Rs 463 crore. This is what the ruling Shiv Sena-BJP ruled Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) spent in just one month of October on infrastructure works, thanks to the impending election code of conduct that prevents the ruling parties from sanctioning new expenditure.
Apparently eager to empty the civic coffers ahead of the election (where they are not sure of returning to power) the ruling saffron combine cleared proposals worth Rs 463.25 crores in October—several times more than BMC’s average monthly expenditure on infrastructure works.
For instance, in the same month last year (October 2005), the BMC’s spending was just Rs 68 crore. Proposals were cleared quickly by Sena-led Standing Committee. Now contractors are being awarded the civic infrastructure works.
Though the ruling side is citing several reasons for the huge expenditure in a short span of time, the motive is to blow up the money as much as possible before the State Election Commission clamps code of conduct on the civic body. The election for the civic body is due in December or January and the announcement is expected within a fortnight. The code of conduct comes into effect the moment the election schedule is announced.
“It is an open secret why the ruling parties are committing huge expenditure in a hurry just before the code of conduct is imposed. Suddenly, there is lot of activity in the standing committee,”said a key BMC official who let the HT take a look at the way the taxpayers’ money is being spent by the civic body.
The standing committee comprising elected representatives is authorised to clears all financial projects for the city. Rs 463 crores is being spent on projects like improving the water pipeline, preparing contour maps and other such infrastructural projects.
“It is common in the run up to the elections. All political parties do it,”remarked former municipal commissioner S.S.Tinaikar. “Ruling parties in all civic bodies or even State Government please contractors and also create an impression that they are doing a lot for people,”he added.
Contractors are important for political parties because they are the ones who donate to the party fund.
Expectedly, Opposition Congress and NCP leaders described the move as a foul play by the ruling parties.
Leader of the opposition Rajhans Singh (Congress) alleged, “The Sena-BJP is clearing proposals in a hurry as they can claim that, they have cleared that many infrastructural projects for the city. The second and most relevant reason is that they want to pocket the commission ranging from one to four percent which they claim for clearing proposals, which will be later ploughed back to fight election.”
Singh, alleged that the ruling members receive a commission ranging from one to four percent from the companies that bag the project. This is then used for election campaigning and to woo voters.
Mayor Datta Dalvi refuted the allegations. ‘‘You think the amount is big because we cleared 40 per cent of the infrastructural projects. What is wrong in doing the work? We are doing it for the city,”he reasoned.
BJP leader Parag Alvani too admitted that there was more than average spending. “I agree that the impending code of conduct is one reason for the excess spending. But I also think that the peculiarity of the budget, which has made provisions for budgets instead of departments is the reason for the money being used.”
This year there is a provision of Rs 2200 crore for capital works. Going by the average, the BMC should spend about Rs 180 crore to Rs 200 crore a month. In October, the standing committee cleared more than double the average.
The BMC, the biggest civic body in India, has this year budget of Rs 9,865 crore, on par with several smalls states of India. The Shiv Sena-BJP alliance has been ruling the civic body for a decade but its dominance is seriously challenged by Congress.
The Sena is not a strong as it used to be, thanks to two successive splits caused by Narayan Rane and Raj Thackeray. The party has a lot at stake in the coming civic elections.