Unhappy over the allocation of development funds, the Congress on Tuesday flexed political muscle and managed to get its way.
After failing to get a concrete assurance from coalition partners Shiv Sena and NCP on proportionate distribution of funds, the party used brass tacks to get them to concede to the demand.
On August 22, senior party MLA Kailas Ghorantiyal, who hails from Marathwada’s Jalna, set the ball rolling, threatening to go on a hungerstrike if his demand for release of development funds for urban works recommended by him for the Jalna Municipal Council – which the Congress leads – continued to be ignored.
Ghorantiyal also claimed that 10 other Congress MLAs, all of whom had defeated a Sena candidate in the Assembly polls, had similarly been meted out step-motherly treatment, and would join him in the protest.
Separately, the state Congress leadership shared a list of seven or eight party-ruled municipalities, where funds had not been allocated for works recommended by the sitting MLAs.
Maharashtra Congress president Balasaheb Thorat, also the state revenue minister, on Tuesday added to the chorus of the 11 MLAs seeking parity in fund allocation.
Speaking to mediapersons in Mumbai, he said, “We are 171 MLAs belonging to three parties and there needs to be justice when it comes to development funds. We are working on satisfying the concerns raised by our MLAs for whom their constituency is paramount and they need justice.”
Sources said that both Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar had earlier contacted Thorat, urging him to convince Ghorantiyal to withdraw his protest. But Thorat had made it clear that he couldn’t ignore the “valid concerns” raised by his MLAs, while appealing to the two to concede to the demand.
While Pawar heads the finance department, the issue raised by the MLAs pertains to development funds released by the urban development department, headed by the Sena.
The tactic paid off. Blinking first, the Sena distanced itself from the issue.
An editorial in Sena mouthpiece Saamana asked what the party could do if Congress MLAs felt ally NCP was hogging the funds, indicating that this was Pawar’s issue to resolve.
While the editorial also took a dig at the protesting Congress MLAs, saying they were disrespecting Rahul and Sonia Gandhi – who allowed this alliance in the first place – with their infighting, the message to Pawar was loud and clear.
Pawar was quick to act. On Tuesday, he called Ghorantiyal for a meeting, where he gave a firm assurance that the MLA’s demand will be met on priority. He also assured release of development funds for the remaining 10 Congress MLAs.
While the grievance was regarding the distribution of development funds for 2019-20 by the urban development department, Ghorantiyal said that Pawar had assured him that “he will personally ensure that funds were urgently released for the 11 MLAs”. Funds for works recommended by them will be taken up on priority in the supplementary grants raised for the ongoing fiscal in the upcoming monsoon session.
Almost immediately after this meeting, Ghorantiyal withdrew his protest.
This is the second time that the Congress has got down to brass tacks for ensuring fund release for its MLAs. It had earlier protested over disproportionate distribution of discretionary development funds pertaining to rural development works. Sources said that even some NCP and Sena MLAs had been upset over the disparity in fund distribution.
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