With the municipal elections looming ahead in 2012, deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, who also holds the purse strings of the state as the finance minister, seems to be in a generous mood. On Thursday, Pawar announced an increase in the development fund for each legislator by Rs50 lakh every year.
However, Pawar's largesse to the legislators will put an additional burden of Rs182 crore every year on the state exchequer - Rs728 crore in the next four years.
Pawar said: "Agreeing to demands of legislators, the MLA fund has been increased by Rs50 lakh, ie, from Rs1.5 crore annually to Rs2 crore."
The fund is given to 289 members of the Legislative Assembly and 78 members of the Legislative Council. They can use the money at their discretion to improve amenities or any other developmental work in their respective constituencies. In majority of cases, the funds are used for building toilet blocks, internal roads, water pipelines, community halls, etc.
However, the past performance when it comes to disbursal of the funds raises many questions. There have been several complaints that money is not utilised for development of the area and is instead being diverted to privately run NGOs.
Activists also claimed that several times the funds were spent on minor works that were not necessarily benefiting the residents of the area.
Interestingly, the funds for the state legislators were last hiked in 2010 from Rs1 crore to Rs1.5 crore.
Political observers said the announcement was well timed since parties would now have more money to spend on local works and make their voters happy in the run-up to the civic and zilla parishad elections.
With the election commission keeping a strict watch on expenditure, hiked funds would allow all political parties to legitimately spend more.
According to experts, the move was also aimed at appeasing the Opposition, which had been protesting against Pawar allocating funds to the ruling parties.
There was bitterness between Pawar and the Opposition Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party legislators after nine of them were suspended for disrupting the finance minister's first budget speech earlier this month. The Opposition MLAs were upset that the government had refused to accept their demand to make them heads of local level committees for disbursement of funds to the destitute under the Sanjay Gandhi Niradhar Yojana scheme.