Guwahati Residents Complain of Civic Difficulties In The Absence Of GMC Council
Sabir Ahmed is among the many residents of Guwahati who are facing difficulties due to the lack of leadership to solve their civic problems.
"There is an illegal market in our area. We have a streetlight and parking problem as well. Earlier, I used to take these matters to my local councillor," said Ahmed, who is a resident of Kedar Road Chariali.
Abhishek Beriwal, an entrepreneur from South Sarania, is dejected after repeated complaints to Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) failed to materialize the desired results. The municipal body has intervened to solve his issue but only partially. "I don't even know who my councillor is, before elections they would come to us,” said Beriwal.
These are not isolated episodes of ward problems. In Rehabari, Milind Sethia, a CA final year student shares similar concerns about garbage disposal and bad roads.
Amid all these concerns, the GMC is without an elected body of councillors to take care of the situation. The ward elections were last held in 2013, the term for which ended in July 2018.
Testimony from the former elected representatives
The former councillors of GMC concur to the concerns raised by the residents. G Plus spoke to ex-councillor of Ward 19, Ranjit Barman who highlighted that “approachability” has been the biggest problem for the people. “The people are finding it difficult to meet the MLAs and MPs.
Why would an MLA come to a locality?" As such, the people still approach the former ward councillors with their issues, revealed Ranjit Barman, who is now assisting unofficially in a Rs 38 lakh development project.
The councillors had previously worked in tandem with the public in other areas such as the National Register for Citizens (NRC) and paperwork related activities. The stockpile of those lay unaddressed.
G Plus spoke to a former woman councillor Anima Deka of Ward 20. She highlighted that existing problems such as drainage, streetlight issues loom large in the city. Deka too agreed that “approachability” is a concern for the general public. "The people still approach us but it is difficult to intervene as we are not in power,” said Anima Deka.
The big picture: Dilemma of holding an election
As per insiders of the GMC, the draft electoral rolls for the elections were established by the State Election Commission (SEC). Later, the NRC exercise proved to be a hindrance to hold the elections. Post-NRC there was inaction for many months. Now, the office claims Covid-19 as a cause for further delay. "The Covid-19 was a factor that caused the delay for the polls," said an EC official on anonymity. The office was not clear regarding the delay of the elections after the NRC rollout and pre-pandemic time.
Another factor that has been doing the rounds is the exercise of delimitation. Delimitation means the act or process of fixing limits or boundaries of territorial constituencies in a country or a province having a legislative body based on recent statistics or census. The job of delimitation is assigned to a high powered body. Such a body is known as Delimitation Commission or a Boundary Commission.
There are talks of increasing the current 31 wards of the city to 60. The former ward councillors and the mayor himself stated that talks are going on in this regard. Insiders say the exercise will delay the electoral process again.
G Plus spoke to Alok Kumar, State Election Commissioner who provided the latest, "I have written to the government to complete delimitation if they are considering the process. Even without that election can continue," said Alok Kumar. Nonetheless, he stated that ward reservation is paramount.
As per Article 243T, seats shall be reserved for the Scheduled Castes (SC) and the Scheduled Tribes (ST) in every municipality and the number of seats so reserved shall bear. Not less than one-third (including the number of seats reserved for women belonging to the SCs and the STs) of the total number of seats to be filled by direct election in every municipality shall be reserved for women and such seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in a municipality, among others.
"The priority of ward reservation is more than that of delimitation. Reservation is a hurdle as it involves rotation. Off-field processes needs to be completed first and then only we must proceed to election," said the State Election Commissioner. "The Constitution is strict and a new GMC Council should have been constituted,” he reflected on the need for a GMC council.
Although, the Covid-19 pandemic has been cited as a barrier against holding electoral polls in Assam, the Rajasthan Gram Panchayat elections is all set to begin in a phase-wise manner from September 28 to October 10, 2020. The Election Commission of India, on 21st August 2020, had already published the guidelines for conducting elections during the Covid-19 pandemic and the Assam SEC has adopted them so far.
In that scenario, not finalising the processes to complete the elections and leave the citizens without an elected municipal body has hindered their needs and is against the democratic ethos of the country.
As per Article 243U of the Constitution of India, an election to constitute a fresh Municipality/Municipal Corporation body is to be completed before the expiry of the term of the previous body i.e., 5 years.
Did the authorities begin those processes before the expiry of the previous term which ended on 31st July 2018? Also, can they proceed for the elections without delimitation if the need for that arises due to the addition/modification of constituencies or wards?
“We cannot assume that we can proceed for elections without conducting delimitation exercise in the constituencies. The objective of fair representation vis-a-vis timely elections is to be balanced as has been enumerated by the Supreme Court in numerous cases. As such, both the aspects have to be considered before the state can proceed for the municipality polls,” said Anirveda Sharma, advocate.
The dilemma now is time versus representation and what will be given more precedence remains to be seen.
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