The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bill clout for local bodies
- State role in urban management pared, free rein for municipalities

The state has set in motion a plan to reduce its role in the management of cities and towns, vesting in the municipal corporations and municipalities wide-ranging powers to handle almost every aspect of urban life.

Scheduled to be tabled in the Assembly next Monday, the West Bengal Municipal Corporation Bill, 2002, initially aims at giving all the state’s municipalities and corporations — including the 36 in and around the city, but excluding Calcutta — a free hand in sectors that were, till date, under the control of the state government. Similar amendments will be made in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation Act, officials said.

The Bill is the outcome of a visit to South Africa by municipal affairs and urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya a couple of months ago, officials said. Though the entourage visited several South African cities, Durban, with a large Indian population, was deemed best suited to be a model for the state’s urban areas, the minister felt.

One of the most important aspects of the Bill is the proposal to bring every urban area in the state under a uniform tax net. Mobilisation of resources to fund development was one of the major concerns of the government, officials said.

The Bill also aims at bringing about sweeping changes in many sectors that were, hitherto, not the headache of local self-governance. From sports to culture, education to generating employment, the Bill is aimed at ensuring “power to the people”.

The Bill also hands over to the municipalities and corporations the planned development of new areas, removal of encroachment, tackling of pollution, maintenance of fire-safety norms, social endeavours, improvement of the transport system, construction of shelter for the homeless, reclamation of wasteland and even organising fairs, festivals and seminars.

The Bill also seeks to make all mayors and chairpersons of civic bodies “whole-timers” in their jobs. Mayor Subrata Mukherjee now gets Rs 3,000 as monthly remuneration; Howrah mayor Gopal Mukherjee Rs 2,350; Asansol mayor Shyamal Mukherjee Rs 1,700; and Chandernagore mayor Amiya Das Rs 1,500. All of them (Mukherjee after amendments to the CMC Act) can expect substantial ‘hikes’.

The introduction of a vigilance authority in the form of a directorate of local bodies, with access to every information available with every civic body, has also been proposed.

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