‘Political’ Shigmo of Municipal Polls

By Sandesh Prabhudesai
26 October 2010 02:05 IST

Satish Gaonkar must be an odd leader in Goan municipal politics. He is the chairperson of Bicholim municipal council for the last 10 years – two consecutive terms. Similarly, Gulzar Bi Khan, chairperson of Valpoi municipality also appears to be an odd lady, with an uninterrupted tenure of five years. Valpoi belongs to health minister Vishwajeet Rane’s constituency.  Bicholim belongs to the opposition MLA Rajesh Patnekar’s constituency. Still, they managed it.

But not the case with other nine municipalities, which are also going for fresh polls on 31st October. None of them could maintain such stability. Pernem in fact created a record. Only one councillor among the 10 could not hold any post – chairperson or the vice chairperson. In fact two of them held both the posts, at different times. This tiny municipality of 10 councillors had total 11 councillors as seven chairpersons and four vice chairpersons.

It’s ridiculous!

Vasco is yet another example. Out of 20 councillors, 15 became either chairperson or the vice chairperson. Curchorem and Cuncolim of 10 had eight councillors each holding either posts. Canacona of 10 had seven councillors holding these posts – five among them as chairpersons. Mapusa of 15 had six such power seekers. Sanguem and Quepem of 10 had five each.

In short, the last term of Goa’s 11 municipalities was more of a dirty power game and less of a clean developmental work.

And they have done it against the wishes of the people. I had an opportunity to interact with these power hungry politicians, opinion makers and the public at large when I toured all the 11 municipal towns to conduct public debates Matdar Raja for our Prudent channel. 

In the port town of Vasco, these power seekers even felt nothing wrong in family members contesting in different wards. In fact one lady went to the extent of arguing that we will get real stability if more members of one family are elected to the council. These included even revenue minister Jose Philip D’Souza and chairperson Shekhar Khadapkar. D’Souza’s wife and elder brother are also contesting this time.

Margao was yet another startling example. Its chairperson Savio Coutinho argued that the musical chair won’t stop unless we legally fix minimum compulsory period for a chairperson. In fact the new culture is to amicably share the post in rotation. Urban development minister Joaquim Alemao is proud of providing a ‘stable’ council with five chairpersons and three vice chairpersons in ‘his’ council of 10.

What was the outcome of all these political gimmicks?

The grievances were almost similar everywhere. People want a proper market, a spacious bus stand, widened roads, regulated parking and traffic system, clean gutters, regular garbage disposal with house-to-house collection system,  planned sewerage system, garden, park, Ravindra Bhavan, permanent solution on stray cattle and putting a stop of illegal constructions concentrated in one centralises area.

I found two strange examples among these 11. One was, obviously, the Cuncolim council. Joaquim has provided practically everything there. People now want second playground, another community hall etc. But Bicholim was unique; like a ray of hope. In spite of being the council of BJP supporters, they had all the praises for the Congress government and Alemao – for providing all kind of financial help for developmental projects. Stability is the magic word that played wonders in this so called opposition council. Government happily gave them everything.

Till I reached Bicholim, I actually believed that the Congress was deliberately neglecting the opposition-ruled municipalities. The BJP MLAs as well as the chairpersons were complaining that they were victims of not being Congress or NCP supporters. This included Francis D’Souza’s Mapusa, Vijay Pai Khot’s Canacona and Vasudev Meng Gaonkar’s Sanguem. But, strangely, the reality was different.

The height was the third chairperson of Mapusa – Rupa Bhakta, belonging to the ruling party. She did not even dare to face the public debate. Claiming that she was attending the people at her municipal office and arguing that debate is of no use, she skipped a public opportunity to meet ‘her people’ face-to-face. It was nothing but justifications everywhere, with no desire to work or face the public.

Goa’s municipalities are in fact ‘wonderful’ places. The real full-blown towns - like Vasco, Margao and Mapusa – are a total mess. Problems are everywhere and no solution in sight anywhere. The level of polity is worse than the gutters. Similar is the case with developing mining towns of Bicholim and Curchorem. They are confronted with new problems every time, but no councillor seems conscious enough to chalk out a vision-based long term plan for these developing towns.

The remaining six municipalities- Pernem, Valpoi, Cuncolim, Quepem, Sanguem and Canacona - is a BIG question mark. Are they really a municipality? Or just a central market surrounded by villages as its municipal wards? In fact due to this peculiar situation, these so called towns have lots of scope to visualise, plan and expand in a systematic manner. But no such long-term developmental plan exists anywhere.

In fact none of these councillors are even aware that each municipality, under 74th amendment, needs to prepare a developmental plan with a participative process of taking opinions from the general public in each ward. None of them are also aware that each councillor needs to set up a ward committee and hold public hearings – just like Gramsabhas – by involving learned citizens in each ward.

The ignorance (?) is at such a level that the councils don’t even invite public to attend the council meetings – a mandatory requirement as per the law. They call it a ‘secret meeting’ and hold it in chambers. In fact one vice chairperson, during a debate, objected to a journalist panellist for publishing the news without asking for a copy of a resolution under Right to Information act. He doesn’t feel it his duty to address the media about the resolutions taken at the council meeting; forget disclosing their non-existent so called developmental plans.

In Cuncolim, Joaquim Alemao claimed they have prepared a development plan. But the chairperson later admitted that it is officially not adopted by the council or even made it public. In Bicholim, experts were assigned to prepare a plan, but as a mere formality. None of these suggestions were implemented in reality. In Margao, an organisation called Margao First prepared and submitted a full document of vision-based plan for the congested cultural capital of Goa, a constituency of Goa’s chief minister. Forget implementing or adopting it, most of the councillors have reportedly not even read this document.

In fact everywhere there was an interesting debate on the role of the MLA in the council. No MLA attends council meeting, though officially he is invited as per the law. According to each and every MLA – ruling or opposition, attending such a meeting amounts to ‘political interference’. But each one of them wants to ‘control’ the council as well as the councillors. If they don’t listen, they are either toppled or humiliated with no developmental funds provided to their ward.

This local self-governing body expects active and positive participation of local MLA. Even the people expect the MLA to ‘help and assist’ the body, no matter which party the MLA and/or the council belongs to. In reality, the MLAs control the stakes and the councillors dance at their tunes. Sometimes, the councillors belonging to the ruling party sideline the local opposition MLA and rule the council directly through their political masters sitting in the Porvorim secretariat.

In fact that’s the reason reservation proved to be nothing but a political master plan for election in a collusion between the ruling party aspirants at council level and the ruling masters of Porvorim. Reservation for women had no common criteria all over the state. The municipalities act clearly states that reservations for OBC and ST should be decided on the basis of population.

It was however a common complain everywhere that people having sizeable ST/OBC population were not reserved while Pernem had to leave ward 9 vacant as they could not find a single candidate belonging to the ST community even to contest. In fact many municipal wards have either ‘imported’ or ‘imposed’ ST/OBC candidates from other wards. Strangely, there is not a single ward in the whole state reserved for SC, in spite of this community having sizeable population in many wards.

And finally in a debate held in Cuncolim, urban development minister Joaquim Alemao admitted that the wards were reserved without having official census of ST and OBC communities. Of course he blames the Director of Municipal Administration D A Hawaldar for the blunder, but keeps mum over why no action is being taken against him for such a grave blunder. Obviously, his silence speaks all...

In short, municipal election has been converted into a political battlefield for the MLAs and ministers while their selfish cronies are being promoted as ‘public servants’ of the civic body. They eye on construction activities and all sorts of illegalities for the next five years while almost all the Goan towns are going to be messed up further with absolutely zero plan and totally sidelining the public.

I find only one immediate solution to make these candidates accountable. Ask each candidate who are going to be his ward committee members, judge them accordingly, get an assurance from them that it would function on a regular basis, get a draft developmental plan with long-term vision (not just prompt solutions for day-to-day present issues) and then vote accordingly.

Otherwise, simply reject them...

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Sandesh Prabhudesai

Sandesh Prabhudesai is a journalist, presently the Editor of goanews.com, Goa's oldest exclusive news website since 1996. He has earlier worked as the Editor-in-Chief of HCN and Prudent, Goa's TV channels and Editor of Sunaparant, besides working as a reporter for Goan and national dailies & weeklies in English and Marathi since 1987. He also reports for the BBC. He is also actively involved in literary and cultural activities.

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Its all money " Paisa Pheko Tamasha dekho of Congress nothing else and non voting of educated class is always helping congress. Any how voters next time dont commit this mistake in Assembly election please vote because you judge the quality of the candidate not quantity from candidate

- Sachin Rane, Margao | 04 th November 2010 11:39

 

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