The Thane Municipal Corporation – the civic body of the second biggest city in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region by population – does not deserve to continue anymore, and the State Government should opt for its supersession, as it is not inclined to perform its civic duties. It is instead, engaged in unseemly politics where the main intent is to corner committees and offices and bring in tainted corporators as nominated members.
This strong prescription comes from two facts.
One, though elected on February 17, 2012, the Corporation has not had a single business-like meeting of its General Body. The first meeting in March was postponed, and when it met again on Friday, the entire session was devoted to scuffles, wrestling, tearing clothes, and squatting on the floor with even the women members who are more than half the strength joining in.
And reflecting the angst of the citizens at the circus, one person from the visitors’ gallery jumped into the fray. Interestingly enough, the brawling corporators suddenly quietened, sent the interloper off to the police and resumed their unseemly squabble. The moral of that interlude is simple and clear: when they play their games, the citizens had better remain only spectators.
Two, since the power-sharing formula between the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party, which along with smaller allies are equally poised with a fifty-fifty shares of members in a civic body of 130 has gone askew, the next meeting whose date is as yet unknown, is unlikely to be productive, even in the business of playing politics, leave alone any meaningful work done with regard to the city.
To illustrate the confusion, let us hark back to March-end. With no Standing Committee formed despite a month-and-half of the elections, the Commissioner RA Rajeev had to deal with the Rs 2,275 cr Budget. Since the new fiscal was commencing, he was forced to announce it by emailing it to media offices. He announced proposals like citizens having to self-assess their properties to work out their property tax liability which politicians say was not what the previous general body had wanted.
But despite this, Mayor Harischandra Patil, Deputy Mayor Milind Patankar, Leader of the House, Naresh Mhaske who shared a platform where Commissioner Rajeev pressed ahead with his property tax plan, kept mum. One wonders what has silenced them. Is it because, given their preoccupation with tussle for power, they don’t give a damn? What makes Rajeev bold is perhaps the politicians’ weakness for ranking public interest above public interest?
There are other issues of both morality and law. Harischandra Patil, who had switched from NCP to Shiv Sena, has his very election as a corporator under a cloud because he is a municipal contractor/supplier and therefore ineligible. The names he and his party have suggested for nomination – a practice similar to Rajya Sabha to bring in independent and eminent people – includes those who are named in a probe report appointed by the State Government in the past – the Nandalal panel.
Appointed in 1998, the Nandalal panel probed irregularities and corruption in the Thane Municipal Corporation between 1992 and 97 and the report was published in 1999, formally outing what is common knowledge: large scale unauthorised construction, blessed by corporators and TMC officials. It named 54 corporators and 39 civic officials together, had between 1987 and 1996, skimmed off at least Rs 200 cr of public money.
Patil’s nominees include a couple from this honours list. Commissioner Rajeev has disagreed with it and the Mayor has threatened that he will ignore his objections; apparently, he has his obligations and the party has to back those who are needed by it. In the new rules framed by the State Government, the criteria enables public-minded citizens, including certain classes of retired officials to be nominated. Despite attempts to refine it, the government has left enough chinks for Patil to play around with.
Just as he announced that his Leader of Opposition – what an irony! – would be from the Congress, after a deal in which Congress broke away from ally NCP which has twice the strength in the civic body than Congress, Manoj Shinde was anointed using the use of a specious argument by the Mayor that NCP’s letter of being with Congress, even if delivered to his office, had not reached him.
Such depths have the city fathers fallen to; anything, any ruse to keep the loaves of offices to the favoured in the politics of power. He who rules the TMC shares its wealth.
Remember that Thane has already seen some political merry-go-rounding with the Maharashtra Navnrman Sena helping the Shiv Sena win the mayoral chair and then shifting loyalties to Congress-NCP because the expected support to get the MNS’s candidate elected Nashik’s mayor. Who knows what lies ahead?
Thane is a city which has problems aplenty. They include illegal buildings, on which politicians thrive, having developed strong links with builders; a partially functional municipalised transport system which was not even enough for Thane a decade ago while the city grows at about 30 per cent now; no additions to its road length, the inability to keep what exists in good trim, and the ultimate shocker: it does not have a dumping ground.
The civic body stealthily hides the day’s garbage collection wherever it can, including private lands, along the creek.
When weeks and months are spent in politicking, when even a resolution recommending a change of user of land so a car-shed for a mono and a metro could be built does not reach the Government’s Urban Development Department, when projects are poorly built and suffer cost and time overruns, what is the price of such a civic body?
The government had better supersede it, but here is a surprise: since the Congress has its man as Leader of Opposition, it will not. Also, because, it is engaged in a game of one-upmanship with NCP, it would allow the stew to simmer.
That means, the petty politics of Thane would be played out at a higher level, pixelated with the same principle: if you get what you, that is the party and its politicians want, why care for the public weal?
That principle is now shining in Thane. And the city could remain fraught for the next five years.