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Friday, Nov 22, 2019

Five years in opposition: Missing in action in Pune, NCP-Congress leaves space for activists to be watchdogs

Be it bid-rigging, re-tendering in many projects over extra cost or wastage of funds in excessive concretisation of roads, the opposition’s job in Pune was done by civil society watchdogs

pune Updated: Oct 15, 2019 16:38 IST
Yogesh Joshi
Yogesh Joshi
Hindustan Times, Pune
Barring sporadic protests, leaders from Congress and NCP were missing in action as they lost elections one after another since 2014. (In pic) The opposition failed to raise the issue of public bicycle sharing scheme.
Barring sporadic protests, leaders from Congress and NCP were missing in action as they lost elections one after another since 2014. (In pic) The opposition failed to raise the issue of public bicycle sharing scheme.(HT/PHOTO)
         

If the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) performance in Pune during the past five years was a mixed bag, the opposition fared dismally.

An appraisal of the opposition’s performance in Pune during the last five years by independent experts and activists indicates that on multiple issues the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) could have performed better in demanding transparency and accountability from BJP at the local body level, state and Centre.

Barring sporadic protests, leaders from Congress and NCP were missing in action as they lost elections one after another since 2014.

Be it bid-rigging, re-tendering in many projects over extra cost or wastage of funds in excessive concretisation of roads, the opposition’s job in Pune was done by civil society watchdogs.

Many mega projects are lined up in Pune starting from river rejuvenation, high capacity mass transit route (HCMTR), Maha-Metro, Smart City initiatives, flyovers and footpaths and 24x7 water scheme. In some cases, the bids were inflated while in other there has been delay in project implementation. Many of these projects are done with assistance from the state and central governments.

In most cases where things are not on track, opposition parties’ voice is missing, said Right To Information (RTI) activist Vijay Kumbhar. He observed that the NCP and Congress have lent opposition space to activists who are highlighting various issues.

“The opposition parties in Pune have been ineffective. In fact, they are hand-in-glove with the ruling party to safeguard their own interests,” said Kumbhar.

Kumbhar was instrumental in exposing various irregularities in the past, starting from illegal construction by Girish Vyas that led to the political downfall of the then chief minister Manohar Joshi. In recent times, Kumbhar followed up the case against Pune real estate developer DS Kulkarni, leading to his arrest.

An example of what Kumbhar said could be a bid-rigging scam in Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) where civic officials colluded with private firms to rig the bids. It was only after Gen SCN Jatar (retd), president of Nagrik Chetna Manch, raised the issue that Competition Commission of India (CCI) imposed a fine of Rs 3.57 crore on six firms.

Debris dumping in rivers has been happening blatantly though no party in opposition has raised a voice. Recently, a group of green activists approached the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and forced the local body and water resource department to act.

According to Jatar, the opposition parties have been ineffective in keeping a check on BJP’s work – whether in PMC or at the state level.

“The opposition in Pune is as bad as BJP when it was in opposition five years back. Despite crores of rupees being wasted on various not-so-important things, the opposition is silent. They all are involved,” said Jatar.

The opposition, however, has refuted the charges saying whenever there were issues of public interest, they raised voice and in some cases forced the ruling party to change their decision.

“Congress has questioned various issues and even exposed several scams of the BJP-Sena government. It’s a different matter that the government has been defending the corrupt,” said Ramesh Bagwe, city unit chief of Congress.

Bagwe’s colleague Ramesh Iyer, spokesperson for the party in Pune, listed out various issues his party has raised. Iyer said, “We protested against inflated tenders for 24x7 water scheme, opposed hike in fuel prices, raised voice against delay in several projects, including a flyover at Chandani chowk.”

Ankush Kakade of NCP said the opposition was one of the most effective in Pune, forcing BJP to call back their decision. “It was the opposition by NCP and Congress that forced BJP had to call back Katraj-Kondhwa road tender plan, saving public money. We also raised the issues of garbage, mismanagement in water supply and encroachment on hills,” said Kakade.