Potholed roads, sloppy pick-up of garbage, turning a Nelson’s eye to dumping of construction material in public spaces or general run-down of the civic services, all these factors make us— citizens—grumble. But, for social activist Qaneez Sukhrani it does not end there. Ms Sukhrani has gone a step ahead and slapped the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) with a legal notice.
She has held back the payment of property tax for FY21-22 to the Corporation. Simultaneously, she is all geared up to file a writ petition in the Bombay High Court.
There is no doubt about the fact that the condition of roads and the pathetic solid waste management system, amongst other civic services, are at a new low in Pune. Ms Sukhrani wants to exactly address this menace. In her legal notice to the municipal commissioner, the mayor, other civic officials, and political leaders, she has stated that she was bound to take this action as all her earlier communications failed to get any response from the concerned authorities.
Ms Sukhrani states, “I have withheld payment of property tax payment for FY2021-22. This amount has been put in a separate account for which PMC is the beneficiary which will be released only when I am satisfied that basic services are being provided on a daily, regular and frequent basis for at least six months.’’
She further adds, “Being a law-abiding citizen, property tax of her flat was paid in two lots for 2020-21, despite basic services not being provided with an excuse of COVID-19 pandemic. However, due to continued dereliction and discharge of duties, I have withheld payment of property tax payment for 2021-22.’’
Citing the number of times she has made complaints before, she sent a legal notice. Ms Sukhrani states “During 2020, 22 communications with photos were sent starting 15 March 2020 to PMC’s Commissioner and topmost concerned officers, apart from grievances that were raised on PMC’s Complaint Management System (CMS); during 2020, seven emails starting 9 September 2020 with photos were sent to Chief Minister’s Office; during 2020; five emails starting 9 September 2020 with photos were sent to Principal Secretary Urban Development, who is the escalation level for Pune; during 2020; eight emails with photos and during 2021; 10 emails with photos were sent to the Mayor to instruct the four BJP corporators to perform their duty, monitor and supervise this continuing lapse by PMC’s administration, for which they are elected every five years to represent citizens of every area.’’
Her notice further states, During 2020; 21 communications with photos were sent starting 1 January 2021 to PMC’s Commissioner and topmost concerned officers, apart from 17 grievances that were filed on PMC’s CMS. However, it is observed that once corporators get elected, they disappear for the next five years. They only appear to spend public funds in unnecessary projects, do inaugurations, bhoomi poojans, etc.’’
Ms Sukharni has slammed the legal notice on the following technical grounds:
1) There has been complete dereliction by PMC field staff and senior officers to discharge duties of basic services on a routine, regular daily and frequent basis under Maharashtra Municipal Corporation Act 1949 u/sec u/sec 203 (1), u/sec 154 , u/sec 130, u/sec 131, and various other sections and related rules.
2) Pune Corporation has failed on its part to provide services in comparison to property taxes u/sec 128A (1) billed in an urban area where the headings on the bill comprise General Tax (32.75%) Conservancy Tax (20.5%) Water Sewerage (9.5%) Street Tax (10%) amongst other miscellaneous charges.
The civic services not provided according to Ms Sukhrani’s legal notice:
i) Conditions of roads deteriorate rapidly. Degeneration leads to potholes, cracks, fissures due to poor quality material used by the appointed contractors.
ii) Trenches are filled up hurriedly with mud but the road is not levelled evenly.
iii) Most stretches do not have footpaths even though road design includes footpath. If there are footpaths, they are broken, not repaired, or they are not according to IRC norms.
iv) Where there are footpaths, encroachment and hawkers grab the place leaving pedestrians to risk their lives on motor vehicle spaces. This leaves them with no rights to safe walking.
v) PMC does not relocate the hawkers with permits and evict those who are illegal.
vi) Rubble, sand, tiles, rocks, stones, extra building material are not cleared by the contractor and not monitored by PMC. But are left dumped on public spaces.
vii) PMC Conservancy staff does not have a standard operating procedure due to lapse in freezing of the Municipal Waste Management Rules because of which garbage is dumped everywhere and not collected or cleared.
viii) Operating procedure for sweeping and collection of swept garbage is so poor that the swept garbage does not get collected. But gets scattered once after sweepers leave heaps.
ix) PMC Conservancy staff has no control over residential and commercial establishments against throwing mixed garbage in public spaces.
x) Because dumped garbage is not segregated but mixed, it contains plastic items that block and clog the drainage, sewerage and stormwater lines. This causes frequent flooding in the monsoons.
xi) PMC does not clear or remove broken branches, branches cut by various agencies, fallen leaves. These are left to rot in public spaces, especially behind transformers, junction and fuse boxes, around trees guards.
xii) PMC does not remove unwanted and dead cables hanging from trees and electricity poles.
xiii) Water supply and distribution are in a poor situation where turning on the pipeline valves is in the hands of those who benefit illegally. Despite water being part of the property tax bill, societies and citizens have to procure water tankers for which they have to pay exorbitant prices themselves.
Ms Sukhrani rues that she is left alone fighting the battle, although every Puneite is adversely affected by the callousness and inefficiency of the PMC.
She urges Puneites to come forward and take the PMC to task and she is ready to give a guideline. But is anyone bothered? That’s the tragedy that allows the corrupt and the inefficient to continue ruling over us, as they please!
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife and also the convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)