The customary meeting hosted by the state government between the state’s Members of Parliament (MP) took place last Thursday, in preparation of the budget session at the Centre, which is scheduled to begin on February 21. The objective of the meeting convened by the chief minister was to appraise the MPs about matters of the state, so that they can raise them in the parliament sessions with the concerned union ministers.
As usual, the list of issues rolled out by the state government was large, containing 50 different agendas concerning the maximum city as well as remote parts of the state. Prithviraj Chavan and his cabinet colleagues were present along with a battery of senior officials. The meeting was attended by 37 MPs out of the 67 (48 from the Lok Sabha and 19 from the Rajya Sabha). The attendance at these meetings is rarely satisfactory and seldom goes beyond 40.
As expected, the ongoing draught in the state was one of the prominent issues that came up for debate and deliberation, as the state requires central assistance to tackle it. As far as many of the other raised issues are concerned, many of them were local ones, which need to be dealt with by the state government and not the ministers sitting in Delhi. It has always been observed that MPs raise local issues, which can easily be pursued in special meetings with the CM or his cabinet colleagues. So, it’s easy to guess how much good these meetings do when local or constituency related issues end up taking centrestage.
Some of the local issues raised included conveyance for residents of cooperative housing societies and the redevelopment of Dharavi. Now such topics have no place in a list of issues that deserve the attention and help of the Central government. Obviously missing the brief or simply not prepared, MPs from Mumbai went ahead and shared them at the forum.
It’s equally difficult to impress upon our MPs that they should take up all the issues with the Central government and force results. It is always said that Maharashtra lacks a strong lobby of MPs, unlike states like Uttar Pradesh or Bihar. It has also been observed that MPs from UP and Bihar always come together, irrespective of their different political allegiances, on issues such migration to Maharashtra and the railway network.
One of the issues that received considerable attention was the new system of property tax collection by the BMC. MPs spoke out against the system, saying that it has become a cause of worry for the general public. Congress and NCP members have been speaking against it ever since BMC started sending bills based on the capital value instead of the rateable value system that was prevalent for many years in the past.
Our MPs needs to be reminded that before its introduction, the system was duly discussed at various levels. And the parties who are raising a hue and cry now were given ample opportunity ever since the bill was first introduced in the state assembly, way back in July 13, 2006.
Have our MPs forgotten that the bill was referred to a joint select committee, comprising 15 all-party members of both the Houses on July 21, 2006? The committee, headed by Minister of State for Urban Development Rajesh Tope, consisted of five members of Congress, four members from NCP, and three members each from BJP and Shiv Sena.
The committee held 11 meetings to discuss the bill. An appeal made to the general public for suggestions and objections, elicited 63 representations. The committee took two years before finalising its report on July 10, 2008, and, after making necessary changes, the bill to allow the implementation of the new property tax regime was approved by the assembly on December 27, 2008 and the council approved the same on March 19, 2009.
The Act takes care of all aspects of demographic structure in the city. There is hardly any scope for arbitrary tax revision. Also, due care has been taken to ensure that the tax does not burden the proprietor beyond a reasonable limit. Even so, if the MPs had any objections, why didn’t they study the bill and raise these objections at any point in the prolonged process of legislation?
Now that the deed has been done, the foremost responsibility of our MPs is to educate taxpayers on the issue instead of trying to appease their vote banks. Instead, why don’t they focus on other matters that actually deserve attention? The frequent breakdowns in the suburban railway network needs to be taken up seriously with the Railway Ministry. Close to a billion commuters from the city and neighbouring Thane and Raigad districts have been facing hardships because of glitches in the system. We hope the babus are listening.
The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY