Mega merger

Decks are being cleared for a mega merger. After the Supreme Court stayed elections to seven local municipalities, Bally Municipality included, on the plea of the state government that the municipality would be merged with the Howrah Municipal Corporation (HMC), the administration is working round the clock to make the merger happen. 

By The 132-year-old Bally Municipality is being merged with Howrah Municipal Corporation but Bally residents are not too happy, reports Debamoy Ghosh
  • Published 12.06.15
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The Bally bridge over the Hooghly. Picture by Gopal Senapati

Decks are being cleared for a mega merger. After the Supreme Court stayed elections to seven local municipalities, Bally Municipality included, on the plea of the state government that the municipality would be merged with the Howrah Municipal Corporation (HMC), the administration is working round the clock to make the merger happen. Two ancient neighbourhoods, that of Howrah and Bally, will soon come under the rule of one municipal corporation. The 132-year-old Bally Municipality will soon cease to exist and its area will be added to that of Howrah. The HMC holds 50 wards, which would increase with this area expansion. The present 35 wards of Bally municipal area would be delimited and whittled down to 15-20 wards. 

The mega merger is of course, the brainchild of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who said: “A municipal corporation renders better civic amenities and has more scope for doing speedy development work. The primary reason for the merger, lies in the fact that a corporation has greater access to funds than a municipality. Not just central funds, it can even get funds from international agencies, such as Asian Development Bank or World Bank and can lease out its land for revenue generation.” The Trinamul-led HMC with its 50 wards cannot be granted the status of a megacity, said a source in the Ministry of Urban Affairs and Employment. But if the Left Front-led Bally municipal area is added to it, it can then vie for the megacity status.

“The megacity plan of Howrah is actually the brainchild of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee where urban development and municipal affairs minister Firhad Hakim is providing support,” said HMC mayor Rathin Chakraborty. The Howrah Municipal Corporation Act, 1980 has provisions for area expansion. A notification (No 241/MA/O/C-4/1M-51/2014), issued from the department of municipal affairs on May 6, reveals that there are six mauzas, including Liluah, Belur, Barrackpore, Malipanchghara, Ghusuri and parts of Bally that will be included in HMC. The notification reads: “from the operation of West Bengal Municipal Act, 1993 to bring these areas within the limit of Howrah Municipal Corporation constituted under the Howrah Municipal Corporation Act, 1980”. 

HMC mayor Rathin Chakraborty has chalked out plans for the infrastructural change that he will bring in Bally and Howrah once it merges with HMC. Chakraborty believes, Howrah, a 500 year old city, is witnessing rapid urbanisation.  But this has to be in an organised way to better serve the residents here. “For matching the pace of this urbanisation, we are trying to make roads better, the drainage system is being overhauled. Howrah is known for knee-deep waterlogging, but this has to change. The conservancy has to work properly so that garbage is cleared and it will be mechanised in the near future,” the mayor added.
 

Traffic on Bankim Setu in Howrah. A file picture

The HMC is trying to collaborate with the private sector for its ‘waste to energy’ project. “The energy creation from waste materials in Howrah can be a groundbreaking project in West Bengal,” he said. Undoubtedly one of the neglected aspects of Howrah is its tourism. “Howrah has some globally recognised tourist spots. We have planned a ring road that will connect these tourist sites and are thinking of organising co-ordinated tours with the help of the state government. If an international tourist arrives here, he will be thoroughly confused about how to go to Belur Math and the Indian Botanic Garden.

A tour programme is needed here,” explained the mayor. Howrah is also set to get one of the tallest watch towers in India. “We have approached an expert private agency who will build it,” said the mayor.  

He claims that his board has brought about changes in roads, lights, drinking water supply, smoother property tax submissions and building plan sanctions. Quality of those services, he promised, will be enhanced and upgraded.

Speaking about both Howrah and Bally, the mayor said: “To modernise both places, the first step would be to change the ancient edifices of the town without hampering their historical value. However,  some of the old buildings can be remodelled to give a new and sophisticated look. The first one is really tough and challenging.” 

However, despite the administration’s grand plans, people in Bally are not convinced that their welfare will be looked after well in the HMC. Objections have been submitted to the state municipal affairs department from Bally area protesting against this merger. “We have got some objection letters. We instructed the District Magistrate’s office to call up those people and listen to their grievances,” said a municipal affairs department source.
  
The Left Front claims that the decision of a merger does not take into account the sentiments of the old Bengali residents of Bally. Besides, the party will be demonstrating against the merger. 

“Bally Municipality is 132 years old. This merger will directly hit the sentiments of the people here. They will lose their identity, pride and culture. I know some old residents would detest acknowledging Bally as being under HMC. I can challenge HMC in any aspect of development and civic services,” said Arunabha Lahiri, the present chairman of Bally Municipality.

“The most pertinent questions that people are asking me is by how much would the property tax increase in Bally after the merger? What extra service would be provided in return? Would the people of Bally have to go to HMC for submission of property tax or solving mutation or building plan related problems?” Lahiri asked.

CPM district secretary Biplab Majumdar expressed his strong discontent. “This decision is politically motivated. Most of the development funds are coming on behalf of the state government. There is no point in expanding HMC to get foreign funds. How much money would they be able to spend on Bally if Howrah town itself is so ill-developed?” Majumdar asked.

The mayor however, contended this. He said that the incumbent municipal board of Bally had failed to bring a change in civic amenities in most sectors. “The municipality has been unsuccessful in bringing any improvement in civic life. This board cannot hide its failure. Inclusion with HMC can only benefit people of Bally,” he said. 

Arup Roy, the state agriculture marketing minister and MLA from central Howrah, too, felt the merger would be beneficial. “Bally, despite being an old neighbourhood, has been neglected for several years. The chief minister wants to include this area within the HMC for better development. The people of Bally can expect speedy development like we have done in HMC within one-and-half years. The bill has been passed in the Assembly,” he said.

Around 1,400 people, residents of Bally Municipality submitted petition against this merger. Howrah District Magistrate Subhanjan Das called them for hearing session, where they expressed their dissatisfaction. Picture by Gopal Senapati

SOME RESIDENTS’ OPINIONS

I am an old resident of Bally. I feel the concept of a merger of HMC and Bally Municipality will not be a good move. With 50 wards, HMC has to serve a huge population over there. Bally would be an added burden on it. Presently, Bally has a population of over two lakhs and the municipality is providing us the best service.
Arun Kanti Dutta, 72-year-old, 
88/11, Dharmatala Road, Belur

We are against paying extra property tax. We can reach the chairman or the vice chairman of the municipality in a single phone call whenever we face any problem here in Bally. HMC cannot provide us such service.
Sambhunath Saha, 48-year-old,
4/18 MLB Road, Bally

Bally Municipality is 132 years old. Abolishing this civic body means wiping out a history itself. I told the Howrah district magistrate that he should try to make Bally a separate municipal corporation itself.
Mihir Halder, 57-year-old,
31 JN Roy Bahadur Road, Bally

The number of councillors will decrease after the inclusion of Bally municipal area within HMC. Those councillors will represent Bally. A lesser number of councillors means that they will be weak and will not be able to put through our demands.
Sila Roy, 56-year-old,
10/2, MLB Road, Bally

We’ll have to go to HMC for every work after this merger. Bally Municipality, with its small infrastructural set up is serving us well. We submit tax, get our building plans or trade licences sanctioned almost effortlessly. In the hearing session, I told the district magistrate that we have lived here for generations and love to be called residents of Bally.
Subhranil Dasgupta, 33-year-old
1, Kailash Singha Lane, Bally