The newly elected Mayor of Chandigarh, Arun Sood talks of streamlining the functioning of the Municipal Corporation and ensuring better sanitation facilities.
BJP made a comeback after 15 years and grabbed all the three posts. Was there a special strategy this time?
Last time we lost due to certain reasons. This time, everybody was 100 per cent sure of victory. No special strategy, it was just that everyone was together, all the councillors were completely united. We won the elections with the help of senior leaders.
There were allegations made by Congress of BJP wooing the nominated councillors through some or the other way. The issue of BJP offering a plum post to the son of a nominated councillor in the Haryana government ahead of the polls also surfaced. What do you have to say about that?
Kya Pawan Bansal ne kabhi nominated councillors ko chai pe nahi bulaya?? ( Did Pawan Bansal never invite the nominated councillors over tea?). Why did the Union minister hold meetings with them during the mayoral elections?
The person who was appointed as an Additional Advocate General (AAG) had served in the same capacity during the Congress’s regime. This issue has no link with the elections as three other AAGs were also appointed.
There has been hue and cry over voting rights of the nominated councillors. What is your take on it?
Nominated councillors have expertise in various fields and provide valuable inputs to the Municipal Corporation. There is a provision entitling them to the voting rights, and there is no reason to comment on it.
What will be your priorities as the Mayor?
I will ensure that there is a provision for alerting councillors about the status of their agenda over SMS. Usually, councillors have to run from pillar to post to seek knowledge of the same.
I will also focus on improving sanitation facilities. Congress did not make efforts to implement the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, and the city slipped in its rankings. Coordinating with the UT Administration is also on my agenda.
In the past one year, there has been tension between the Municipal Corporation and the Chandigarh Administration. How do you intend to take stock of this?
This was the first time that there was a deadlock between the Municipal Corporation and the Chandigarh Administration. Issues such as the appointment of SDMs, giving financial powers to the commissioner, and parking were the bones of contention. I feel these could have been avoided if the previous Mayor along with councillors met the adviser and settled the issues across the table. A representation regarding house tax should have been also submitted. Simply rejecting the agenda is no solution.
When BJP’s Kamla Sharma was the Mayor, she even went to Delhi, which is a good way to coordinate things. In 2007, when our alliance partner Harjinder Kaur was the Mayor, she was the one to start the coordination process. I, too, intend to work in this direction. Without their (admin) help, we can’t do anything. I will try and schedule monthly meetings with the administration. I am even ready to meet them twice a week.
Despite the project of privatisation of paid parking lots being rejected by the administration, you say you will make efforts to bring it in place. How will you convince the administration?
The High Court had ordered the administration to regulate parking lots. In the city, vehicles are haphazardly parked and contractors misbehave. There is no difference between parking lots with contractors and those without contractors. Paid parking or hiking rates is not the solution. A person who pays Rs 5 as parking fee will also pay Rs 10. Motorists can’t be discouraged this way. And if it is said that the MC will be able to generate more revenue by hiking parking fee, then the civic body can rake in money by renting out its vacant properties, which are plenty in number.
Chandigarh has slipped to number 21 in the Swachh Bharat rankings. How do you intend to give this a fillip?
I started off with a cleanliness drive in Sector 27 Saturday. Swachh Bharat is the dream project of our Prime Minister, and it is my first priority. The city urgently requires better sanitation facilities. V6 roads, colonies and villages particularly need attention. There are no proper public toilets at the markets. Sweepers are not enough in number, and there is no sound sweeping equipment. We will focus on door-to-door collection of garbage, segregation and its transportation. Also, I will get the dumping ground shifted to Punjab or Haryana. We will chalk out all solutions to retain the city’s identity of being the ‘city beautiful’.
There have been controversies surrounding study tours. Do you feel that study tours are important?
I am not against study tours. They are fruitful since they provide you with a first-hand account of everything. But they should be for study purposes only.
Your fellow BJP councillor Satinder Singh had said that study tours were a waste of expenditure.
I agree with Satinder that there should not be any unnecessary expenditure. I will ensure that councillors prepare proper reports highlighting their findings during study tours and whether the same can be implemented in Chandigarh. I am also not against the practice of family members accompanying councillors on these tours, provided they pay for it. In fact, councillors should take their family members out once a year. This will strengthen bonds.
Do you feel that the Mayor’s term is too short?
Yes. It takes nearly six months to implement a project. By then, you are left with just six more months. The Mayor should have a tenure of five years and, yes, there should be a direct election for the post.
I also feel that a Mayor in Chandigarh does not have enough powers. In Kolkata, the Mayor has financial powers, unlike Chandigarh. I will pursue this matter with the Central government and ask for the Mayor to be given executive powers.