NEW DELHI: With by-polls to five municipal wards slated to be held at the end of this month, tussle over the weak finances of the civic bodies is shaping the campaign agenda of the two main contenders — Aam Aadmi Party and Bhartiya Janata Party.
Problems with finances of the civic body is not new and dates back to the rule of Congress in the national capital.
Since the trifurcation of the Delhi Municipal Corporation in 2012, the situation has become worse.
Earlier, all the revenues were pooled in together. Now, the North and East Delhi civic bodies state, that due to the lower value of the property under their jurisdiction, the share of revenue has become much lesser in comparison to the South civic body.
“It is of utmost importance that MCDs become self-reliant for their revenue sources, although civic bodies are not supposed to be profit-making entities. But at least, they should be able to pay their employees and ensure that things function normally. That is not happening here. Depending solely on grants from the Delhi government is bad planning. An MCD should get its own house in order, increase the tax net, raise fees for various services. Only when there is political will, will the financial situation change” said KS Mehra, former Commissioner of the joint MCD, who has written a book on better management of civic bodies.
The financial mess of the corporations has on many occasions in the past few years led to mega strikes by doctors, teachers, sanitation staff demanding payment of salaries.
But the municipal corporations, mainly North and East which are facing a shortage of funds, have accused the AAP government of not releasing funds deliberately so that the cannot function properly.
On the other hand, the Kejriwal government has said that this financial mess is the result of deep-rooted corruption in BJP, which has been ruling the MCDs for over 14 years.
Recently, senior cabinet ministers Manish Sisodia and Satyendar Jain announced release of funds after ‘re-directing’ funds from other departments.
They said this was done so that at least the salaries of civic employees are paid.
AAP ups the ante
“The BJP has understood they just have one year. After that, the MCD election will take place and citizens of Delhi will throw them out of the MCD and elect AAP. The BJP leaders want to loot everything in this one year because they know that after that, they will not come to power in the MCD,” said AAP’s MCD election in-charge Durgesh Pathak.
The tussle between MCD and Delhi government has often landed up in the courts, where both have blamed each other for the mess, even as employees continued to suffer due to nonpayment of salaries.
“The Kejriwal government has released around Rs 1095 crore for the BJP-ruled MCD till today to pay salaries of their employees. He said that the BJP has entirely utilised this Rs 1095 crores in corrupt practices and distributed this money between their leaders,” alleged Pathak.
However, busy building its defence against the attack from the AAP leadership on MCD issues, BJP claims that the government still owes a lot to civic agencies.
Jai Prakash, Mayor of North Delhi Municipal Corporation — the biggest in terms of area, densely populated and poorest — is making efforts to increase internal revenue.
“The North MCD is making continuous efforts. For this, the corporation has rolled out an amnesty scheme for the citizens so that they can deposit their outstanding property tax. But the Government of Delhi has to release the remaining funds amounting to a total of Rs 1683 crore this financial year. AAP is just trying to create confusion in the minds of the public, as they have no achievement to show. They just want to be in the headlines by fighting with the municipal corporations and releasing only a part of fund,” said Jai Prakash.
BJP on the front foot
Last month, three municipal corporation mayors along with the senior leadership of Delhi BJP staged a sit-in protest outside the residence of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal demanding the release of funds.
The AAP had also conducted a Special Delhi Assembly session, just to discuss an alleged mega scam on office rent space between the South and North Delhi Municipal Corporations.
Kejriwal, during that Assembly session, attacked the BJP for the “black age” of 14 years of corruption and incompetence. He also appealed to the public to throw the saffron party out of power and give AAP a chance to run MCDs as well.
Recently, after the Union Budget, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia criticised the BJP-led central government for not helping Delhi’s municipal corporations.
“The BJP government at the Centre did not even give a single penny to the BJP-ruled MCDs, while it has given Rs 2 lakh crore to other municipal corporations across the country. During the last MCD election in Delhi, BJP had said they will route the money directly from the Centre to the MCD,” Sisodia said at the time.
The AAP government has often been raising this point, saying that if the Centre wants, it can directly transfer revenue to the civic bodies to solve the financial crisis.
Later, AAP leaders claimed that the Centre did not give funds to Delhi civic bodies since they knew that the local leaders are corrupt and that there is a chance that finances will not be spent on staff salaries but pocketed.
The three municipal corporations of Delhi receive their funds through various taxes like property tax, toll tax, tax through advertisement hoardings, tax on building applications and education cess.
A portion of the internal revenue also comes from rent collected from community centres, car parking, fines from cattle ponds and illegal slaughtering.
In addition to this, MCDs also receive funds from Delhi government based on the Delhi Finance Commission.
While the Delhi government says it has been transferring funds to the civic agencies, BJP says the AAP government has not been transferring funds as per the recommendations of the finance commission and even started a signature campaign in this regard a month back.
With the target being toppling BJP from MCDs this time, AAP after conducting surveys to find out the best-suited candidates for the five seats has announced the names. BJP and Congress have also named candidates.
“We are winning all five seats, the response from public is very positive as they are sick of the misrule by the BJP-ruled MCD since the past 14 years. In the next MCD elections, AAP is going to enjoy a landslide victory,” said AAP MLA Kuldeep Kumar, a former councillor from Trilokpuri ward which is going to have election on February 28.
Considered to be a litmus test before the main MCD elections to be held in 2022, there are new challenges confronting all the parties which have heightened political activities on the ground regarding the three seats.
BJP, during its door-to-door campaign, is talking about a deliberate attempt by the AAP government to not release funds and blame the BJP for it.
AAP, which is conducting Mohalla Sabhas across the national capital, is trying to highlight the ‘misrule and corruption’ of the BJP in the last few years.
They have claimed that people are sick of BJP for the financial mess in the civic corporations, because of which basic duties of sanitation and removal of garbage is not being done properly.