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Civic bodies in merger mode

Several municipalities will be merged to create four municipal corporations, while a few others will be brought under three existing corporations. The terms of some of the civic bodies that will be part of the rejig end in June or July.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee said the decision was prompted by the fact that corporations provide better civic amenities to the people, but some felt the Lok Sabha poll results have a bearing on the move.

In some of the municipal areas, the BJP has fared unexpectedly well.

A Trinamul leader said the creation of the corporations would help them launch a campaign on the “pro-development” stand of the state government. “We will get some time to work hard and recapture some lost ground,” said a Trinamul leader.

An official said the government will soon issue a notification announcing the formation of the municipal corporations. The notification will also rule out the possibility of immediate elections to the civic bodies whose terms will end in June or July.

A corporation has more scope for undertaking development work, primarily because it has easier access to funds than a municipality. A corporation can bag funds from international agencies, such as the World Bank or the Asian Development Bank. Corporations can also easily lease out surplus land to boost revenue.

Of the four new corporations (see chart), three will be in North 24-Parganas and one in South 24-Parganas. In North 24-Parganas, the Rajarhat-Gopalpur, Barasat, Madhyamgram and New Barrackpore municipalities will be merged into a corporation.

The Baranagar, Kamarhati, Panihati, Khardah, Dum Dum, Dum Dum North and Dum Dum South municipalities will make up a second corporation, while the third will comprise the Titagarh, Barrackpore, North Barrackpore, Naihati, Bhatpara, Garulia, Kanchrapara and Halisahar municipalities.

In South 24-Parganas, the Pujali, Maheshtala, Budge Budge, Amtala and a part of Satgachia municipalities will form a corporation.

The state cabinet, which on Monday decided to form the new corporations, also approved a proposal to merge some municipalities with existing corporations.

Bally Municipality will merge with the Howrah Municipal Corporation, while the Bansberia, Chinsurah, Bhadreshwar, Chanpdani, Baidyabati, Serampore and Rishra municipalities in Hooghly will be part of the Chandernagore Municipal Corporation.

In Burdwan, the Ranigunge, Jamuria and Kulti municipalities will be merged with the Asansol Municipal Corporation, whose terms end on June 28.

BJP’s Babul Supriyo won the Asansol Lok Sabha seat defeating Trinamul’s Dola Sen, a result that upset Mamata so much that she forced Asansol North’s MLA Moloy Ghatak to resign as minister.

After the Cabinet meeting, Mamata dwelt on how the people will benefit from the municipal corporations. “We have decided to set up the corporations so that the residents get better infrastructure and to ensure proper utilisation of the staff,” she said.

Unlike municipalities, corporations will not have to take approval of the directorate of local bodies and municipal engineering directorate (both function under the municipal affairs department) before drawing up any infrastructure development scheme.

On the flip side, however, property tax in the areas is likely to shoot up as municipal corporations will no longer be under the central valuation board for assessment and fixation of tax on landed property.

It is estimated that the municipal affairs department will have to shell out about Rs 1,200 crore for the creation of the corporations. Initially, each new corporation will get at least Rs 200 crore.

Apart from the 135-year old Calcutta Municipal Corporation, there are at this moment five municipal corporations: Howrah (1984), Chandernagore (1881), Asansol (1994), Siliguri (1994) and Durgapur (1996).

An official of the state election commission, however, found the move unethical. “Such a move at a time when elections to many of these municipalities are due is unethical.”

Administrators will run the municipalities once their terms end and till the areas they cover become part of a corporation. Officials pointed out that development work is bound to suffer if an administrator runs a civic body.