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Monday Musings: Why are Pune’s civic activists not auditing civic budget?

It is unfortunate that Pune’s citizen groups don’t subject the civic budget to close scrutiny, analysis and follow-ups

pune Updated: Feb 25, 2019 14:07 IST
Abhay Vaidya
Abhay Vaidya
Hindustan Times, Pune
PMC budget,Civic budget,CAG
Yogesh Mulik, standing committee chairman, presents the PMC budget for 2019-2020 to mayor Mukta Tilak on Friday, February 22. ((Sanket Wankhade/HT PHOTO)

On Friday, soon after the 2019-20 civic budget of Rs. 6,765 crore was presented, I was eager to know if knowledgeable citizen-activists and independent experts would subject it to close scrutiny and critique it, as is done with the Union budget.

I was hoping that citizen groups such as Nagrik Chetna Manch, Parisar, National Society for Clean Cities, Pedestrians First, Centre for Environment Education, and others would have taken a close look at the budget and be ready with their comments.

Since these groups, their leaders and activists comment on civic issues so very frequently, it was but natural to expect that they would have a viewpoint on something as important as the civic budget.

To my utter shock and distress, I was told not to expect anything of the kind.

“They would not have seen the budget document so don’t expect them to have a viewpoint. They gather their information from the newspapers,” was what I was told by a senior journalist in close contact with our citizen groups.

That last comment didn’t seem right to me because, to be fair, our citizen activists are in close touch with the civic staff and officials; they use the RTI effectively for civic activism, and often bring civic irregularities to the fore which are then reported by the newspapers.

Why then are they silent on the civic budget? Why don’t they put the previous year’s civic budget to scrutiny to see whether or not the civic funds were well-spent? Second, why don’t they analyse the freshly presented budget document and tell the 50 lakh residents of Pune whether the tax revenue generated by them has been correctly utilised in the budgetary allocations?

Such an exercise won’t happen overnight but will require a dedicated team of civic activists and experts to work on it throughout the year. Once, when the National Centre for Advocacy Studies (NCAS) had prepared one of its analyses of the Union Budget, I had suggested to the then NCAS head John Samuel that something similar should be done for the Pune budget.

The sad fact is that nobody is looking at civic spending closely. The State Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) used to bring out an annual report on civic spending, but that exercise seems to have gone cold without anyone noticing it. Our reports at Hindustan Times reveal the colossal wastage and indiscriminate spending of civic funds. This is apart from the tax payers’ revenue lost to corruption and rigging of tenders in the civic corridors.

Eyebrows are being raised over the latest budget presented by standing committee chairman Yogesh Mulik with nearly Rs. 400 crore devoted to infrastructure and water projects that would benefit the residents of Wadgaonsheri, Ahmednagar Road and Kalyaninagar areas. As many as four flyovers and one flyover extension have been planned for this area under the Wadgaonsheri Assembly constituency which includes the electoral constituencies of Yogesh Mulik and his brother, MLA Jagdish Mulik.

The opposition leaders have rightly criticised these allocations, saying that undue provisions have been made for the electoral benefit of the Mulik brothers at the cost of development in the rest of the city.

It is unfortunate that Pune’s civic activists and citizen groups have chosen to remain silent on the civic budget. Hopefully, things will change for the better next year.

abhay.vaidya@htlive.com

First Published: Feb 25, 2019 14:06 IST