The standing committees of both Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad municipal corporations collectively decide the fate of projects worth over Rs 3,000 crore every year. At every meeting held once a week, several projects are approved without any discussion. And though the standing committees decide on public projects, citizens as well as journalists are barred from attending the meetings, which are held in a closed-door hall at the civic headquarters.
Raising objections to the hush hush manner in which corporators approve the projects worth crores, the Pune unit of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has demanded that the standing committee meetings be thrown open to the general public and journalists as is done in case of civic general body meetings. “Why should the standing committee meetings be held behind closed doors? When the corporators in the meetings are supposed to decide how the public money is to be spent on public projects, why are the people kept away from such meetings?” asked Maruti Bhapkar, Pune coordinator of AAP.
Alleging that corporators from different political parties gang up and make money out of public projects, Bhapkar said, “Corporators from all parties take commissions from contractors. A project is approved only after the contractor, who wants to take up the project, agrees to pay certain sum of money to each member of the standing committee. The chairman gets the highest share. And this is the reason why contractors finally submit inflated bills. This means the public money is going straight into the pockets of the corporators for doing nothing.”
AAP said it will agitate till the standing committee meetings – both in PMC and PCMC — become an open affair. “On Monday, we will submit a letter to the PMC and PCMC chiefs as well as chairpersons of both standing committees, urging them to keep the meetings of standing committees open to the general public and journalists. If this is not done, we will agitate,” Bhapkar said.
Accepting that projects worth crores are awarded only after contractors agree to pay kickbacks, a senior civic official – who didn’t wish to be named – said: “At every standing committee meeting, it becomes clear that everything is pre-decided. Projects which are okayed without any discussion are already promised to contractors who have agreed to pay commission. If any contractor refuses to pay commission, the committee calls for re-tendering or keeps the project pending till the contractor bows before them.”
PMC has an annual budget of over Rs 3,500 crore, while PCMC has a budget of Rs 2,000 crore. The civic chiefs have powers to approve projects up to Rs 25 lakh, while above it, the standing committee takes a call. “If we leave the salary part, standing committees of both civic bodies decide the fate of projects over Rs 3,000 crore away from the public eye. The figure could be more,” said Vijay Kumbhar, convenor of the Surajya Sangarsh Samiti.
He said the demand to throw open civic standing committees is a long-pending one. “We have submitted letters and made appeals to the PMC, but the civic body has consistently ignored our demand.”
Kumbhar said the BPMC Act nowhere mentions that the standing committee meetings should be held behind closed doors. “If they have to hold a secret meeting, they should pass a resolution to this effect. But the PMC standing panel has never passed such a resolution. In effect, it means holding a closed-door meeting is illegal,” he said, alleging that meetings are held in secret manner because corporators are interested in getting their “cut”.
Commissioners of PMC and PCMC do not seem averse to keeping the standing committee meetings open to public, but are not saying it in as many words. Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Commissioner Shrikar Pardeshi said, “The decision is to be taken by the standing committee chairman.”
PCMC standing committee chairman Navnath Jagtap said, “Personally, I have no problem in keeping the meetings open to people. But unlike the bigger civic general body meeting hall, the standing committee hall is too small too accommodate anybody other than officials and corporators.” He denied that corporators demand a cut from contractors, which is why meetings are a closed-door affair.
PMC chief Mahesh Pathak said, “Nothing is specified in the BPMC Act regarding committee meetings… Anyway, the decision is to be taken by the municipal secretary.” PMC municipal secretary Sunil Parkhi said, “The standing committee chairman should take a decision in the matter.” PMC standing committee chairman Vishal Tambe, in turn, said, “I will discuss the issue with the committee members and take a decision.”