Can a grama panchayat deny all of its services to an individual just because he or she defaulted in paying the user fee for waste disposal?
The question took centre stage in the State Assembly on Thursday as Minister for Local Self Government M. B. Rajesh presented the Kerala Municipality (Amendment) Bill, 2024, and the Kerala Panchayat Raj (Amendment) Bill, 2024, which seek stricter enforcement of laws to prevent dumping of waste in public spaces and water bodies.
Clause 219 AD (5) of the Kerala Panchayat Raj (Amendment) Bill, 2024, empowers the panchayat secretary to deny any service to an individual who fails to pay the user fee until the payment is made. The same provision appears in the Kerala Municipality (Amendment) Bill as clause 326 D(5).
Objecting to its inclusion, Leader of the Opposition V. D. Satheesan said that it was a “clear violation” of Article 21 of the Constitution. “If the user fee is not paid, action should be taken on that count. Saying that the individual will be denied all services by the panchayat is a clear violation of Article 21. This provision should be removed,” Mr. Satheesan.
The LSG Minister, however, justified the inclusion of this provision. He argued that stringent law enforcement needs to accompany sensitisation against waste dumping. The provision was designed to ensure payment of user fee, given the resistance against it, he said. Besides, the Municipality Act already has a provision to deny services, he noted. “It has a provision which says trade licence need not be issued if the Property Tax is not paid,” he said.
Both bills are aimed at bringing in a wide range of timely modifications in line with the State government’s ‘Malinyamuktham Nava Keralam’ campaign which envisions a lasting solution to waste management issues by March 2024.
Taking part in the discussion on the bills, UDF members also objected to giving “unlimted powers” to secretaries of local bodies, saying that it harmed the spirit of the Panchayat Raj Act.
The bills were later referred to the Subject Committee.