In sharp contrast to its “garden city” reputation, the parks and gardens in Bangalore — numbering over 1060 across nine zones — are slipping into a state of neglect.
The lack of gardening staff, poor equipment and paucity of funds for actual park maintenance despite budgetary allocations by the government are gradually choking the life out of dozens of parks in the city. Though the BBMP in its annual budget 2013-14 has earmarked close to Rs 30 crore towards park maintenance, no fresh tenders have been called to hire new contractors for park maintenance. The old contracts expired nearly three years ago.
Like in the case of the BBMP’s garbage contracts – before the intervention of the Karnataka High Court last year to break the stranglehold of established garbage contractors – the horticulture department has over the last three years extended old contracts for park maintenance without calling for fresh ones.
What this has resulted in, according to highly placed sources in the BBMP, is that many park maintenance contractors have been bleeding the BBMP’s funds without actually doing any work. A few of the existing contractors have been claiming money meant for park maintenance by showing miscellaneous park-related expenditures, irrespective of whether any maintenance work has been carried out or not.
According to documents provided by BBMP sources, since 2011, out of a total Rs 48.15 crore spent on parks, only Rs. 21.02 crore have been claimed via bills with over Rs 27 crore being credited to contractors via detailed contingency claims without documentation or justification of expenses.
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“During several surprise inspections of parks in the city, we have found them to be unhygienic, poorly maintained and equipped with unsafe play sets. The parks do not have maintenance staff or even a single guard. Yet, we have contractors claiming expenses on these parks for periods upto six months or more,” a BBMP official said.
Like in the garbage contracting system, which was dismantled by the high court after a cartelization was observed – BBMP officials and contractors were found to be hand in glove in extending existing garbage contracts – park maintenance also suffers from similar problems. In many BBMP zones, one single contractor controls the maintenance contract of almost all parks.
In 2010, when a Rs 3,500 crore work-scam in the BBMP infrastructure projects was discovered – where Rs 3500 crore in payments was made for infrastructure that existed on paper alone in merely three wards in the city – the city corporation had designated job-codes for public works to make its activity transparent and accountable.
According to BBMP officials, contractors are now working around the job code requirement by taking shelter under ‘extended contract’ and contingency bills to siphon funds since it does come under the scanner of auditors.
Some senior BBMP officials have recently written to the BBMP commissioner demanding a detailed look at the horticulture expenditures in the BBMP by the accountant general of Karnataka.