No sops in the last BMC budget before civic polls
Presenting its last budget before the all-important elections to the BMC next year, municipal commissioner chief Ajoy Mehta on Wednesday bucked the trend of a populist offering on poll-eve and instead came up with a no-frills one. No increase in your direct taxes, but no new projects either.
Mehta’s budget size was a whopping Rs37,052.15 crore, an increase of 9.5 % over the last year’s budget outlay of Rs33,519.15 crore. The budget, however, raised octroi on the import of crude into the city by refineries, which could push up petrol and diesel rates a bit.
The budget could intensify the squabbling between the ruling allies in the state and the civic body, the BJP and the Shiv Sena.
With an eye on the elections, the Sena, which heads the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corportation, was naturally keen on a populist budget -- major infrastructure projects and enhanced public spending. It may see this low-key offering as a deliberate ploy by the BJP -- which heads the state government and, hence, controls the civic administration – to deny the Sena any mileage from sops ahead of the BMC elections.
Read more: BMC struggles to cope with falling income
In fact, one of the biggest allocations has been reserved for the ambitious coastal road project, which got Rs1,000 crore. This, again, is a project that the BJP has been keen on showcasing as its own.
Beyond the politics behind the budget, a closer look at the numbers reveals that the country’s richest civic body may be struggling to fund itself. Its incomes from two primary sources, octroi and development charges, are dipping as a result of slow activity in certain sectors, especially real estate. This could further heighten tensions between the ruling allies. Contrary to the Sena’s hopes, the budget will spend far less on roads and storm water drains, two sectors that saw widespread irregularities by contractors and officers.
As against Rs3600 crore allocated for constructing roads afresh in the city last year, the amount is now about Rs2800 crore. The storm water drains department also registered a similar dip in its allocation.
Sounding the alarm bells on the BMC’s finances, Mehta, in fact, said that the civic body would aggressively look at creating new sources of income, through various user charges and taxes. However, it is unlikely that these charges would be imposed this year with elections due early next year.
“It has become extremely essential to restrict the expenditure within the revenue resources, especially on establishment. Our first priority, will, therefore be to ensure financial stability so that shortage of resources does not mar the development works in future,” Mehta said.
Among other things, the budget has proposed a different rate of fees for patients from outside Mumbai who avail of medical treatment at civic-run hospitals. The BJP along with the opposition parties opposed the move almost immediately after it was announced.