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BMC budget rationalised, now for accountability

What’s dismaying is that recreation and conservation continue to be served in step-motherly fashion

mumbai Updated: Mar 31, 2017 00:27 IST
Ayaz Memon
Ayaz Memon
Hindustan Times
Mumbai news,Ayaz Memon,BMC budget
As is only too well known, the BMC is the biggest, richest corporation in the country with a track record that oscillates between the dismal and the mediocre.(HT FILE)

BMC commissioner Ajoy Mehta’s budget speech the other day lasted nearly three hours. Unlike in cricket, it is unlikely there are statisticians who log such details for reference. But surely this must be a record of sorts.

I understand Mehta read out 150 pages without taking a major break – though there were some pauses – which makes it an even more astonishing achievement and perhaps unparalleled in the chronicles of the corporation.

Two things emerge from this marathon effort: that Mehta has supreme stamina, and that he was completely thorough in his preparation. In the context of how such exercises are usually conducted, the latter aspect is pertinent, though saving approximately Rs12,000 crore in just about 180 minutes is no mean strike rate!

Since the commissioner didn’t hum and haw, there has been no buzz of discord over the figures presented. Dissenting corporators have been stymied, at least for now, largely perhaps because they have been left nonplussed by the huge cut in the budget.

Mehta has slashed it by a little over 32% – from Rs37,052 crore to Rs25,141 crore. That’s one-third lopped! Explaining the cut, Mehta said his endeavour was based on a realistic appraisal of the situation and projects in the pipeline.

From this, one deduces he does not want to give in to pipedreams as in the past. But while some cut was always anticipated, such a major revision raises legitimate queries about why the previous budgets had been so high.

Moreover, if there was so much money available earlier, where and how was it spent? And if not spent, how and why were the provisos, which led to a colossal waste of time and obviously leakage of funds allowed to lapse without anybody taking responsibility.

I doubt many such details will be forthcoming, but it is important to keep these queries alive for future reference. As is only too well known, the BMC is the biggest, richest corporation in the country with a track record that oscillates between the dismal and the mediocre.

The largest spend in the current budget is expectedly on infrastructure projects. In the pecking order of priorities, this is correct, for Mumbai is crumbling under the weight of its own growth; or lack of support for it.

There are modest allocations for health and education. These could have been upped, particularly the former, as India has no safety net for health care. Social security doesn’t exist and health insurance remains beyond the reach of the majority.

What’s dismaying is that recreation and conservation continue to be served in step-motherly fashion. Upgradation of 84 playgrounds (Rs26.8 crore), upgradation of 20 gardens/recreation spaces (Rs70 crore) and 8 new swimming pools (Rs45 crore): these are paltry sums surely.

Indeed, the number of new swimming pools envisaged is symptomatic of the indifference towards sports. This is, of course, a national malaise but one would have liked the BMC to go that extra mile to make Mumbai a humming sports city.

With a population close to 20 million, dozen-odd pools (including the existing ones) are wholly insufficient. The complaint can be extended to most other disciplines, where accessibility to sports infra remains beyond the reach of ordinary folk.

But these miffs pale into insignificance compared to transparency and accountability, which have been at a premium in the corporation. The more cynical amongst us might say these have actually been non-existent because no amount of criticism appears to have had any effect in the past.

They have a point when you look at the potholed-roads, the collapsing health care and education, the haphazard garbage collection and disposal, among others. I’ll desist from listing a litany of issues here as all these (and more) have been debated ad infinitum.

Interestingly though, this debate underwent a transformation in the run up to the recent elections when transparency and accountability became the central issues in campaigning: intriguingly, with allies Shiv Sena and BJP ranged against each other.

So what happens now? The dust of the elections has settled. Hopefully, perceptions of transparency and accountability have changed. They can’t remain mere buzzwords whose purpose lapses after the votes have been cast.

Now expectations have to be met. If not, questions will be asked. Urgently and recurringly.


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First Published: Mar 31, 2017 00:27 IST