Rs 463 crore. That’s what the Shiv SenaBharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ruled Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) spent in October alone on infrastructure, thanks to the impending election code of conduct. The dates for the civic election, scheduled for December or January, are expected to be announced within a fortnight. The code, that would block all new expenditure, will come into force immediately after that.
Apparently eager to kickstart projects and use up the budgetary allocation ahead of the election — where their victory is far from certain — the ruling combine cleared proposals worth several times more than the BMC’s average monthly expenditure on infrastructure. In October 2005, for instance, the BMC spent a mere Rs 68 crore.
Though the ruling side cites several reasons for the sudden concern for infrastructure, civic officials say it’s not lost on anybody that the code of conduct will kick in soon. “It’s an open secret. Suddenly, the Standing Committee has gone into overdrive,” said a BMC official, who showed HT the expenditure records.
The Standing Committee comprises elected representatives and is authorised to clear all projects.
Not surprisingly, the opposition Congress is crying foul. Leader of the Opposition Rajhans Singh alleged: “The Sena-BJP is clearing proposals in a hurry so that they can claim to have done a lot for the city.” He also alleged corruption in the handing out of contracts.
But former municipal commissioner SS Tinaikar said all parties are guilty of raising spends just before elections.
“Ruling parties in civic bodies and state governments please contractors and create an impression that they are doing a lot for the people,” he said.
Contractors are important because it is they who donate to the party funds.
Mayor Datta Dalvi (Sena), meanwhile, refuted Singh’s allegation. “What is wrong in doing the work? We are doing it for the city,” he told HT.
But BJP leader Parag Alvani admitted the spend was way over the average.
“Yes, the impending code of conduct is one reason for the excess spending. But it is also because of the peculiarity of the budget, which makes projectwise provisions instead of department-wise.” Of the BMC’s Rs 9,865 crore budget for 2006, there is a provision of Rs 2,200 crore for capital works. Going by the average, the BMC should have spent a mere Rs 180 to Rs 200 crore in October.
The saffron combine has been ruling the BMC for a decade but this year the Sena has been weakened by two major splits led by Narayan Rane and Raj Thackeray respectively. This has, in turn, weakened the saffron combine.