Shimla: As debt strapped Shimla municipality gears up to elect a new lady mayor, the corporation which once boasted of a budget surplus and used to even loan funds to a municipality like Bombay is today reduced to living on government largesse as its authority and tax collections have eroded over the years.
With union steel minister Virbhadra Singh in the city for the day, lobbying for the mayors and deputy mayors position has got intense as the corporation with 25 elected members and three nominated prepares to hold an election on Friday (4th December).
The Mayorâ€™s chair that in mid-term passes on by rotation, has the position reserved for a woman councilor this time around. With 15 elected members, congress that forms the largest group has six woman councilors. Among them, at least four are eyeing the first citizen position of the city, while for the deputy mayor post, besides the current one there are two others in the fray.
The women councilors in the fray for the mayorâ€™s position are Madhu Sood, Usha Lakhanpal, Seema Chauhan and Kusum Thakur whereas for the deputy mayor post, Harish Janartha makes a re-bid and those challenging him are Sudhir Azad and Jitender Chaudhary.
A lady councilor confided, â€œwith no clear directions from the party, it has become chaotic and different groups are jostling to get elected.â€
Itâ€™s not holding the mayorâ€™s position that matters more than trying to improve the financial viability of corporation to keep all the services offered operational, she adds.
If the councilors are to be believed, the only class I municipal body in the state has run up a Rs 70 crore debt of which Rs 60 crore is owed to the irrigation and public health department for supplying water to meet the needs of its over 2 lakh residents. The other Rs 10 crore is owed to the state electricity supply board for street lighting and needs of the corporation.
Unless the government bails out the corporation with a grant, we are insolvent, says another councilor.
Unable to secure much central funding under Jawhar Lal National Urban Renewal Mission, the councilors are sore over the state government having encroached up its authority in managing the municipal forest, taking over Chaba hydropower plant which the British engineers had built solely for the city, for having done away with entry tax, registration tax, transport tax and over taken city hospitals.
While the state government expands or contracts the municipal limits of the city, the burden of providing essential services are left on us even though we do not have the financial means to cater to them, said the councilor.
Established in 1851, Shimla municipality is counted among the oldest in the country.