THE PUBLIC representatives and members of Chandigarh civic body enjoy some lavish perks when it comes to purchase of gadgets and mobile phones.
Even as the corporation is in a deep financial crisis when public works are to be carried out but not many in the city know that a Mayor every year takes the latest version of iPhone. A Mayor and Commissioner are allowed to purchase mobile phone and laptop of “unlimited cost” and allowed to make unlimited calls for free.
There has always been a trend of the purchase of latest version of iPhone whenever new Mayor comes. The Mayor in Chandigarh is elected in January every year and has a one-year term.
Even the present incumbent — Mayor Rajesh Kalia — went in for the latest iPhone X, which was worth around Rs 95,000. When these two key members are enjoying the facility, even councillors are not behind. Each councillor is allowed to purchase a mobile phone of a whopping amount of Rs 45,000 and a laptop of Rs 75,000. Each councillor can purchase two such mobile phones and one laptop in a five-year term. This facility is available for all councillors — 26 elected ones and nine nominated ones.
The logic behind purchasing laptops for councillors was to make the corporation paper-less. Each agenda in the meeting was around 400 pages and that was not just the wastage of paper but funds as well. Also, it was said that the councillors have to attend to residents’ emails. But the House meetings were never made paper-less and today as well the agendas are circulated in the paper form.
The chairman of Federations of Sectors Welfare Associations of Chandigarh, Baljinder Singh Bittu, said that there should be a probe into the matter. “This is corruption in another sense. It is like you have made rules for looting the exchequer,” he said. “Why don’t the investigating agencies probe this? When the public money goes to corporation, is it meant to fulfil their personal whims and fancies?”
Bittu added, “And I know most of these gadgets are actually being used by their family members or children. Do we pay taxes to fulfil the desires of their families? Now the new mayor next year will take iPhone 11.”
Former BJP councillor Satinder Singh said that he is surprised why there has not been an audit objection so far.
“Even for the monthly bill, a councillor is given around Rs 2,000 which includes Rs 750 data pack and Rs 1,250 for mobile. In this time, when you have unlimited data of one GB for Rs 350 for three months and unlimited calling facility in much less amount, even this monthly payment is uncalled for,” Satinder said.
He added, “And where each penny of public money is important, what is an unlimited facility? There should be a ceiling.”
How the mobile phone ‘entitlement’ kept going up.
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 Commissioner as they could purchase phone of ‘unlimited cost’.
It was in 2017 that the amount was enhanced for the councillors as they felt that a Rs 22,000 phone was not sufficient to handle calls of people. And the amount was enhanced to Rs 45,000 for each councillor.
This facility is for each councillor, be it elected or nominated. There are 26 elected and nine nominated ones. The councillors who go in for new phones are also allowed to retain an old phone on payment of a ‘depreciated amount’ which works out only to be 10 to 15 per cent of the original cost. Sources said that many prefer to retain the phones by paying the depreciated amount.
Who made this rule of ‘unlimited’ and expensive gadgets?
Over 15 years ago, a decision was taken by the Finance and Contract Committee, which is basically a committee of councillors and a few officers. The F and C proposes and then it goes to the House which further approves. The amounts of entitlement kept increasing in different F&CC meetings. The issue is also discussed in the House which again has 35 councillors, including 26 elected ones and the officials.
Whatever is resolved goes to the secretary, local government, which is the Home Secretary of the UT Administration. It is strange that all these years no one objected to this waste of government funds.
How the facility was misused by some
For the councillors, even as two phones are allowed in a five-year term, there were some who purchased more than two but no one questioned them. And for the Commissioners, whenever a new one came, he or she purchased the latest phone. However, Municipal Commissioner K K Yadav has not purchased any mobile phone.
Example 1: The then mayor Arun Sood purchased the latest iPhone 6 when he was elected in January. 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.
Example 2: The then mayor Subhash Chawla bought Samsung phone on February 11, 2012, in the capacity of a councillor and the civic body paid Rs 15,000 for it. In January 2013, when he became Mayor, he bought the latest iPhone 5 worth Rs 45,500. 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. However, that time, Chawla had said that one phone got damaged and it was changed.
Example 3: The then MC Commissioner Bhawna Garg who held that office just as additional charge used her “unlimited’ allowance to buy a mobile phone worth Rs 24,800 on June 11, 2015. She left the charge after six months and then Commissioner Baldeo Purushartha joined in December 2015. Garg had returned her phone while leaving but Purushartha used his “unlimited” allowance to purchase a new iPhone 6 S Plus worth Rs 85,000.
Example 4: City 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.
Example 5: V P Singh, the 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.
Example 6: Councillor Gurbax Rawat bought a mobile phone in January 2012. She then bought another phone in June 2014 and June 2015 as well.