Voters will elect representatives to 11 municipal councils in the state on Sunday, hoping for better civic services. Though the municipal elections are not fought on party lines, political parties use them to try out each other’s influence and strength. The parties also back candidates who could emerge as their nominees in Assembly elections in the future. Nearly all candidates use municipal elections as a stepping stone for building their political career. Politicization often takes control of the functioning of the council. Instead of concentrating on planning and development for solid waste collection, cleanliness, shopping districts, parking and other services, every councillor spends his time and energy in grabbing the chairperson’s office. This sets off a game of musical chair with chairpersons being voted in and voted out at frequent intervals. With change of chairperson, the priorities of planning and development also change leading to discontinuity of schemes and start of schemes that the new chairperson or the members propping him or her up prefer.
It is also mandatory for the councils to set up citizen consultative groups for advising the civic fathers on planning and development but no council has ever formed the same. It is a common knowledge that the civic fathers turn a blind eye to most of illegalities and even when complaints are lodged with them no action is taken on complaints and illegalities are allowed to flourish. There have also been occasions when chief officers have been prevented from taking action against illegalities and using the patronage enjoyed by them of the political party in power in the state dutiful officials are shunted out and replaced by “yes-men”. Besides, illegal constructions allowed by the civic bodies over the years, which have been subsequently “regularized” have come in way of proper development of the towns so much so that there is no space in some areas to ensure construction of roads for vehicles to ply and reach the houses or sites in case of emergencies. Most buildings and houses are also without proper parking areas and there is intense pressure on the available roads which makes commuting difficult.
It is not the councillors alone who are to be blamed for the illegalities and poor development and services in the municipal areas. There are ample cases of local legislators, who in their bid to retain their position and clout encourage illegalities to flourish and extend patronage to the wrong-doers. There have been occasions when chief officers who acted against the illegalities “promoted” by those ruling the state or failed to carry out instructions from their political masters have been transferred to a “shunting post” for “disobedience”.
It has been common experience that the government appoints chief officers who would abide by the “dictates” of legislators owing allegiance to the ruling party so as to contain the opposition and help those enjoying the support of the party or parties ruling the state. Often chairpersons who owe allegiance to opposition parties in the assembly or do not follow the dictates of local legislators face serious obstruction put up by chief officers who play the game of their political masters. At times the situation is compounded with the chief officers, having multiple charges, paying little attention to council work, slowing down decision making or implementation of development works.
Then there are allegations of delimitation of the wards being carried out to suit the interests of the candidates owing allegiance to ruling dispensation. While in some of the states the State Election Commission is given the mandate to carry out delimitation of the wards of the local bodies, in Goa the power is vested in the state government to carry out delimitation and fix the dates of elections. There have been demands that in order to allay the allegations of favouritism and wrong doings the government should give the charge of delimitation and fixing the election schedule to the State Election Commission, but no ruling party has found merit in the demand as it goes against their interests.
To ensure that local bodies deliver good development and services to the people the government ought to train the councillors in discharging their roles as people’s representatives on the lines of legislators. The government has already taken a decision to get the newly elected councillors trained at the Regional Centres for Urban and Environment Studies at Mumbai and Hyderabad. It remains to be seen whether the councillors would deliver or the game of musical chair would continue. A citizen watchdog mechanism must be set up in order to oversee that the newly elected councillors play an honest and effective role in accelerating development and improving civic services. Citizens’ vigilance alone can prevent councillors misusing their offices and influence to indulge in or promote illegalities for their individual prosperity. It is not uncommon for councillors, much like legislators, to become rich quicker by doing or promoting illegal things. The voters can curb this trend by voting for good candidates.