29 Nov 2009

Municipal bodies responsible for proper civic amenities: High Court

Executive inaction is a common cause in the country. So much so that the citizens have lose all hope of redressal before the civic authorities and have to approach and plead before the judiciary to take up their cause. A similar contingency took the residents of Panchkula city to file a public interest litigation before the Punjab and Haryana High Court, being aghast with the inaction of the Municipal Council, Panchkula in providing civic amenities, ensuring public hygiene, and upkeep and maintenance of Panchkula city. The plight of these residents was evident from the contents of their petition which the High Court duly noted as under;

Petitioners have made a grievance that worst ever civic conditions are prevailing in Panchkula. Roads are full of potholes, broken to the extent that metalled portion is not visible. The petitioners also lament Municipal Council for poor drainage system and non-maintenance of parks. The writ petitioners have gone to the extent of praying that this Court should direct the State Government to dissolve the house of Municipal Council, Panchkula as they have miserably failed to perform their statutory duties and obligations. The writ petitioners have made further averments that Municipal Council though having necessary adequate funds have been incurring wasteful expenditure for lack of vision and funds are pilfered due to corruption prevailing in the system to which many Municipal Councillors are party. To illustrate this averment, petitioners have pleaded that one year old foot paths are being replaced by new foot paths, cement chequered tiles used on a foot path and laid year ago after dismantling are being taken away by Contractor or other persons. Petitioners have urged that neither there was any necessity nor it was prudent to replace the old tiles and the funds spent in this manner could have been utilized in a better way.
The High Court, to examine the merits of the allegation, appointed an amicus curie who "submitted a report depicting pathetic conditions prevailing in the city of Panchkula in regard to roads, sanitation, water stagnation and non-operation of sewage treatment plant". These allegations were retorted to by the Municipal Council which "pleaded that Municipal Council, Panchkula came into existence on 25th December, 2001 and since then the Municipal Council, Panchkula, with limited staff and limited funds, is trying its best to provide basic amenities to the residents of the city." The High Court was, however, not impressed with the defense. It noted the aspirations of the citizens for better living conditions and the mandate was upon the Municipal authorities to provide such. The High Court observed,
We have heard counsel for the parties and gone through the pleadings made in the present writ petition. The present writ petition brings into focus aspirations and hopes of the citizens of this country, who, after 62 years of independence, seek and demand that the Municipal Councils, a form of local self government, should ensure good living conditions, civic amenities and public hygiene. Government functionaries, officials of local self government, its elected representatives, have not been able to answer the growing needs and expectations of the citizens of the country. Lack of vision and perspective, compulsion of a tight rope walk to balance the need of those, who live in slums and in highly urbanized area, inadequacy of funds, difficulty in generating revenue from the stakeholders, fiscal mismanagement, populist approach to satisfy the demands of all strata of life, are some of the reasons, which can be spelled to notice various difficulties faced by the Municipal Councils/ Corporations managing the affairs of cities of India. This requires a peep into functioning and management of cities and towns of India through local self government.
Traditionally, urban local bodies have been looking after the basic amenities of civic life, which included water supply and sanitation, roads and drains, maintenance of public places, burial grounds and crematoria, cattle pounds, provision of street lights, fire brigades and maintenance of markets. For performing these duties, certain administrative and regulatory functions have also been undertaken by urban local bodies, which included maintenance of register of births and deaths, grant of license for sale of various food items, control and planning of urban development, sanctioning of building plans, inspection of buildings constructed, maintenance of record of rights and also public health areas, such as eating places, slaughter houses and tanneries etc.
By passage of time, role of urban local bodies has been substantially broadened. Regulation of land use, planning of economic and social development, safeguarding the interests of weaker sections of society including the handicapped and mentally retarded, slum improvement and upgradation, urban poverty alleviation, promotion of cultural, educational and aesthetic aspects and protection of environment and safeguarding of health have become part of functions and duties falling within Municipal domain.
New Delhi Declaration, which was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in December 1990, though recognizes that provision of basic amenities will remain one of the core activities of the urban local bodies, enlarging the scope further announce that following objects are required to be achieved by the Municipal local bodies:
  1. Protection of the environment and safeguarding of health through the integrated management of water resources and liquid and solid waste;
  2. Organisational reforms, promoting an integrated approach and including changes in procedures, attitudes, and behaviour, and the full participation of women at all levels;
  3. Community management of services, backed by measures to strengthen the capacity of local institutions in implementing and sustaining water and sanitation programmes;
  4. Sound financial practices, achieved through better management of existing assets and extensive use of appropriate technologies.
Government of India has further resolved that water needs to be managed as an economic asset rather than a free commodity. So the provision and management of water is also one of the essential duties of Municipal bodies. To achieve the above objectives and answer needs of the growing times, Union of India has formulated a scheme, called Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission.

However, in view of the fact that the Municipal authorities had woken up to the cause and begun drawing action plans for the upheaval of the living conditions in the city of Panchula, the High Court refrained from passing any directions as it felt that "that the authorities are alive to the remedial measures and are geared to take recourse to mechanism, which shall provide better urban living."

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