Updated: February 19, 2021 1:02:50 am
In an apparent bid to use up the funds before the end of their terms, outgoing corporators of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation have spent nearly 13 per cent of their annual local area development (LAD) funds on concrete and steel benches and name boards.
To deter the elected representatives from spending huge chunks of their discretionary budgets on benches, a guideline was introduced by the AMC’s planning department in 2018, capping the amount to be spent on benches at not more than 10 per cent of the allocation.
Out of 192 AMC corporators in 48 wards with Rs 52.8 crore budget each financial year, data available of 176 revealed that they spent over Rs 6.27 crore on benches alone in 2019-20.
After the cap of 10 per cent was put into effect in 2018, a huge chunk of funds was diverted to putting up name boards signboards bearing names of the societies) outside residential complexes, societies or chawls.
The Indian Express analysed the budget spending of 176 AMC corporators for the financial year 2019-20 and found that nearly double the amount was spent on name boards than benches.
In 2019-20, Rs 3.55 crore spent on benches, while Rs 6.27 crore was spent on name boards, by 142 corporators of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and 50 of the Congress, a trend noticed since the new bar on spending on benches.
Nearly a dozen corporators were found violating the 10 per cent limit on spending on benches, majorly for the wards of Ghatlodiya, Gota and Bodakdev where budget spending on benches was between Rs 3 lakh and Rs 6.5 lakh. In some wards, 40 per cent of the LAD was spent on gates and signboards such as Nava Vadaj, Navrangpura, Vasna, Chandkheda, Sabarmati, Khokhra and Odhav.
Three-time BJP corporator from Nava Vadaj ward, Rameshbhai Desai, who has been leader of BJP in the AMC, told The Indian Express, “It is true that the 2019-20 budget has been spent on benches and nameboards. The focus for the previous years during this term was on important works such as roads, sewage, RCC roads, paver blocks. This being the last year, remaining funds were spent on boards and benches as 90 per cent of the development work was completed.” Desai has spent mainly on roads and drainage lines.
In Nava Vadaj, Rs 56 lakh was spent on boards followed by Navrangpura where Rs 46 lakh and Khokhra, Rs 38.50 lakh from the LAD was spent on boards.
“To meet their annual budget spending, councillors spent citizen’s tax money on boards and gates at entrances of residential complexes where gates and boards already existed… as per AMC’s planning department’s guidelines… there is no clause of spending on gates,” Santosh Rathod from Jagrut Yuva Sewa Samiti, a non-government organisation in Ahmedabad, said.
BJP corporator of Ranip ward, Bhadreshkumar Makwana (each ward has four corporators) where Rs 9.26 lakh was spent on benches and over Rs 31 lakh on boards, says, “Even if your heart does not agree to use the grant on benches and boards, you have to because that is what people demand.”
He adds how in the initial years of the term, the expenditure on benches and boards was not more than Rs 4 lakh for all the four councillors of the ward. “We had spent Rs 1 lakh each in the previous years but in the last year we spent more because of the increased demand. The ward has more slum areas and housing board localities where demand for benches and boards is more…”
The cost of erecting one concrete bench is around Rs 1,800 and steel bench around Rs 9,000, while board that depends upon the size of the entrance gate comes out nearly Rs 15,000 to Rs 25,000.
In contrast, IN Jamalpur ward in the walled city, only Rs 1.95 lakh was spent on signboards. Shahnawaz Sheikh, sitting Congress corporator, said that since benches and boards were already in the ward, the grant was used on other facilities.
The annual LAD is increased by nearly 10 per cent every year, so each corporator has almost Rs 1.30 crore for the five-year term. In 2016-17, as many as 160 corporators (total budget of 160 corporators is Rs 36.96 cr) spent Rs 3.35 cr on benches alone.
AMC guidelines on expenditure
To check rampant expenditure of the corporators’ LAD on different shapes and types of concrete benches, AMC’s planning department issued guidelines on September 7, 2018 on the kind, number and sites for benches in the city.
“There is a practice by corporators, MLAs and MPs to put up benches of different types from their grants across the city. There is a need to frame a policy for how many, where and what type of benches should be installed as specific type of benches will only enhance the beauty of the city. Also, keeping in mind the requirements of pedestrians so that the benches do not create any kind of obstructions for them, these guidelines… are to be followed,” AMC’s order said.
The guidelines barred spending more than Rs 10 per cent of the annual LAD on benches, placing benches on footpaths to hinder pedestrains and exempted footpaths with a width of more than 2.50 metre from having benches.
It also restricted the benches to not more than four for one location, and each at a distance of 200 metre, to be only placed at parks, lakes, government clinics and hospitals, tourist places, religious places, government units, government quarters, cremation grounds, common
plots handed over by societies to corporation, corporation schools and anganwadi centres.
Works corporators can do under LAD funds
As per the standing committee’s resolution passed February 2,2018 a corporator could spend his or her LAD funds on projects ranging from water, roads, toilets, gardens, schools, libraries or crematoriums, all public areas.
These include water, sewage, pavement, along with paver roads or RCC roads in slum areas, roads, public gymnasiums, urban health centres,
schools, hospitals, crematoriums, public toilets, gardens and other such civic amenities.
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