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Ministers fight, Howrah corporation pays

- Arup Roy-Rajib Banerjee tussle blamed for delay in selecting members to sanction plans

Calcutta, Feb. 12: The Howrah Municipal Corporation has spent only 5 per cent of the Rs 150 crore allotted to it since November-end because of a “tussle” between two Trinamul ministers.

It took 77 days because of the alleged infighting for the municipal corporation to finalise the list of the 10 members, mayor-in-council (MMIC), who are in charge of civic departments and sanction development projects.

The 10 members took charge on Friday following the intervention of senior Trinamul leaders.

“This is unprecedented. The civic body has money to spend. But because of the tussle between the two ministers, no work is progressing,” a municipal corporation official said.

Trinamul sources said agriculture marketing minister Arup Roy and irrigation minister Rajib Banerjee — both MLAs from Howrah — had strained ties.

Although Trinamul has 46 councillors in the 50-member municipal corporation, giving it near-absolute control of the board, residents alleged that not much development work other than patchwork repairs of potholed roads had been done since the party took over the civic body from the CPM in the November 22 elections.

Before the polls, Trinamul candidates had blamed the CPM-run municipal corporation for the poor condition of roads, the drinking water shortage and the ill-maintained drainage system, and had promised to fix the three key problems affecting the 13 lakh residents of Howrah.

“The CPM was ousted from the municipal corporation because it did nothing for the city during the 29 years it was in charge of the civic body. The situation has not improved after the change of guard. We are losing hope,” a resident of Salkia, Howrah, said.

A municipal corporation official said development work could not be undertaken as ministers Roy and Banerjee “don’t see eye to eye”.

“Civic work suffered badly from November-end to February because it took them more than three months to reach a consensus on which councillors would be made members, mayor-in-council,” he said.

An official in the municipal affairs department said the role of a member, mayor-in-council, was similar to that of a minister.

“For example, the MMIC (roads) has the same functions as that of the PWD minister in the civic area. If these key posts lie vacant for months, development projects are bound to take a beating,” the official said.

A civic official said that at the first meeting of the members held today, “it was clear that the two camps have not buried their differences”. “I don’t know how they will work together,” the official said.

Senior municipal affairs department officials said the civic body had “missed the chance” to take forward development projects.

“The period between November and March is the best time to undertake development projects because of favourable weather and availability of funds. It appears that the special grant of Rs 150 crore given to the corporation will not be utilised this financial year,” an official said.

Several Howrah residents said Trinamul had promised to solve the drinking water crisis before summer.

“Howrah reels from a severe water crisis from the beginning of April. The civic body was supposed to enhance the capacity of the existing water-purifying station before April, but it appears that we will have no respite this year too,” a resident said.

The residents also expressed disappointment at the civic body’s failure to renovate the drainage system to prevent waterlogging.

Ministers Roy and Banerjee denied the allegation that infighting was taking a toll on civic work.

“The formalities for the selection of the MMICs took a long time to be completed. That is why the projects got delayed,” Roy said.

Banerjee said: “Not much work could be done because we were busy with the Rajya Sabha elections.”

Howrah mayor Rathin Chakraborty denied that the delay in the selection of the members, mayor-in-council, had affected projects.