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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Pune Cantonment Board ‘lacks funds to tackle’ COVID-19: HC told civic body will give all help

The HC ordered that the state and the Centre ensure an immediate aid of at least of Rs 1 crore to the Pune Cantonment board.  

Written by Omkar Gokhale | Mumbai |
Updated: March 17, 2020 8:13:06 pm
Bombay high court, coronavirus, pune cantonment board, pune cantonment board funds coronavirus, pune municipal corporation, advocate general Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, Mumbai news, indian express A municipal worker uses a fogging machine in a lane as a precaution against the coronavirus in Mumbai on Tuesday. (Express photo: Ganesh Shirsekar)

Hearing a matter about the Pune Cantonment Board’s ‘inability to prepare for coronavirus due to shortage of funds’, the Bombay High Court was informed by advocate general Ashutosh Kumbhakoni Tuesday that as the Board area is surrounded by the Pune Municipal Corporation, the civic body will provide all help to the Board, ‘without bifurcating geographical jurisdictions.’

This comes after the HC pulled up the Cantonment Board for its helplessness in providing civic amenities and taking preventive measures in times of a ‘vexing catastrophe’. The board had submitted it does not have adequate funds, and will be better equipped after it receives its legitimate share of Goods and Services Tax.

On Tuesday, the HC ordered the state and the Centre to ensure an immediate aid of at least of Rs 1 crore to the board.

A division bench of Justice S J Kathawalla and Justice R I Chagla was hearing a plea filed by one Atul Vinayak Gaikwad, a Pune resident, through advocate Shriniwas S Patwardhan, seeking directions from the state to release the compensation payable under Maharashtra Goods and Services Tax (Compensation to the Local Authorities) Act, 2017, to the tune of Rs 500 crore.

The court had noted that one of the petitioners had written to the chief executive officer of the Pune Cantonment Board on March 5, drawing attention to the problems faced by residents in view of the board’s inaction. The letter stated that with recent detection of coronavirus-infected citizens in Pune, and moreover, some citizens detected within cantonment limits, the Board should take urgent preventive steps and come out with a disaster management plan.

The court on Monday had summoned AG Kumbhakoni, along with Additional Solicitor General (ASG) of India Anil Singh, to know whether the state or the central government should pay the Board its compensation.

On Tuesday, AG Kumbhakoni submitted that the PMC, which had created special wards and special teams, had agreed to give all assistance to the Board. The AG said that the Board can contact PMC officials or doctors for reporting any person even suspected of such an infection, and fully cooperate with them in dealing with him or her.

Senior Counsel Y S Jahagirdar for the Board, however, however, argued that it immediately needs nearly Rs 2.3 crore, and the government can release it under any head of the accounts. He submitted that the Board will provide an expenditure report of the amount to the court.

To this, the AG said that the government will not be able to release the amount as the petitioners have demanded funds for civic amenities, which is not properly defined.

The petitioner’s advocate, Shriniwas Patwardhan, argued that the government’s assistance will be insufficient. He said the cantonment board provides health and sanitation facilities but is unable to pay its employees due to shortage of funds. “They (government) are releasing money to Maldives and Bangladesh but not to Pune Cantonment Board in such a situation,” argued Patwardhan.

The court observed that while the ASG had submitted that the state would have to provide the required funds, AG Kumbhakoni had said the central Government is responsible for it.

After hearing submissions, the court expressed displeasure about the dispute between the authorities, and remarked, “India is known to be a country which reaches out to extend timely assistance and aid even to its neighbouring Countries facing national/international catastrophes. It is shocking that when we ourselves amongst other nations are facing such a vexing catastrophe, which is declared as a global pandemic, the State and the Centre are quibbling on the issue as to who should provide the necessary financial assistance to the Pune Cantonment Board and whether GST is at all payable or to be shared with the Pune Cantonment Board.”

Observing this, the court directed the state and the Centre to ensure immediate aid of at least of Rs 1 crore to be extended to the Board, to meet the basic expenditure of salary and wages of its staff responsible for carrying out the day-to-day civic duties such as sweeping roads, and for preventive measures to curb the coronavirus outbreak.

The court said the amount may be later adjusted against any amount payable to the Board.

The bench led by Justice Kathawalla asked the authorities to file an affidavit in reply, stating who will pay the board and posted the next hearing on Friday.

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