In the past four years, corporators of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) spent about Rs 2.59 crore from the public exchequer on ‘study tours’. Not only is there no record of any recommendations being accepted from reports following the tours, but corporators have also visited the same locations multiple times, reveals data sought by The Indian Express under Right to Information (RTI) Act.
Interestingly, the corporators mostly went on tours between December and the first week of March every year.
According to the data, corporators have gone on 18 study tours since 2013. No study was organised in 2012, when the current batch of corporators were elected. While visiting the same locations, different committees gave different reasons.
For example, corporators visited Bengaluru and Mysore three times. While the Works committee (city) went in 2013, the Law committee and Markets and Gardens committee visited the cities in 2015. The Works committee (suburbs), the Standing committee and the Women and Child Development (WCD) committee have all visited the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in 2016, already.
The other locations include Kerala, visited by the WCD committee in 2013 and the Markets and Garden committee in 2014; Jammu and Kashmir was visited by the Improvements committee in 2015 and the Markets and Gardens committee in 2016; Hyderabad, by the WCD committee in 2013 and the Works Committee (city) in 2015; Chandigarh by the Improvements committee in 2014 and the Works Committee (suburbs) in 2015; Gujarat by the Improvements Committee in 2013 and the Works Committee (suburbs) in 2014; Tamil Nadu by the Public Health Committee in 2014 and the WCD committee in 2015.
Also, the Mayor, the deputy mayor and leader of the House went on foreign tours to attend programmes after getting invitations. They visited Yokohama in Japan for a conference on the sister-city programme between Mumbai and Yokohama in June 2015. These leaders also visited Moscow in Russia for the fourth Moscow urbanistic forum and Barcelona in Spain for ‘The city to city Barcelona FAD award’ in 2014.
Officials said reports from all the study tours were submitted by respective committees after returning from the tours.
“These reports include details like the project or site they visited, officials they met or any presentation on any topic. But, these reports normally do not suggest or recommend anything to implement in our city,” said a civic official from the secretary department, which coordinates the study tours.
He admitted that these tours are just junkets for the corporators. “So far, these tours have not benefitted our city at all. There is no mechanism to follow up on the tours. Once they submit the reports, it’s over,” said the official who did not wish to be named.
Milind Mhaske, project director at Praja foundation, said that investment in corporators’ learning is good but the outcomes should be monitored. “There should be a clear objective before planning any study tours. The detailed plan of what they plan to learn should be given and also a follow-up report following return should be submitted,”said Mhaske. “Corporators who don’t submit reports should not be allowed to take part in future tours.”
In January this year, Avkash Jadhav, a Shiv Sena-nominated corporator, moved a notice of motion seeking to fix responsibility on study tours by corporators.
Jadhav suggested setting up guidelines for tours and making corporators more accountable to taxpayers. However, it has been put on hold, said an official, adding that “it drew a lot of criticism in the political circle”.
Shailesh Gandhi, former Central Information Commissioner, termed the study tours ‘ridiculous’.
“This is terrible. The corporators should limit corporators’ tours with specific purposes for the study trips. Corporators are the trustees of the civic body’s funds but they have betrayed the trust of Mumbaikars by spending tax-payers money like this,” Gandhi said.