Bally battles merger blues

Retired schoolteacher Kamala Roy is anxious to know if she can continue to pay her civic taxes at the GT Road office of the erstwhile Bally Municipality, a three-minute walk from her house. Fellow senior citizen Anjan Mukhopadhyay is miffed that the Bally he knows has had its "identity" snatched by the decision to merge it with the Howrah Municipal Corporation.

By Anasuya Basu
  • Published 2.10.15
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Retired schoolteacher Kamala Roy is anxious to know if she can continue to pay her civic taxes at the GT Road office of the erstwhile Bally Municipality, a three-minute walk from her house. Fellow senior citizen Anjan Mukhopadhyay is miffed that the Bally he knows has had its "identity" snatched by the decision to merge it with the Howrah Municipal Corporation.

In between Kamala's concern and Anjan's anger lies the Bally electorate's curious detachment from what is supposed to be a landmark poll this Saturday to elect 16 representatives to the Howrah Municipal Corporation.

"We have lost our identity with this merger," rued Anjan, a familiar face in the Bally cultural circuit.

"Our opinions weren't sought. The merger was imposed on us," protested Pareshnath Ghosh, who has been living in Sarkhelpara for 65 years.

The state municipal affairs department had received around 1,400 letters objecting to the June merger, based on which district magistrate Subhanjan Das arranged a hearing. But nothing came of it.

For Mamata Banerjee's Trinamul Congress, the merger debate is history. The party has focused on winning the poll with a carpet-bombing campaign of flags, posters and flexes designed to blank out the last trace of opposition, if any.

On Thursday, a Trinamul street-corner meeting on Girish Ghosh Road was the most voluble sign of an impending election. Party leader Tafzil Ahmed, who is in charge of the Bally campaign, proclaimed: "People will overwhelmingly vote for us."

Metro highlights what the municipal merger holds for Bally and the promises by Trinamul that might be hard to keep.

Flow of funds

One of the promised benefits of the delimitation and merger exercise - 35 wards of the erstwhile Bally Municipality have become 16 under the Howrah Municipal Corporation - is increased spending on development.

Dimly lit roads, poor drainage, unscientific waste management and illegal constructions, backed by rampant corruption, are just some of the ills plaguing the wards of the former 132-year-old municipality. Kamalendu Sarkar is optimistic about the merger making Bally a better place to live in. "We have seen some work already. GT Road is looking more illuminated and parks and gardens are being restored," he said.

Former Mohun Bagan footballer Satyajit Chatterjee, a resident of Bally, is also expecting a boost for sport. "They (the ruling party) have promised to develop the Bally Athletic Club playground."

According to a section of residents who are iffy about the merger, Bally has always been better off than several pockets of Howrah. "We have seen how Bally has developed and improved over the years. Santitation has surely improved. The bylanes have become concrete and drinking water has never been an issue (unlike in Howrah)," said retired schoolteacher Kamala.

But Bally veteran Pareshnath believes being part of a municipal corporation could yet bring some benefits. "Overflowing garbage is the bane of Bally. Conservancy workers are often absent. People tend to throw refuse on the road and in the river. The corporation can do a lot to correct this," he said.

Waterlogging is another peeve. "Roads get flooded after a solitary shower. The water subsides in an hour or so but the municipality hasn't been able to do anything to end the problem," said Gautam Dutta, honorary library secretary at the Bally Sadharan Granthagar.

Ease of access

What is bothering the large community of senior citizens in Bally is the prospect of dealing with a humongous civic machinery. Under Bally Municipality, solutions to small civic problems were just a request away. The municipality office on GT Road was manned by familiar faces in a " para atmosphere" where everyone seemed to know everyone.

"All I had to do was walk into the municipality office and someone there would take care of my problems," said octogenarian Kamala.

The first thing she wants to know is whether civic taxes would have to be paid in Howrah after the elections.

Tax structure

The underlying fear among residents of Bally since the municipal merger in June has been the possibility of a change in the tax structure. "There has been no notification yet but I am apprehensive it will come. Will the (expected) rise in taxes justify the quality of civic services? This is something I want to know," said Basudeb Ganguly, who has been living in Dhingshaipara since 1939.

Some would happily pay more if civic amenities improved. "It is natural that if people enjoy the services of a corporation, they have to pay more. But going by the record of the Howrah Municipal Corporation, I am not very hopeful about an improvement in the quality of services in Bally," said Abir Sarkar, a binder with the Bally Shadharan Granthalaya who lives in Santragachhi.

"I have been paying taxes in Howrah for the past 20 years, but there is no drainage system in front of my house. Neither has my house been allotted a number. Based on my experience, I see little hope for Bally."

Corruption

The vigilance raid on sub-assistant engineer Pranab Adhikary's house that revealed a mountain of allegedly ill-gotten cash amounting to Rs 21 crore has left Bally in shock and singed former municipality chairman Arunabha Lahiri's reputation.

"I used to wonder why all the illegal constructions around us were being allowed. But after the arrest of Pranab Adhikary and the unearthing of all that money, I know what must have been happening. Being part of a corporation might be better, after all," said Sanat Kumar Banerjee, a retired jute mill employee who lives in Bally.