AS MUMBAI Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta presented annual budget estimates of Rs 37,052 crore for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation for the year 2016-17, it was clear that the last budget presentation before the BMC goes to polls next year borrowed ideas heavily from the flagship schemes of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government.
From Swachh Bharat to the Smart Cities Mission and from Make in India to measures for ease of doing business, there were lavish fund allocations for 2016-17 for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s biggest schemes.
The Shiv Sena, alliance partner of the BJP in the state government and the biggest party in the BMC, was snubbed in no small measure with its biggest pitches finding no mention in Mehta’s speech. Neither was there an allocation for works on or around the proposed memorial to late Bal Thackeray nor even a mention of the theme park at the Mahalaxmi Racecourse that the Sena has been insisting on.
Presenting cautious budget estimates for 2016-17 totalling Rs 37,052 crore, about 10.54 per cent more than last year’s budget estimates of Rs 33,519 crore, the municipal commissioner stated candidly that the finances of the BMC, often called the country’s richest municipal corporation with an annual budget much larger than that of several smaller states, are currently complex.
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Referring to the significant hit on its income from octroi due to the crash in crude oil prices, Mehta said there is a deficit of Rs 1,250 crore in revenue income from octroi during the year 2015-16. Simultaneously, a slowdown in real estate has also caused a decrease in income from the development charges.
He, however, ventured to present estimated capital expenditure of Rs 12,874 crore in 2016-17, 8.52 per cent more than last year’s budget estimates.
The Shiv Sena chose to put on a brave face, welcoming the budget stating that promises made in its manifesto before the civic elections in 2012 were being fulfilled. “It’s a very good budget. Funds have been allotted to the promises we made in the manifesto,” said Yashodhar Phanse, standing committee chairman and senior Shiv Sena corporator.
Asked specifically about why the Thackeray memorial in the premises of the mayoral bungalow found no mention, Phanse said that a budgetary provision of Rs 1 crore was made in last year’s budget. “It has been carried forward,” he said.
In addition, the BMC will make a huge thrust in putting services online. So far, it has made 12 services available online under provisions of the Right to Services Act enacted by the BJP-led state government. Now, taking forward the Centre and state governments’ push for improved ease of doing business, the municipal commissioner talked about going beyond facilitating the setting up of businesses in Mumbai, through simplifying forms and improving processes. In 2016-17, the civic body will also work on a ‘Branding Mumbai’ exercise to further consolidate and strengthen the status of Mumbai as an international business and financial hub, another pet project of the BJP government.
Also in line with the Centre’s plan for housing for all, Mehta stressed on the creation of affordable housing, a critical deficiency in the Development Plan in 2034. The civic body has also set aside Rs 144 crore for Information Technology initiatives in tune with the Centre’s Digital India programme. Meanwhile, despite a tussle between the Shiv Sena and the BJP over the installation of LED streetlights along Marine Drive, a BJP project, the budget made an allocation of Rs 10 crore to convert at least 10 per cent of streetlights in Mumbai to LED lights during 2016-17.
Also toeing the BJP’s line on the row over upkeep of the city’s open spaces, the commissioner set aside Rs 75 crore for maintenance of open spaces. Senior civic officials said a bulk of this money will be used towards maintaining 219 gardens and parks that the BMC has decided to take back from private firms who had adopted them. Following the row over the civic body’s new open spaces policy, the BJP adopted the stance that open spaces should be made a mandatory responsibility of the BMC, a view the Sena is opposed to.
Even as BJP corporators said privately that it was their budget, the party said the huge allocations for its projects and for Central government schemes was welcome. “We laud the civic chief for making substantial budgetary on the issues put forth by us that are beneficial for citizens. Most of schemes beneficial to citizens launched by Centre and state have also been allocated substantial funds,” said Manoj Kotak, senior BJP corporator.
While the civic chief did not announce any new taxes, there were also no big ticket projects, preferring to focus on ongoing projects. A hefty allocation of Rs 1,000 crore was made for the coastal road project, another pet project of the state as well as central governments.
Other areas that saw large allocations were for road works and open spaces, both subjects that have attracted controversy in recent months. Despite current reports of widespread irregularities in road contracts, a budgetary allocation of Rs 3863 crore was made for road repairs and for new asphalt, and cement-concrete roads.
With octroi set to be abolished, Mehta also stressed upon the need to find alternative taxation sources. Though no new taxes were introduced, he hinted that the civic body would consider various options, given that GST could come into effect during the next financial year.