Your money, down the drain | mumbai | Hindustan Times
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Your money, down the drain

mumbai Updated: Sep 22, 2009 00:59 IST
Sayli Udas-Mankikar

His laptop and printer cost nearly a lakh. And you paid for them. Matunga MLA Jagannath Shetty of the Congress apparently spent Rs 97,220 on hardware for his personal office.

He bought the laptop and printer in March 2006, with money from the MLA Local Area Development Fund.

And this was just one of many transgressions Hindustan Times found when it asked for details of the MLA fund expenditure under the sunshine Right to Information Act.

The details were released by the Planning Officer of the Mumbai (City) Collectorate.

It’s all in black and white. But there is no mechanism to ensure the money goes where it is meant to, or to ensure that those that misuse the public funds are penalised. As for Shetty, he denies the purchase altogether.

“We spend our money on what our ward needs the most,” he told Hindustan Times on Monday. “I have spent a majority of my money on what the poor people in my ward need — water, gutters and public toilets.”

Mumbai’s 34 legislators were allotted a total of Rs 4.2 crore over the last five years for area development work.
That’s Rs 80 lakh per year, a sum that was raised to 1 crore in 2008-09.

Some of that has been spend on hardware and stationery for personal offices (see Not really! in graphic)
Of the rest, much has been spent on road work, repairing old buildings, fixing drains, roads and pathways — tasks that the public is already paying the municipal corporation and various state bodies (like MHADA) to take care of.

But these are populist issues, and much of the electorate doesn’t know it’s a waste of funds meant for playgrounds, beaches, local crèches and nursery schools.

Voters are actually grateful — when it is actually the MLA’s task to dog the authorities to do the job, something that might be considerably more difficult to do.

Meanwhile, many of the buildings that have been restored were not dilapidated or in any danger of collapsing and endangering lives.

“In case of building repairs, those repaired under the fund do not figure in the dilapidated buildings list and are in affluent areas like Girgaum and Napean Sea Road,” said housing expert Chandrashekhar Prabhu.

“These areas are home to wealthy, influential voters..”

Citizen activists are not too happy with the spending patterns either.

“The MLA funds should be spent on works that are sustainable and for the benefit of all taxpayers,” said Anandini Thakoor, chairperson of the H-West Residents’ Trust. “There should be a consultation mechanism so taxpayers can determine how this public money is spent. And MLAs should be more accountable.”

Renuka Tahiliani, a founder member of the Khar-Bandra-Santacruz Foundation, which worked with Bandra MLA Baba Siddiqui on the extension of the Carter Road promenade, agrees.

“In 2007, a few of us came together and thought we should clean up the Khar end of the walkway,” she said. “We approached our legislator and member of Parliament and both of them were more than pleased about the project. Without them, it could probably not have been done.”