After promising a “realistic” budget for two consecutive years, Asia’s richest municipal corporation, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is all set to present its budget for financial year 2019-20 on Monday with a nearly 25 per cent increase in the estimate from last year. The BMC, which in the past had faced flak over poor utilisation of funds, has claimed proposed mega infrastructure projects like coastal road, Mumbai Sewage Disposal Project (MSDP), Goregaon-Mulund Link Road (GMLR) and waste-to-energy plants as the reasons for the increase in the budget estimate.
After presenting its highest ever budget of Rs 37,052 crore in 2016-17, the BMC had slashed the budget by about Rs 12,000 crore and presented a more “realistic” and “practical” budget of Rs 25,141 crore in 2017-18. It did so by making provisions only for projects that had a realistic chance of getting started. According to civic officials, the Rs 37,052 crore budget was swollen as provision for many projects were made without realistically assessing whether they could actually be implemented. In 2018-19, a budget of Rs 27,258 crore was presented by the civic body.
When it comes to expenditure, the civic body managed to spent merely 25 per cent to 35 per cent of the budget in the past few years. This fiscal, till December 31, civic body spent about 37 per cent and was confident of crossing 50 per cent expenditure mark by the end of financial year.
According to officials, considering it is an election year, neither new taxes would be imposed, nor would there be no any increase in the existing taxes. However, last year, the revenue collected by the BMC had dipped as it did not manage to meet the target of its two biggest sources of income: property tax and development charges.
A senior BMC official said, “Since the work on Coastal Road Project has been started, we will increase the provision from the Rs 1,500 crore allotted last year. Budgetary provision for Goregaon-Mulund Link Road is also expected to increase, as only one more clearance is needed, which is expected by this month. Besides, the MSDP projects that require over Rs 15,000 crore and two water supply tunnels (Chembur to Parel and Chembur to Trombay), which need more than Rs 2000 crore, are also likely to increase the budgetary provision as contracts to carry out the work have been awarded.”
The official added: “The health budget will be increased from last year’s Rs 3,636 crore. Other projects like cycling track, Powai to Veravali water supply tunnel, procurement of new fire fighting equipments, Mithi River Rejuvenation, reconstruction of hospitals may also see rise in budget allocation.”
In 2017-18, when the budget was slashed for the first time, Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta, in his budget speech, had said that the civic body would make provision for only those projects that have got all clearances and whose tenders are ready to be floated. Though in the past two years the expenditure by the civic body has improved slightly, the civic body is still way behind when it comes to using a large chunk of the budget for improving the facilities.
Nikhil Desai, a citizen activist from Matunga, said, “It is good that the BMC makes provision for big ticket projects but at the same time it should focus on improvement of basic facilities like roads, cleanliness and reducing the water logging. One of the major reasons for the city having bad roads is that there is no coordination between internal departments. For example, the Dadar TT junction road was resurfaced but within three months, it was dug by the water department. Such activity wastes public money.”
Talking about the new expenses, an official said the implementation of seventh pay commission would also have a provision in the budget. As of now, the civic body has not touched its reserve of Rs 70,000 crore of fixed deposits in the forms of provident funds, pensions, for infrastructure projects. In the last budget, the BMC had said that it would use these savings for infrastructure projects.
In 2018-19, the capital expenditure was estimated at around Rs 9,522 crore, of which 37 per cent has been spent till December 31. Meanwhile, BMC’s biggest sources of revenue — property tax and development charges — have fallen slightly to Rs 3,000 crore as compared to the target of Rs 5,250 crore.