Shimla: The historic town of Shimla having one of the oldest Municipal Corporations in the country has become a victim of the party politics and has not been recommended as a contender for becoming a smart city under the project of Smart Cities Mission of Government of India. The Congress ruled State government preferred to name Dharamsala, a country town of just 22 thousand residents as the sole nominee from the hill State. “The government here fudged the data required to fulfill the criteria to be declared as a runner for the project and reshuffled Dharamsala to the top despite all odds”, claimed Mayor of the town Sanjay Chauhan. “The government has favoured Dharamsala because the State’s Urban Development Minister Sudhir Sharma is from Dharamsala and the Shimla Municipal Corporation is controlled by the CPI-M”, said Tikender Panwar, Shimla’s Deputy Mayor and State Committee member of the CPI-M.
Giving an elaborate comparison between the two towns and role of the local bodies here, the left leaders blamed the State government in thwarting all their moves intended towards better governance and making the municipal corporation here a financially independent body. The government had cancelled the collection of a minor green tax from tourists imposed by the MC, its project of running golf carts inside the town to check pollution and cancelling its projects like using solar lights and LED lights for which even outside agencies were ready to fund. The sole reason behind opposing all Municipal Corporation proposals by both the Congress and BJP was that it would give CPI-M a political mileage, they said.
The Mayor and Municipal Commissioner of Shimla were not even called by the State Level High Powered Committee which was formed by the Governor under the chairmanship of Chief Secretary sometime back. This committee of which both of these were also members was to provide guidance to the mission for the exchange of ideas pertaining to the development of smart cities and oversee the process of first stage intra-state competition of the basis of stage criteria, says the Mission notification. But no such meeting was held and the government gave the sole name of Dharamsala for the project, alleged the Mayor and Deputy Mayor who have now threatened to move to the Court in this regard. “Or we would revert back to the people who had elected us against this cheating by the government”, they pledged.
The High Powered Committee has wrongly given 87.5 marks to Dharamsala against 85 given to Shimla. But the genuine recounting done by the Shimla Municipal Corporation officers has put the scores at just 24.5 for Dharamsala and 85 for Shimla, said the Mayoral office that is planning to take the fudged data to the Union Ministry of Urban Development.
There are many more towns bigger and with richer local bodies than Dharamsala in the hill State. It has just a small municipal council as a local body with a meager budget of Rs 3 crore. “We don’t know how would it suffice the criteria of contributing 50 percent of the budget in this scheme”, said the Mayor. How far the government can tax around 5000 households of Dharamsala or would it increase their water bills and other taxes by 200 percent to generate the money, they asked. Shimla has around 55,000 households and the MC still has a good budget to meet the smart city criteria, they said.
KY Singh is a political observer and a senior journalist with an interest in a diverse set of issues related to Himachal Pradesh and other mountain states. He lives in Shimla.