the past few months, the State Government has bifurcated and trifurcated districts. It started in January 2019 when the Government announced the bifurcation of Villupuram district, carving out a new district with Kallakurichi as headquarters.
Then followed the bifurcation of Kancheepuram district – the Government announced the formation of Chengalpattu district. And, now comes the latest – the trifurcation of Vellore district – Ranipet and Tirupattur being the new districts.
In announcing the formation of new districts, the Government said it was based on people’s representation for better access to its schemes, easy access to officials, offices and quicker devolution of funds.The Government had used a similar line of argument in carving out new revenue divisions or transport offices.
In Coimbatore too, the Government had formed new taluks – Annur, Perur and Madukkarai.
But when it comes to local bodies, the Government seems to be doing the opposite – amalgamate small local bodies to form a Corporation, just as it did in expanding the Coimbatore Corporation in 2010-11.
Then the Corporation included 11 local bodies – three municipalities (Kurichi, Kuniamuthur and Kavundampalayam), seven town panchayats (Thudiyalur, Vellakinaru, Chinna Vedampatti, Saravanampatti, Kalapatti, Vadavalli and Veerakeralam) and a village panchayat (Vilankurichi).
This increased the Corporation area from 105 sq.km. to 256 sq.km. and population to over 13 lakh (as per 2001 census).
In the run up to the amalgamation, the Corporation said the exercise would help in improving the infrastructure of the areas to be added (added areas) so as to bring it on a par with the core city. And, to assuage the concerns of the residents of the added areas, the civic body also said that it would not increase tax or water charges for five years.
Ten years on, has the infrastructure improved, as the Corporation promised? Not so, says K. Purushothaman, a former Corporation Councillor. “Prior to the amalgamation, Vadavalli residents received water once in 10 -12 days; now it is 9 – 11 days,” he says and adds that the comparison is true for almost each month.
In solid waste management, it is worse in that the quality of service the Corporation offers is poorer in added areas compared to the core city, laments N. Prabhakaran. “The number of conservancy workers in localities in added areas is fewer than those in the core city.”
Similarly, when it comes to redressing public grievances, smaller local bodies have and can do better than a bigger local body, he says and refers to his experience as a Chairman of the then Kurichi Municipality.
The voice of councillors gets lost when the size of the local body grows, says C. Padmanabhan, a former North Zone Chairman of the Coimbatore Corporation. “Smaller the local body, better the representation grievances get. And, in a bigger elected body it is as good as shouting in a market.”
In fact, the expansion of Corporation by amalgamating the 11 local bodies has brought new problems, says a former elected representative of the AIADMK, who did not want to be named.
For residents in added area construction of additional building, like first floor, is a problem as the plan for the proposed building has to be in accordance with the Corporation rule and this is not feasible in most cases given the fact that the ground floor was built in accordance with the then local body rules, he points out.
On a few other issues too the expansion of Coimbatore Corporation has not helped in that the government schools in added areas continue to be under the administrative control of the Department of School Education, with the civic body taking care of only the infrastructure.
The former Councillor Mr. Purushothaman says the State Government expanded the Coimbatore Corporation and upgraded and expanded municipality in Dindigul and a few other places to launch big-ticket projects, which was as per a World Bank recommendation.
The big-ticket projects involved 50% contribution by the Government of India, 30% by Government of Tamil Nadu and the rest by the local body concerned. But in the absence of adequate resources the local bodies tapped funding agencies leaving them in debt.
This is true of the Coimbatore Corporation as well as it had borrowed heavily under the JNNURM and Smart Cities Mission projects, he adds.
A Corporation officer says the civic body’s financial position is precarious in that it struggles to pay salaries.
Consumer activist K. Kathirmathiyon says if either the Central or State governments want to launch big-ticket projects let them not go by the local body or administrative unit but by the population within an area.
If the Central Government wants to select cities based on population, say for a metro rail scheme, let it fix the criterion as some population falling within a certain area and not select one local body or the other.
He further says that the right approach for the Corporation to upgrade local bodies from village panchayat to town panchayat and then to municipality and finally municipal corporation. Amalgamating areas to boost up population and revenue does no good to the people as unlike revenue divisions or transport offices, local body manages the every day needs of people – drinking water, ground water, roads, conservancy work, etc.
And, if the Government is still insistent on amalgamating local bodies it should hold a referendum, he adds.