In January this year, the organising committee members of Urur Kuppam and Alcot Kuppam, had planned to host a Carnatic music concert and a Chennai Corporation Band performance on Besant Nagar beach during the Marghazhi Festival. Little did they suspect that organising these events would lead to a protracted tussle with the government for the next six months.
Applying for permission
The two concerts were scheduled for January 29th and February 4th at the Besant Nagar beach. The committee members approached the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) for the necessary permission. But after making several visits to the offices of the Regional Deputy Commissioner (South) and the Zonal Officer of Zone 13, they found no clarity on the conservancy charge imposed by the GCC during the use of public spaces.
A committee member involved in the process of getting permission told Citizen Matters that the GCC had initially asked the organisers to pay Rs 2,000 as conservancy fees. But within a few days, the officials at the zonal and regional DC offices asked for an additional Rs 13,000.
“Four days before the event, we were informed that the conservancy fee had been revised to Rs 15,000. And since we were hosting two events we had to pay Rs 30,000,” said the committee member. By then, however, it was too late to retract and the committee members paid the prescribed fee of Rs 30,000, thus ensuring that the two events could be held as per schedule.
However, two aspects annoyed the organisers: One, the conservancy charge imposed by the GCC was too high for a no-ticket/non-profit public event. Two, no information about conservancy charges was available in the public domain. So the organisers, took up the issue after the curtains were down for the events.
No information on conservancy charges
Nithyanand Jayaraman, resident of Besant Nagar and member of the organising committee of the Kuppam event, believes that the GCC officials were behaving arbitrarily. “It was a no-ticket and not-for-profit event. How can a heavy fee of Rs 15,000 be imposed for using the beach for two hours? It only implies that the authorities do not want citizens to use the public space. How else can they justify such a huge fee?” asks Jayaraman.
When an organising committee member asked the regional district commissioner and other zonal officials as to why the initial conservancy fee, fixed at Rs 2,000, was hiked to Rs 15,000, she did not get a response.
“An official said the fee was revised three days before granting us permission, whereas another official said it was revised two months before we had applied. When we asked if they could show us the circular or order copy that mentioned the revised conservancy charge, they did not reply. They cannot arbitrarily hike the fee and impose it on the public without any proof,” said the committee member.
Looking for redressal
Meanwhile, K Saravanan, also from the organising committee, filed an application under the Right to Information Act (RTI), seeking information about conservancy charges. In an RTI application dated 13th March, addressed to the Public Information Officer (PIO) of Zone 13, Saravanan asked for details of the rules, statutes, or order under which conservancy fee is levied for organising unticketed events in public spaces, such as Besant Nagar beach.
Saravanan requested the PIO to furnish a copy of the Council Resolution authorising the levying of conservancy fee on organisers of unticketed events in public spaces. But after five months of filing the RTI, he is yet to get a response from the PIO.
In the meantime, Saravanan also filed an appeal with the First Appellate Authority at Zone 13 on 13th April. But he did not get a reply or a call to attend a hearing.
“I visited the office of the PIO and the appellate authority several times. Each time they assured me that they would share the information soon, but did not do so. Now, I have filed an appeal with the State Information Commission and await a reply,” said Saravanan.
When this reporter called the Executive Engineer of Zone 13, who is in-charge of conservancy fees, he was told that information on conservancy fees is available in the Solid Waste Management (SWM) section of the GCC website. But a thorough search of the website did not show any documentation on conservancy charges.
[UPDATE DATED SEP 4, 2017:
The Greater Chennai Corporation has replied to the RTI query filed by K Saravanan, recently. In a reply dated August 31 2017, the Public Information Officer/Executive Engineer of Zone 13 has not clarified if there exists rules or statutes or any order under which conservancy fees are levied for holding unticketed events generally in Chennai.
The reply plainly states, “Normally the Greater Chennai Corporation levied Conservancy charges Rs 15,000 per day from the organiser of the event who sought permission to conduct event at Elliots Beach.”
The PIO has attached a copy of the two permission letters from the Regional DC issued to the Marghazi Festival organisers and to one Suraj Singh, Sports PRO to do a promotional installation for 15 days for the ICC Champions Trophy – 2017 in May 2017.
Both the permission letters mention the levy of Rs 15,000 as conservancy charge, but there is no information about the basis on which the fee is levied.
To a query on whether a Council resolution was passed authorising the levy of conservancy fee from organisers of public events held in public spaces, the PIO has replied saying no resolution was passed.]