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Friday, January 26, 2007

Pay taxes but don’t plead, raise voice

I live in Kaushambi, a middle class colony on Delhi-UP border. The state of roads, sewers, parks and sanitation is pathetic. We have been pleading with local authorities all these years. More than 300 letters have been written to them. We have just got assurances.
Recently, I was informed under the Right to Information Act that the roads in my area were repaired last year for Rs 25 lakh. Surprisingly, except for a few potholes being filled, nothing else was done. What do we do now? Should we go back to the same authorities and plead for action against the guilty? We would spend a life time, and no one would be punished.
This is the state of governance all over the country. The role of a citizen is limited to just pleading and pleading before the government which never listens. Is this democracy?
Our calculations show that Kaushambi pays roughly Rs 92 lakh of property tax every year to the Ghaziabad Municipal Corporation.
This money is supposed to be spent on roads, sanitation etc but is being siphoned off. Before spending, the government never bothers to ask us what we want. We find completely useless work being carried out which will not help the citizens in any way. But, whenever we go requesting them to carry out some work, the answer is ‘‘There is no money.’’
Some bureaucrat or politician sitting faraway decides what we need. Isn’t this a completely bizarre system? In the name of representative democracy, we have surrendered control over our own lives to a nameless bureaucracy and untrustworthy politicians.
Shouldn’t the people decide what they need? Shouldn’t the people be able to impose penalties on local officials who do not respond to their needs? Genuine local self-governance for our day-to-day needs is the solution. This way, we will have control over our own lives.
Some beginnings have been made in rural areas. Panchayats in West Bengal and Kerala collect and spend their own property tax. Those in Madhya Pradesh write annual confidential reports of local government functionaries. They even have the powers to stop the salaries of workers who do not perform. Though much bolder steps are required in urban areas, a genuine process is yet to start.
More than a hundred years ago, movements for democracy started in different parts of the world with the slogan ‘‘no taxation without representation.’’ The inadequacy of representative democracy compels us to demand ‘‘no taxation without controls’’. We have to have greater direct control over our own lives and destinies.
(The author is an RTI activist and a Magsaysay Award winner)
Arvind Kejriwal, Publication: Times Of India Delhi; Date:2007 Jan 26; Section:India Poised; Page Number 3

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