The government decision to merge five suburban panchayats, Vizhinjam, Kudappanakunnu, Vattiyoorkavu, Sreekaryam and Kazhakuttom, with the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation has cleared the ground for a political confrontation between the LDF and the UDF.
The UDF, which is basically opposed to the merger, is mobilising its ranks for a battle on the issue within the Corporation council and outside.
The Opposition front feels that the merger will prove detrimental to the interests of the people in the panchayat areas and burden them with higher taxes.
The LDF on the other hand argues that annexing the panchayats to the Corporation will spur the development of backward areas and attract more funds from external sources.
Employees, however, fear that the merger will aggravate the crisis caused by the acute staff shortage in the Corporation and bog down the administration.
District Congress Committee president V.S. Sivakumar said the merger was part of a political agenda to bolster the shrinking support base of the LDF.
“It will only lead to further marginalisation of the residents, especially in a panchayat like Vizhinjam that has failed to address even basic facilities like drinking water supply.”
He said the people were disillusioned with three decades of LDF rule in the Corporation.
“Central funds are not utilised properly and infrastructure projects are bogged down. The Left parties think they can overcome the negative votes by extending their appeal to the new voters from the suburban panchayats.”
Pointing out that the LDF enjoyed only a slender margin in the Kudappanakunnu, Vattiyoorkavu, Sreekaryam and Kazhakuttom panchayats where it is in power, he claimed that the UDF was poised for electoral gains in the next elections.
Countering the argument, CPI(M) district secretary Kadakampally Surendran said the merger would lead to a spurt in development activities in the panchayat areas.
“A municipal corporation has better access to development funds than a panchayat. The new wards annexed from the Ulloor, Kadakampally, Attipra, Nemom and Thiruvallam panchayats in 2000 have witnessed a development boom over the last nine years. Infrastructure facilities have been augmented and the quality of life has gone up.”
He said the government would ensure that there would be no tax hike for the residents in the newly annexed wards till they had access to better facilities and infrastructure.
Mr.Surendran, however, stressed the need to resolve the staff shortage in the Corporation by creating new posts.
IUML leader and ward councillor Beemapally Rashid said the merger was being forced on the people. “The LDF is turning a deaf ear to public opinion. The people know that it will go against their interests and burden them with high taxes.”
Mr.Rashid said the outlying wards annexed in 2000 were still crying for development.
“The roads, electricity and sewage networks are still woefully inadequate. The new merger will worsen the crisis caused by staff shortage.” He alleged that the LDF was trying to work out a ward delimitation strategy to ensure electoral victory.
Merger beneficial: CPI
CPI leader and Chairman of the standing committee on Health G.R. Anil said public opinion was in favour of the merger.
He said the LDF and the government would come up with solutions to the challenges posed by the merger of panchayats to the Corporation.
“Externally funded projects like the JNNURM implemented by the Corporation already cover the five panchayats that are to be merged with the city.”
K.Jayadevan, general secretary of the Kerala Municipal and Corporation Staff Union, said the merger would lead to a serious crisis in the Corporation unless the problem of staff shortage was resolved.
“The staff strength has failed to match the geographical expansion of the Corporation and the increase in development activities and municipal functions following the devolution of powers by the government. There are no bill collectors in 31 wards. The number of engineering and clerical staff is far short of the requirement”.
Warns of stir
He said the union would be forced to launch a stir demanding augmentation of the workforce.