With the State Election Commission (SEC) announcing a list of returning officers for six civic corporations that will go to polls early next year, the Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC) issued a circular Saturday allowing elected representatives to use a curtailed sum from their annual development fund quota, which had been suspended since the Covid-19 outbreak.
The circular, issued by Municipal Commissioner P Swaroop, states, “Due to the outbreak of the novel Covid-19 pandemic, and the nationwide lockdown imposed by the Ministry of Home Affairs, a VMC circular had been issued prohibiting the commencement of any works from the quota (or fodwari) consolidated funds for the financial year 2020-21. However, keeping the current conditions in mind, corporators are permitted to use up to Rs 5 lakh from their quota funds according to the budget of FY 2020-21.”
The circular comes nearly eight months after the VMC had issued a circular during the Covid-19 lockdown, prohibiting use of the quota or consolidated funds from the ongoing financial year.
VMC chief accountant Santosh Tiwari told The Sunday Express, “The circular has allowed the corporators to use up to Rs 5 lakh from their individual quota, which is a total of Rs 17 lakh for each financial year. No decision has been taken on the fodwari funds, which amount to Rs 40 lakh per election ward.”
Vadodara has 19 election wards and 76 corporators – four corporators in each ward. Tiwari said the fodwari fund, which loosely translates into ‘consolidated funds’, are given as a whole to each election ward and can be used for combined expenditures pertaining to the development works by the elected representatives.
The four corporators in each ward, he said, are also allowed to use up to Rs 10 lakh each from the consolidated fund of Rs 40 lakh. “The use of this fund continues to be prohibited as of now,” Tiwari added.
The decision of the VMC to allow the use of up to Rs 5 lakh from the annual quota comes in wake of the SEC appointing returning officers for election wards, thus beginning the process of the civic body elections. Scheduled to be held in December this year, the SEC had, on October 18, deferred the civic elections by three months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
An elected representative from the BJP, who is also a member of a development committee in the VMC, said, “This will come as a respite to many corporators, who have been trying to pacify local residents demanding small works to be completed locally, like paver block repairs, benches, tree guards and so on. We cannot refuse such insignificant works during an election year.”
Meanwhile, no such major curtailment of funds has been announced by the municipal corporations of Rajkot, Ahmedabad and Surat. Rajkot Municipal Corporation (RMC) said it has not curtailed or restricted local area development funds of corporators. Municipal commissioner Udit Agarwal said no such proposal was under consideration as of now.
“Through a circular recently, the state government has directed the RMC not to print at government coast any Diwali greeting cards. However, there is no directive to reduce or suspend local area development funds of corporators. RMC corporators get Rs 15 lakh local area development fund every year and use them to fund projects related to water supply, roads, and facilities, like installing benches etc,” another RMC officer said.
While Surat Municipal Commissioner, Banchhanidhi Pani, said no curtailments on corporator funds had been ordered, the Ahmedabad civic body has also not seen any deduction in the local area development scheme funds of Rs 25 lakh that it allots to each councillor.
An AMC official said a decision was taken early April under the former municipal commissioner Vijay Nehra that none of the funds shall be used to put up benches in public spaces, including in societies, parks and so on, so as to discourage public gatherings in light of the coronavirus pandemic. The decision is still in place.
Meanwhile, the civic bodies will see administrators being appointed once their five-year term ends in mid-December.
A senior VMC official said, “The Bombay Provincial Municipal Corporation Act (Gujarat Amendment), 1949, provides for appointing administrators on the expiry of the terms of outgoing councillors of these corporations for a maximum period of two and half years, within which elections for reconstituting these corporations have to be undertaken and completed. However, since the delay due to the pandemic has been only for three months, we are prepared to have the polls in January end. The administrators will take charge for about three weeks.”
The officials said SEC is also taking stock of the Covid-19 situation in the state.
The state poll commission has already published the primary list of voters for local body polls.
Mahesh Joshi, Secretary, State Election Commission, Gujarat, said, “Only the schedule for local body polls has been deferred for three months. Our process for poll preparation, which started with the delimitation exercise for panchayats and urban areas, is currently on. We were supposed to announce the elections around October end. However, it got deferred and now we will have to conduct the elections after three months, so we need to be prepared for it. The ROs and AROs have been appointed as they need to be trained for the polling process.”
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