Tag Archives: MCD

The Delhi voter’s role in his own disempowerment – Part 2, Scrounging on Property Tax- saving our backs, losing our spine

There is a claim that voters are paying tax by default on every purchase and therefore direct tax such as property tax can be ignored. This is fallacious. There is an advantage to direct tax which is empowering and which is why responsible governments as well as voters rely on it.

Insofar as impacting Governance is concerned;

  1. Indirect taxes load everyone equally and are therefore loaded against poorer sections. Direct taxes can be more equitable
  2. Direct taxes are openly visible and therefore discipline the Government by way of voters being able to question it on accountability

Now look at what we have done

Only 35% of Delhi’s residents pay property tax. So while some are paying higher taxes, on the average a voter pays about Rs 400 per month towards all municipal taxes in the South Delhi Municipal Corporation. Against this is expected 24×7 Municipal sweeping, free parking, park maintenance and waste management and public lighting, storm water drainage, Municipal Schools, Dispensaries and road seeping. This is the level of sense of freeloading and entitlement. PWD, Military, Paramilitary, Government hospital, Police Infrastructure, cost of elections; Government schools etc are not included in the above assumption.

For a self owned three bedroom DDA SFS flat, at its current value the property tax in London and in New York will be about Rs 3, 90,000 instead of about Rs. 2700 that is paid in Delhi. The extensive unauthorised colonies where more than 50% of Delhi lives as well as lal dora area and urban villages pay no residential property tax.

The AAP Government had, in the last Municipal election promised to waive off property tax altogether. Now almost a third of Delhi’s population would have been excluded from this benefit as the percentage of house-owning households in Delhi is less than the national average(2011 Census), a waiver would only benefit landlords and more so those who have bigger houses

The AAP tried to explain it away by using the indirect tax argument. This is precisely as explained earlier, disempowering for the resident. After all how much will you question if you get a scarce resource like water free, electricity subsidized and property tax waived.

The recent issue of sealing of illegal commercial establishments in Delhi would have had the Central Government give in (at least on the face of it) had the Hon’ble Supreme court not intervened.  The number of house owners is many times more than the number of traders. Then why do traders have disproportionate power as compared to residents? The relationship between traders and politicians is one of partners. The Relationship between politicians and voters is one of master and supplicant. The trader pays, and the voter seeks freebies.

The consequences for Delhi are self evident.  Year after year of voting for freebies,  pitting one party against the other for relaxation in bye laws, and seeking freedom from civic discipline the Delhi voter finds herself locked in a mess of her own making. A situation where no tough solutions can be implemented and no easy solution exists.

 

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The Delhi voter’s role in his own dis empowerment – Part 1

As part of my work in URJA it is important that I put out in public all aspects that impact Governance in Delhi. And in this article I intend to move away from the refrain on politicians and the bureaucracy and address public behaviour instead and its impact over the years.

People in public life start to notice this after some years of work. Young politicians are the first to recognise it, then activists and NGO. We all know that our political leaders come from ‘society’. It’s just that we think that ‘society’ is ‘out there’ among other people. But the fact is, we come to realise rather acutely that that ‘society’ is really ‘in here’.

Much of our politics revolves around slogans, entitlement and freebies. We may think that all the subsidies, entitlements, reservations, doles and freebies go to the poor rural farmer/worker, but the truth is that the urban voter too gets massive subsidies that he is now addicted to. Freebies are not as much an economic problem as they are a gateway to bad Governance.

What can be termed as a case of yatha praja, tatha raja, as opposed to the original adage, by seeking all services at the lowest possible price and at the shortest possible distance in flagrant violation of all safety, health and legal norms the citizen of Delhi has used her vote to produce a progressively irresponsible political leadership.

I will take up the issue of parking in the first part

In London a resident has to take a parking permit and pay for it, and the cost, in some areas, goes up progressively every year. In areas of New York the permit cost is as high at Rs 1, 50,000/- per year. They also pay taxes and registration fee. Parking in Sao Paulo in Brazil may cost up to Rs 350/-per hour. On street parking is not allowed in most areas of that city.

Contrary to this, the citizen in Delhi considers being provided free parking endlessly his birthright. A single car in posh South Delhi feels entitled to occupy over Rs.10 Million worth of public land totally free of cost. The Government is unable to enforce any parking charges in residential areas as car owners kick up a fuss. There is no point listing out the troubles that Delhi with almost 1.10 Crore Privately owned vehicles is facing. That is well known.  Municipal revenue is a pittance (as compared to other metropolises of the developed world) as its two major revenue sources, car parking and on street vending have been severely compromised. I will take this up more extensively in the succeeding article

Free parking for residents is demanded by some city based activists who propagate the idea that “the Government should have foreseen a car owning explosion and therefore it is the Government’s duty to provide parking space endlessly”. The first part is correct. The corollary is nonsensical. That it finds resonance among some urban upper middle class activists as well as common residents is bewildering considering that nowhere in the world does such a right or expectation exist. This is a clear cut consequence of an ‘entitlement’ mindset being positioned as a ‘right’.

The other strange notion that came up over parking is that parking charges by Municipal Corporations are only meant for collecting revenue and, as property tax and road tax was paid the corporations should not raise revenue on that account. Property tax, Road tax, Registration and parking charges are totally different issues in all Metropolises of the world. That this is positioned as some sort of some general taxation mix shows the extent of specious argument that can be used to appropriate freebies. Some residents wanted to ascertain penny to penny if revenue collected from parking was being used to give them additional facilities in their local area.

Unless the whole doctrine of taxation changes to balancing local collection and expenditure for each area, the notions being propagated are patently ridiculous. Parking is charged world over as a revenue generation mechanism by Municipalities. But the idea of free use of public space is deeply ingrained and strange arguments are used to defend that position.

Suspicion about Government’s functioning and accounting can be fixed by a proper method of citizens’ participation in local affairs but not by daily inquisitions. Because of wanting more and more service for less and less the voter is now left holding on to empty promises by politicians. It’s a natural consequence of this behaviour.

The Damage to RWAs of this free services mindset is immense as well. They are unable to manage parking within their colonies as conflict arises on a daily basis. Lanes are choked, cars come and go unchecked, but no one will pay a penny to help the RWA regulate this. It is easy to see how the voter is caught in a mess of her own making and now want extrication free of cost. It simply cannot work.

 

Next:

Part -2 – Scrounging on Property Tax, saving our backs, losing our spine

 

 

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Three solutions for Delhi

Implement, Implement & Implement

Vendor policy, Parking policy, Master Plan, Mixed use policy, Waste management policy, Rain water harvesting policy, this policy, that policy and whichever policy. Discuss policies and feel very intelligent, argue endlessly on policy like intellectuals and wallow in filth, traffic jams, overflowing sewers and chaos on a daily basis. Watch a bunch of politicians fight, spew stuff over social media, squabble on TV and watch it as entertainment and a cause for foolish politics, further arguments and discussion.  All discussion and no real administration is how the Government and politicians are passing their time. This also sums up how the citizens of Delhi have lost their way and are endlessly kept occupied by clever people into discussions.

A similar point was made also in an earlier editorial in Hindi (Oct 2017)

Every complaint on inaction of authorities can be subverted by diverting it into a political fight. Try getting a small encroachment removed from public land and before you know it local political activists will be creating a ruckus with the citizen looking askance and eventually getting drawn into idiotic arguments. Finally no officer takes action and we are back to square one, wallowing in the same mess and ready to squabble like fools the next day

Which is why, I urge residents to be very conscious of being drawn too much into policy matters. Not everybody is an expert (much as we may pompously like to believe) and not everybody has the wherewithal for surveys, maps, studies and the background required for making policy. This is not to say that all citizens should shy of commenting on policy, but it would help if most of us ordinary folk shift our focus on asking the local leader and officer this;

Whatever happened to implementation of your policy? When are you going to implement? Keep on harassing and asking. Build a union of voters, and harass the elected representative and officer with these questions;

Why have you not implemented, who is blocking you.

When is SWM2016 going to get implemented?

When is the Vendor Act going to get implemented?

When is the Parking policy getting implemented?

Why are you not towing away illegal vehicles?

Why is plastic all over the place when banned?

Why are you not penalizing defaulters?

How will incompetent official staff be punished?

Don’t waste time with policy. Obsess with its lack of implementation and harass your local MP, MLA, Councillor, and Commissioner and so on and so forth. Flood them with petitions, complaints, Letters, RTI. Do whatever it takes but keep on questioning on implementation alone. A system which has the active participation of RWA should be set up to evaluate and report the functioning of Government departments

Do not let the Government, draw you into a policy discussion. Be the power to demand implementation.

 

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URJA Editorial-Some Governance Basics

Every time the matter of garbage and bad governance comes up in our meetings, there is often the common comment that the

  • ‘Citizens are to blame also’ or that
  • ‘We have no ‘civic sense’,
  • ‘We must not ask of the Government but must also do it ourselves’

On the face of it statements such as these sound reasonable and create a sense of temporary guilt and shame in the mind of the citizen and taxpayer. This type of discussion in public meetings usually ends the discussion with people simply feeling helpless as if they are no good.

Over the years this thinking has been reinforced by the State Administration and the officers as it suits them to shift the moral blame on residents for their own administrative incompetence and corruption.

Recently in a posh area of south Delhi, no less than the Commissioner of SDMC, an I.A. S officer, made a ‘surprise visit’. A day before this ‘Surprise’ visit many encroachments were temporarily removed. During the course of his visit the Commissioner noted, that residents had thrown kabaad in their back lanes and covered their drains leaving them difficult to clean. The Commissioner pointed out that residents were responsible for the problem and should introspect, & the suitably embarrassed the RWA wrote a note chastising the members that they must themselves ‘introspect’ on this

The situation remains the same. The encroachments are back, the back lanes remain dirty

On similar complaints, the Municipal councillor landed up with a whole team, touting ‘swachh bharatabhiyan as motivator, joined by party colleagues and cleaning staff. The whole lot including the Councillor started sweeping.  Many Residents were all excited and started clapping. This was a major photo opportunity; the photo etc. was shared in whatsapp groups. At the end of all this tomfoolery, things remain the same

This is an example of how misled we are and how much it suits the officers and the politicians to perpetuate this thinking. It also shows that a combination of ignorance and laziness can keep even educated residents trapped in the same place.

This is important to understand, that ordinarily most people are law abiding but as a corrupt and lazy administration allows a few people to get away, more and more people take to breaking the law.

Please do not believe that residents in other countries are better human beings, but please believe that other countries punish law breakers and there Civic responsibility becomes reward able

Let us have a look by way of a table of what is happening and how we are misled into believing that are bad citizens, when in reality our officers a lazy and inefficient.

The distinction marked below can be applied to almost all areas of public administration

 

Wrong Way- Delhi will remain a Filthy city Right Way- Delhi will be a world Class city
SDMC Commissioner lecturing that Drains should not be covered The Commissioner ordering  immediate demolition/or penalties as per law and ordered an inquiry upon his officers for letting this happen
This not lack of Civic Sense This is illegal
SDMC Commissioner lecturing  that Kabaad should not be thrown in the back lanes

This not about lack of Civic Sense

 

The Commissioner ordering fines and penalizing the builders as well as residents for violating the law and relevant provisions of the DMC  act

This is about punishment for illegal activity

The Municipal councillor, no matter how excitable and sycophantic he is, is not meant to begin municipal work himself

 

The job of the councillor is to take civic problems to the corporation and get the Departments to act. He is not a Govt officer (even if he likes to think so) and does not have to perform Municipal roles designated for Municipal officers or staff
Councillor Sweeping back lanes are an aberration & example of very bad Governance should not be applauded by the public and there is nothing good about this activity to be shared on whatsapp. This public behaviour is harming the public

 

Public should have criticized him for failing to get the Government to work and not take the Voter for a ride by doing childish stunts. The public should have demanded that he ensure MCD action. This behaviour helps the public
This pattern of behaviour will result in remaining in garbage and filth, broken roads and encroachment. This is how our ‘Administration’ and misguided residents behaves and we remain a backward city

 

This is how Administration in USA, UK, France Tokyo, and Hong Kong would have behaved and that is why they are advanced Cities. This is how their officers behave and their residents demand for being taxpayers.
Officers will be paid for sitting in office and making money out of corruption &Indian taxpayer will be fooled continuously & will be blamed for not having civic sense. This wrong attitude shown above will ensure that Delhi will be a filthy city Delhi will be a clean city, The Tax payer would be rewarded and provided with services, the officers will have to work for their salary, & corruption will come down. Delhi will be a world class city

 

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URJA Editorial- June 2017

Heedless Politicking is disenfranchising the citizen

In late 2012, some citizens in the Alaknanda, GK2, CR Park area of Delhi began to ask questions about DDA’s sanction of a Huge Mall in the middle of SFS flats. Un serviced by any major road and in the immediate vicinity of schools this project on community Centre land was clearly an ill-conceived project which would be detrimental to the quality of life and environment of the community

No sooner had the questions begun the citizens who had raised concerns began to be branded as belonging to this political party or the other. This attack came from sundry local level political activists and other vested interests associated with the politicians of the area. Since the group of citizens were professionals and had done their homework they were able to counter petty political attacks with facts and since they were a group of committed individuals they did not back down
However, standing up to political noise is not easy and not everybody has the mettle for it.

We often notice that in local area and municipal wards or assembly constituency any genuine concern or questions raised by a citizen is quickly branded as proxy questioning from one political party or the other. Apart from the general complaint on garbage and roads any question regarding policy, projects or quality of work produced by the authorities is quickly branded as political questioning.

The RWA, actively engaged in keeping an eye as well as assisting last mile too are concerned with this. Raising genuine concerns of the residents persistently often invites attacks from local political elements as well as some politicized residents.

This phenomenon is not new and worries the ordinary citizen about being falsely identified with a political party, thereby scaring him from raising genuine questions. This is problematic as it helps the corrupt and the inefficient within the system to get away with substandard work. Questioning a policy of the Municipal corporation, State Government or the Centre invites attack and accusations from the political party which heads the respective administration and results in abject failure of the policy when it reaches implementation stage. It breeds corruption as only a few people benefit from the contractor-official-politician nexus in projects that follow.

We all see the mindless, petty, and noisy announcements & protests daily by political parties. Opposition for the sake of opposing & creating a daily flutter for themselves and TRPs for channels is of little use for the citizen who finds herself in the same situation watching the daily antics of political activists and their cohorts.

Political parties do not always work in the interest of the people. They work in the Party’s interest by appropriating Government power through election by the people. Once in charge they resist any sort of questioning that may open them to questioning.

The Citizen as well as RWA executives, must not be browbeaten by the slants and petty pricking done by local political activists and their associates within the colonies.
This is not to say that the government must listen to every protest and objection. That would bring the administration to a stop.

The Citizen and the RWA should not be concerned much about motivated political activists accusing them. The citizen & RWA have a right to ask questions of the government and ask questions we will. An inquiry about the intention, policy, and quality of execution of public work is not an accusation. It is a question and Govts must answer the questions.

The RWA and citizens’ groups must repeatedly ask of their government. it is not only their right, it is also their duty

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