In his budget speech on Monday, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) chief Sitaram Kunte said his aim was to ensure that Mumbai retains its status as "urbs prima in Indis" (India's premier city). While he did not announce any major initiatives or big-ticket projects, the budget is aimed at allowing citizens to voice their opinions and making it easier for them to deal with civic services.
Kunte has proposed that citizens be consulted before every new purchase is made through the civic website and social networking sites, as proposed in his procurement policy. The tech-savvy bureaucrat has also proposed governance measures using the digital medium.
The budget lays emphasis on interacting with citizens through a new civic news portal where people can write in their ideas and through networking sites.
Along with the focus on major infrastructural works already underway, the budget has proposed micro-level initiatives which Kunte believes will improve the city's appearance. For instance, the budget plans to make Mumbai a "banner-free" city. "Uneven and haphazard advertisement hoardings and banners are hampering the aesthetics so it is necessary to control their mushrooming growth," Kunte said.
The budget also looks at administrative reforms that Kunte hopes will improve governance.
But is giving big projects a miss a good idea? Not everyone shares Kunte's point of view. Samajwadi Party group leader Rais Shaikh said: "Mumbai deserves better. There is nothing new in terms of ideas in the budget. It's just a well-written budget that is not rooted in reality."
A retired municipal auditor, on condition of anonymity, said: "Reforms are meant to be an ongoing process, they can't be a substitute for developmental works and new projects. The budget has to be about big initiatives, not administrative policies."
Civic insiders said the spending on big projects has suffered because of the BMC's precarious financial condition. A drastic dip in property tax collections, which is the second highest income generator, along with a substantial decrease in the premium for fungible FSI has led to a cut in capital expenditure, they said.
While Kunte defended his focus on reforms by saying that major civic projects are already underway, it remains to be seen whether the reforms will improve civic services or not.