AT Rs 37,052 crore, the annual budget of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) exceeds that of many small Indian states. This monetary aspect, the number of the entitites under it and the implications of its policies, make elections to the civic body that runs Mumbai, assume the proportions of a mini assembly poll. In addition to controlling the roads, drains, sewers and garbage disposal systems, the BMC runs institutions ranging from primary and secondary schools to super-speciality hospitals. It is also the only civic corporation in the country to build a dam of its own.
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The 2017 election is critical, particularly with the BMC’s revenues in a state of flux. This year, with octroi set to be abolished, the BMC will depend on the state government for its revenue share, fixed at around Rs 6,300 crore, the sum the civic body generated in 2015-16. Its property tax policies will also impact real-estate prices, playing an invisible role in moulding corporate India’s assessment of the country’s financial nerve centre.
Former municipal commissioner D M Sukhtankar says the upcoming polls are an opportunity for the electorate to usher in better transparency in the civic body. “Political parties view the BMC as a lucrative source of funds where corporators can earn under-the-table money out of contracts. But the tide is turning. After the inquiries into the scams that cropped in the last two years, several loopholes are gradually being plugged and there is a drive towards more transparency and digitisation. Citizens now see the elections as a chance to bring in a cleaner and less corrupt civic body,” he says.
Apart from corruption, the BMC suffers from under-utilisation of its massive funds, brought on by red tape and lack of planning and interference by the state government and its own corporators. For instance, the state government only recently lifted its stay on a parking policy passed by the BMC around two years ago. The policy, which proposed a 300 per cent hike in parking charges, was put on hold after stiff resistance from South Mumbai residents, including a BJP legislator who approached the chief minister.
And in line with the trend of the last few years, the BMC managed to use only 26 per cent of the total budget estimate of Rs 31,255 crore (excluding allocations for the hydraulic engineering department and sewerage operations department) until November 30. The expenditure is 1.4 per cent lower than last year’s figure recorded on the same day.
Among the worst offenders are the health and education departments. Until October 30 last year, the health department only managed to spend 16.3 per cent of its annual allocation of Rs 982.25 crore, reflected in the failure to expand the city’s primary healthcare centres.
As per official statistics, the city only has 183 primary healthcare centres catering to a population of over 12 million, which roughly translates into one centre per 65,000 people, against the accepted norm of one centre for every 20,000 people.
“A survey we conducted indicated that only 30 per cent of the respondents use corporation facilities while the majority opt for private clinics or those run by charities,” says Milind Mhaske, project director at the Praja Foundation, an NGO working towards bringing accountability in governance.
Mhaske says that it is a similar scenario in education, where in the past five years, the civic body has not spent even 45 per cent of its allotted budget on its 1,195 primary and secondary schools.