Number of co-opted corporators goes up: Activists say parties always flout rules, never choose experts – The Indian Express

WHILE the state cabinet on Tuesday decided to increase the strength of co-opted corporators from 5 to 10 in municipal corporations, especially in big cities like Mumbai, Pune, Nashik, Navi Mumbai and Thane, civic activists in Pimpri-Chinchwad allege political parties have always flouted the norms on co-opted corporators by turning a blind eye to picking experts from different fields and pushing their own members.
On Tuesday, the state government decided to amend the Bombay Provincial Municipal Corporations Act Section (5) (1) (B) and Maharashtra Municipal Corporation Section 5 (2) and (B). Under the amendments, the number of co-opted corporators in municipal corporations in the state will go up from 5 to 10, civic officials said.
PCMC administrative officer Balasaheb Khandekar said, “In the last civic general body, there were 127 corporators. And as per the three-member ward arrangement for ensuing elections, there will be an increase of 11 corporators. This means, the strength of corporators will go up to 139. If we had extra five co-opted corporators, then the strength of the new general body will go up to 144.”
Additional Municipal Commissioner Ulhas Jagtap, who is also the municipal secretary, said, “As per the MMC rules, experts should be elected as co-opted corporators. The experts include either a doctor, educational expert, engineer, chartered accountant, lawyer, retired assistant municipal commissioner or deputy commissioner or member of a public trust. There are at least seven categories from which a person can become co-opted member…”
These individuals from different fields need to have at least five years of experience.
Civic officials said all these people are taken as co-opted members because they have wide experience, knowledge and information of their field. However, civic activists said in three decades of functioning of PCMC, an expert has never become a co-opted corporator. “The MMC rules stipulate that experts from different fields should be picked as co-opted corporators. This is because those elected from the political field are not expected to be an expert of any field. It is not expected that they hold an educational degree from any university. Even a school dropout can become a corporator. Therefore, the law stipulates that experts who can debate in the civic general body meetings or raise important points during the civic meetings should make it as co-opted corporator,” said Manav Kamble, who heads the Nagri Haqq Suraksha Samiti.
The rule also stipulates that those individuals who are good in their field but do not have the wherewithal or money to fight elections should be picked as co-opted corporators, said former PCMC corporator Maruti Bhapkar.
This norm, Kamble said, has been flouted for years by the PCMC and in all municipal corporations in the state. “Political parties who have the numbers on their side nominate their own members for co-opted corporator and get them elected. And who are these members? They are either those who have been denied tickets or those who are influential. So it is a kind of rehabilitation of their members,” said Bhapkar. “All parties be it NCP, Congress, BJP or Shiv Sena, all of them have done the same over the years. None of them have ever appointed an expert with good knowledge of his field as co-opted corporator,” he added.
Kamble said they had been contemplating filing PILs in the Bombay High Court. “We have always thought about it but gave up the idea as it will be time-consuming. Therefore, we are now thinking of starting a public movement to put pressure on political parties to ensure that they appoint only experts who can add value to PCMC functioning with their suggestions, ideas and opinions,” he said.
Babu Nair, the only citizen who served as co-opted corporator of PCMC twice, said, “It is true that political parties appoint their own members as co-opted corporator. The reason is that political parties fear if an expert is appointed as co-opted corporator, he will not toe the party line and might make some negative comments about the party which nominates him. He will be like a free person since he is not attached to any party.”
BJP leader Seema Savale, a former PCMC standing committee chairperson, however, justified the nominations by parties. “It is not about an affiliated member becoming a co-opted corporator. He needs to be an expert from his field. For instance, in the last elections, BJP nominated Moreshwar Shedge, who was a lawyer. There was nothing wrong though he was a party member. Similarly, parties will nominate their own members depending on their strength and get them elected. It’s more about the number game. In the PCMC House of 128 corporators in 2017, BJP had 77 corporators of its own. So to get elected, one co-opted corporator needed 26 votes. BJP got three co-opted corporators elected,” she said.
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