More than 10,000 residents of high-rises in New Town on Kolkata’s northern fringes, who live in panchayat area, have decided not to vote in the July 8 elections in West Bengal.
New Town Forum chairman Samaresh Das said there are around 16,000 voters spread across several panchayats and that a majority of them are unwilling to exercise their franchise as they “do not wish to be labelled as villagers”.
“We have already collected signatures of 12,000 voters who have decided not to exercise their franchise besides demanding that the township be taken out of the jurisdiction of panchayats,” Das said.
Das said the forum has been campaigning in favour of a poll boycott and started putting up banners and hoardings across the township asking residents not to vote.
Though the township is in panchayat areas, all civic services are provided by the New Town Kolkata Development Authority (NKDA).
“Though we pay higher civic taxes than people staying in Kolkata Municipal Corporation areas, yet the township is in panchayat areas. That’s an anomaly!” Das said.
“Many people were not aware that their township comes under rural bodies,” NKDA officials said.
Interestingly, this hadn’t caught peoples’ attention in the 2013 and 2018 rural polls, they said.
As the number of panchayat seats has increased considerably after delimitation, most people got to know that their high-rises were part of the rural bodies very recently, they said.
On the other hand, Newtown Citizen’s Welfare Fraternity secretary Samir Gupta said though there was resentment over the issue initially, many people have now decided to cast their votes.
“Initially, we had raised an objection and asked how New Town could come under the jurisdiction of Jyangra-Hatiara panchayat or other panchayats when all services are provided by NKDA,” Gupta said.
“Though it is hard to believe that residents of such a locality are part of panchayats, we realised that the elected representatives could be of some help for solving civic woes,” Gupta added.
Local BJP leader Bhaskar Roy said the area where the township has come up was a panchayat area with two members.
It was acquired by HIDCO and the civic amenities are provided by NKDA, he said.
Prior to delimitation, this area had just two representatives. Now, after delimitation a few months ago, the number of representatives has gone up to eight, he said.
“We are trying to convince people to vote because it is their democratic right,” Bhaskar Roy, who was the BJP’s candidate in the last assembly polls for the Rajarhat-New Town seat, said.
“We are asking residents not to boycott the polls. If they want to change the system, they will have to do it by staying in it,” Roy said.
Explaining the situation, local Trinamool Congress leader Anindya Sinha Roy, who is also a resident of New Town said, one needs to understand why this panchayat election is taking place here.
Though the state government has initiated the process to make New Town a separate municipal town, as of now it is still a panchayat area, he said.
“If you combine three parts of New Town Action areas 1, 2 and 3 the number of voters is a mere 11,000. More than a lakh people stay here, but they are not voters of this area. With this number of voters, New Town cannot become a municipality or a corporation,” he claimed.
Similar was Bidhannagar’s case earlier, he said, adding Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is aware of the situation and the process is on so that the township gets a separate entity.
Local resident and CPI(M) leader Saptarshi Deb said their proposal was that a separate self-governing institution be created in the township. “It could be a small municipality, a notified body or a city council that could work together with the NKDA,” he said.
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