With MCH elections round the corner, many people are wondering what all this fuss is about. Roads will only receive periodic make-up, garbage will not be cleared and streets will not have lights. We will continue to wait endlessly at MCH office for simple services or shell out a bribe and people will be figuring out ways to avoid taxes for services they do not receive. The Mayor and Council have no real powers. So what can we the citizens do?
Let us insist on a link between our tax money and civic amenities. We can no longer trust MCH to spend our money wisely. It has thousands of employees who are not discharging their duties to our satisfaction. A vast bureaucracy, unending hierarchies and lack of accountability allow them to get away doing so little. Fortunately, the Constitution provides us an answer.
Article 243 S, incorporated through the 74th Amendment, makes it mandatory to have ‘wards committees’, consisting of one or more wards in municipalities having a population of three lakhs or more. The State Legislature may, by law, make provision with respect to the composition, manner of election etc. But the councilors representing the wards shall be members, and one of them shall be the chairperson.
People hate to pay taxes when they do not know where their tax money is going. One way of making municipal services effective is to make the ward committee a genuine instrument of accountability. Suppose a committee is constituted for every ward (about 40,000 population), this committee becomes directly responsible for all local civic services like garbage clearance,street lighting, and road maintenance and controls the employees delivering these services. The ward committee (WC) will also be responsible for collecting property taxes to provide services and pay salaries. The WC can retain all the taxes collected if it is located in a poor neighborhood and 50% to 75% if in a wealthy area, with the balance going to MCH. All decisions are made locally, and people know where their money is going. Employees are accountable at the ward level, and services will improve dramatically. Essentially, those who need the services control them locally.
Some years ago the industrial estates in AP were given authority to raise taxes, control local services, pay employees, and retain 70% of taxes and pay 30% to the Municipality. Things improved. We need such empowered committees. And if the residents of any ward chose not to participate, they suffer. In a democracy the ultimate responsibility lies with the citizen. The MCH law of 1995 provides for constitution of one WC for ten wards or more. The WC has only responsibilities and no powers or funds. This will not do. All of us should insist on ward-wise committees with powers, funds and control over staff. Stake-holders must become power-wielders. Only then can local government be meaningful