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They may be allowed to purchase ‘official’ mobile phones using public funds, but many councillors and officials of Municipal Corporation overstep their ‘entitlement’, raising questions about a practice that also includes an ‘unlimited’ phone purchase allowance for the Mayor and the Commissioner.
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In a startling information obtained under the RTI and shared with The Indian Express reveals how elected representatives and officers succumb to the temptation of purchasing a latest mobile phone every year, though the Finance and Contract committee has laid down that they are allowed to purchase only one phone in three years, and a maximum of two in a five-year term.
According to the decision taken by the Finance and Contract committee, a councillor was earlier entitled to a mobile phone worth Rs 15,000; the amount was later increased to Rs 22,000 in late 2014. The committee, however, has been more generous with the Mayor (a new one is elected every year) and the Corporation Commissioner.
Councillor Subhash Chawla was among those who made full use of his “entitlement” and more. He bought a Samsung phone on February 11, 2012, and the civic body paid Rs15,000 for it. Next year, in January 2013, when he became the Mayor, he bought a new iPhone 5 worth Rs 45,500 using public money.
After nine months, Chawla again purchased a new phone on October 1, 2013, on the plea that it was in his capacity as a councillor and the MC paid Rs 15,000 for it. When the allowance was raised to Rs 20,000, Chawla bought another one on December 11, 2014.
Talking to Chandigarh Newsline, Chawla said, “One phone was damaged and that is why I got it changed. I purchased the iPhone since as per Mayor’s capacity you are allowed an unlimited amount. I retained this by paying the depreciated amount of Rs 20,000 from my own pocket. I can just say that at present I have only one mobile from the Corporation’s side.”
The then MC Commissioner Bhawna Garg who held that office as additional, used her “unlimited’ allowance to buy a mobile phone worth Rs 24,800 on June 11, 2015. After six months she moved on, and another IAS officer, Baldeo Purushartha, was made the MC Commissioner in December 2015. Garg had returned her phone while leaving but clearly, it did not appeal to Purushartha, who used his “unlimited” allowance to purchase a new iPhone 6 S Plus worth Rs 85,000. Garg’s mobile phone is lying with the MC now. “Commissioner is allowed ‘unlimited amount’. I do everything as per rule and never go beyond the rules,” said Purushartha.
RTI details also revealed that Congress chief Pardeep Chhabra bought a mobile phone on January 21, 2012; eight months later on October 31, 2012, he purchased another mobile phone. In May 2015, he became the owner of another one.
However, denying the RTI details, Chhabra said that he bought only two phones as per the number allowed in one term.
Similarly, VP Singh, then MC Commissioner purchased an iPhone 4S for Rs 43,200 on March 21, 2012, and on March 18, 2013, he bought a Galaxy S3 worth Rs 29,200. The entire amount was paid from public funds.
Like Singh, Councillor Gurbax Rawat bought a mobile phone in January 2012. She then bought another phone in June 2014 and June 2015 as well.
“When I purchased the first mobile, its screen broke and I have submitted it with the MC. There was some problem with the second phone as well and I returned that too. The latest phone which I purchased is giving good service,” she told CNL.
The Finance and Contract Committee has permitted councillors who go in for new phones to retain an old phone on payment of a ‘depreciated amount’ which works out to 10 to 15 per cent of the original cost. Sources said that many prefer to retain the phones by paying the depreciated amount.
“The Mayors and Commissioners prefer to pay the depreciated amount which is peanuts. In this process, they get expensive phones by paying 10 per cent of it,”said a senior official.
Claiming that the powers given to these officials should be used judiciously, BJP Councillor Satinder Singh said, “ If the MC has given powers to Mayor and Commissioner wherein they can spend ‘unlimited’ amount on mobile phones,then such powers should be used judiciously. At the end of the day it is public money. There should be a proper regulation on this so as to check that every year hefty amounts are not spent on lavish mobile phones.”
However, Satinder’s words of wisdom seems to have fallen flat as his own party member and Mayor Arun Sood purchased the latest iPhone 6 when he was elected in January this year. Interestingly, Sood had already purchased two phones worth Rs 22,000 and Rs 15,000 respectively as a councillor on July 30, 2015 and in 2012. The Mayor, who is in Australia, was unavailable for comments.
Attempts were made to contact the then Commissioner VP Singh but he did not respond.