September 27, 2020

Himachal Pradesh: Protest Against Utility charges during Covid Period

Vijender Mehra

SHIMLA Citizens Forum(SCF) held a protest demonstration on September 22 outside the office of the commissioner, Shimla Municipal Corporation(SMC). The protest was held in the backdrop of exorbitant bills being raised by the SMC for garbage, property tax and water charges. Interestingly a large number of business establishments that were closed and continue to be closed since the lockdown was announced in March 2020, for example hotels, restaurants, have been asked to pay garbage bills. Though these establishments did not function and no garbage was generated, still, the SMC has generated bills worth thousands of rupees.

The dharna was held for three hours and later a delegation met the commissioner of the Shimla Municipal Corporation. The delegation was led by Sanjay Chauhan, district secretary of CPI(M) and former mayor of Shimla; and the others who joined the delegation include- Vijender Mehra, president SCF, Kapil Sharma, secretary SCF, Rajeev Thakur, former councillor SMC and  Falma Chauhan.

The leaders while speaking at the public meeting said that in the last six months, more than 70 per cent of the working population has lost their jobs and there has been no help either from the SMC or the state government. The hotel and restaurant industry in the town has been badly hit and nearly 5,000 workers engaged in this industry were rendered unemployed; along with them, taxi operators, tourist guides and tour and travel operators have incurred huge losses.

In such a situation, instead of helping the people, the SMC has moved away from them. Bills worth thousands of rupees have been generated for closed units and houses that were closed owing to reverse migration of a large section of the people.

The main demands of the memorandum include:
•         Withdraw the garbage and water bills for the six-month period.
•         Those units that were functional during the Covid period, for example, paying guest houses, street vendors, shopkeepers, in such units the bills should be collected in a rational form and they should not be asked to pay for six months in one go. They should be allowed to make payment in instalments.
•         Stop the practice of enhancing 10 per cent increase every year in garbage and water bills.
•         The surcharge of 10 per cent on water bills must be withdrawn.
•         Provide 20 kilolitres of water every month free to the households.
•         Stop charging property tax from shops that are owned by the SMC and leased to individuals.
•         Reduce the parking fees in yellow line-markings.