New councils should be in place soonest to address urban issues
The term of the 11 municipal councils in the state ended in November last year; however, fresh elections have been deferred not once, but twice. There is still no clarity yet about when the elections would be held. The term of the Corporation of the City of Panaji is ending a month later, and fresh elections to elect CCP councilors have to be held too. The elections to municipal councils were first scheduled for October 18 last year. Then they were put off for three months with the State Election Commission citing the prevalence of COVID-19 as the reason. The SEC again postponed the municipal elections by another three months in January this year but did not give any clear reason for its decision. The SEC has now proposed March 20 as the date for holding elections to 11 municipal councils and the CCP. The proposal is yet to be approved by the government.
The elections could be further delayed as many inconsistencies have allegedly crept in the delimitation and reservation of wards. Many aggrieved persons have approached the Bombay High Court at Goa challenging the orders issued by the director of municipal administration. The elections now hinge on the court order that could take some time. The government, which has the powers for delimitation and reservation, could have avoided the situation by utilizing the time it got in view of postponement of elections. The Bharatiya Janata Party, whose government rules the state, could have avoided litigation and accusation that it has chosen to favour its candidates by selective delimitation and reservation of wards for women, SCs, STs and OBCs. Does the government want to win elections to urban bodies to show its popularity in Goa by using doubtful means? With the High Court issuing notices to government after receiving petitions challenging the delimitation and reservation, there is possibility of municipal elections being delayed unless the government manages to convince the court that its actions were fair and there was no mala fide involved in the process.
The state government has faced criticism for shrinking the election process with the passing of some amendments recently. Accordingly, the time to issue the order of reservation, delimitation and rotation of wards in the municipal areas has been limited to within 7 days from the date of notification of general election. Those aggrieved by this decision along with the process adopted in altering or reconstituting wards of the municipal councils and identification and rotation of the wards for reserved categories at the last minute have sought court’s intervention to get justice. The opposition parties that are preparing to contest the polls have alleged that this was a grave injustice to them. It is needless to say that elections have to be on a level playing field and the process has to be fair and transparent. The government actions appear to be opaque. Questions have been raised over government action to facilitate victory of candidates supported by the BJP by denying a level playing field to its opponents with an intention to hoist the party’s flag on municipal headquarters.
A fair and transparent delimitation, reservation and election process is vital for making urban local bodies healthy and dynamic to provide essential services to the people. The elected representatives play a vital role in ensuring that the councillors of the urban local bodies take care of the problems in their areas as well as contribute to making of a sound policy for the town. The delay in elections could lead to delay in developmental works. With the monsoon set to approach in just over a couple of months, it is necessary that the councils have elected representatives so that they could ensure completion of pre-monsoon works in the jurisdiction of their areas. Those in power should remember that existence of a strong opposition is vital in a healthy democracy. The government should take steps immediately to correct any wrongs done in delimitation and reservation and ensure that elections to municipal bodies are not delayed further. The councils have a long list of works pending in the areas of sanitation, waste management, parking facilities and amenities.