Although the civic body presented a surplus budget of Rs26,581 crore on Tuesday, experts and activists believe the budget leaves out almost 65 lakh or 53% of the city’s 1.24 crore population living in the slums.
Right from a proposed hike in their water charges by 55% as compared to a hike of 14% for residential units, to spending a paltry Rs151 crore or just 1% of the total budget on improvement of slums in the city, many feel this budget not only ignores but also antagonises the city’s poor.
Samajwadi Party group leader in the BMC Rais Shaikh said, “It is such an irony that only Rs70 lakh is allotted to repair toilets in civic schools across the city while relaying of the entire Marine Drive stretch alone gets a budgetary provision of Rs36 crore. Such contrasts in spending show where the priorities of the civic administration lie. This budget for the most part is anti-poor.”
Although the budget makes a provision of around Rs6,553 crore under the ‘services to the urban poor’ head, Shaikh called it a smart number game.
“They cannot include the budgets of education and health and say that they are spending it only on the poor. They cannot ignore such a vast majority of the population.”
Another contentious issue is the hike in water charges. For slums, the charges have been proposed to be increased from Rs2.25 to Rs3.50 per 1,000 litres, while for residences it has been proposed from Rs3.50 to Rs4 per 1,000 litres.
Though the civic body has defended the disparity in increase of water charges for slums and residential units by saying that residential units have to pay more even after the hike, experts dismiss this argument.
Dr Sandhya Iyer, faculty member, Centre for Developing Studies, Tata Institute of Social sciences said, “Rs4 for 1,000 litres means nothing for middle and a higher income group household. But, if you charge Rs3.50 for the same quantity in slum households, then it translates into a lot.”
Experts believe that the key lies in more equitable distribution of civic resources. “When 65% of your population lives in the slums, you cannot spend a pittance for their development. Civic resources such as water, health and sanitation facilities have to be spread equitably. If that is not possible, then the civic body has to ensure that the poor at least get adequate funding,” said Raju Bhise, director of YUVA, an NGO which works for the urban poor.