Just few weeks ahead of the elections to the Shimla Municipal Corporation (SMC), its Deputy Mayor Tikender Panwar has recently commented that SMC is no parastatal. This means ‘an agency or organisation which is owned by a government.’ It is right in all respects. The spirit behind the Local Self-Government, the Civic Body, has been to provide a ‘City Government’, not a body of elected members to be the subservient of the State Government. Tikender has taken nearly five years to state this truth in public through a tweet. He stated, “This should be clear to the state government. Stop crippling the Municipal Corporation.”
Shimla civic body is one the oldest one in the country. It was first constituted as Municipal Committee in December, 1851, under the provisions of Act XXVI of 1850. The first elections were held on August 26, 1855. Shimla Municipal Committee was declared as Class-I Municipality on July 31, 1871. Later, as a result of re-organisation of Punjab, Shimla became a part of Himachal Pradesh. Himachal Pradesh Development & Regulation Act 1968, (Act XXII of 1969) made effective from June 29, 1969 and the Shimla Municipal Committee came under the purview of the State Government’s Act. Then in 1978, Shimla Municipal Committee was replaced by Municipal Corporation which was transformed through Himachal Pradesh Municipal Corporation Act., 1994, as per the 74th Constitution Amendment Act of 1992.
The situation remains unchanged for years, after the independence and the reorganisation of Punjab. After it was brought within the fold of Himachal Pradesh government’s Acts, It started losing its powers. This has become the Local Self Government (LFG) without devolution of powers for ensuring all civic services under the one umbrella of an Urban Local Body (ULB). Only change seems that water supply system has been fully entrusted to the SMC, that too when there was epidemic of jaundice in Shimla, the responsibility was fixed by the High Court on the I& PH department officials. This situation led to the change from the dual functioning to one-agency execution. Besides, collecting the local taxes and the water supply & sewerage and scavenger user charges, this civic body does not have control on the civic services in Shimla. The very spirit of 74th Constitution Amendment Act of 1992 passed on June 1, 1993 related to the Municipalities was not implemented in the state Act(s).
After the last elections in 2012 the Shimla Municipal Corporation was constituted with 28 councilors, out of which 25 councilors (12 BJP, 10 Congress & three CPI-M) are elected and three are nominated by the Govt. of HP amongst the prominent citizens. The tenure of the corporation is five years. Last in 2012, the Mayor, Sanjay Chauhan and Deputy Mayor, Tikender Panwar, (both from CPI-M) were elected directly by the electorate. Strange was the structure of the elected body of the SMC. No party had the majority. The SMC looked as an ‘All Party Local Government’, the unacceptable situation to the ruling congress which lost its over 25 year old bastion in SMC. After these elections, the Congress came to power in the state. The state government amended the SMC Act which again resorted to the indirect election of the Mayor and the Dy. Mayor. Also the SMC elections will not be held on party symbols.
Now after delimitation of SMC wards the numbers of wards have been increased from 25 to 34. The elections to the SMC are at hand and any time the State Election Commission can announce the elections, which have to be completed before the end of May this year. However, the SMC elections will keep the prestige of the political parties at stake, maybe it is BJP, Congress or the CPI-M. These City polls are considered to be prelude to the State Assembly elections, scheduled to be completed by this year end. However, unless the teeth are not provided to the SMC, it will remain as subservient body of the State Government, not the true Civic Body. This can be done with the all-party consensus in the state, the tradition that has been forgotten in the state.