Municipal commissioner Sitaram Kunte may fumble to explain the delay in completing old projects in the city, but for the ordinary taxpayer, the reasons are an open secret. Corrupt civic officials, influential politicians, cartels of contractors, lack of accountability and the absence of third-party audits have resulted in the city of dreams turning into a complete mess. This, while the BMC coffers are overflowing; it has Rs31,360 crore in fixed deposits in various nationalised banks.
The BMC budget for 2014-15 is pegged at Rs31,178.19 crore and focuses on completing pending projects. The richest corporation in the country announced no new projects as it wanted to complete the jobs in hand first. Of the 2013-14 budget of Rs26,518.02 crore, the corporation utilised only 25 per cent of the funds for improving the quality of life in the city.
The lackadaisical attitude of the BMC babus is one of the major reasons for the delays in completing the projects and corruption in the corporation. Seated in their air-conditioned offices, they are content at only doing the macro-level planning till the situation gets out of control. The road to non-completion of projects is laced with corruption, sabotaging of e-tendering process, lack of planning, absence of periodic review system, absence of third-party auditing and constant political interference. Third-party consultants are not appointed as both the municipal administration and contractors fear that their wrongdoings will be exposed.
Above all, there is a leadership vacuum at the top level in the civic administration. Even the ruling party fails to monitor the civic body’s performance like a responsible trustee. Vested interests have eroded the system and bureaucrats are puppets in their hands. There is no effort to develop the in-house capacity of the administration by roping in skilled professionals.
Civic sources said this is just the tip of the iceberg. “The delay in projects is not because of clearing a file and then forgetting about it. It’s a vicious circle which has no start or end,” Rais Shaikh, Samajwadi Party leader in the BMC, told dna. He has vociferously raised objections about the tardy execution of the projects and knows how the corporation functions inside-out. He cites the example of an IIT professor being asked to conduct a “peer review” when the project of repairing and resurfacing 117 roads was taken up.
“The delay began from there. The peer review could not be done because he had a wedding in the family. His job was delayed by three months. Subsequently, though the project began on paper in November-December 2012, the tenders were floated only in October 2013,” Shaikh said.
“Then, because the tender conditions favoured a particular contractor, there was a fight between two parties. Both the contractors went to court. However, till the time, the matter was resolved, the files were lying with the procurement redressal committee.”
An angry Shaikh asked: “Can anyone believe that such a huge project worth Rs170 crore, which will make the commute easy for residents of eastern suburbs, is biting dust because there is no will?”
MNS leader in the BMC Sandeep Deshpande admitted that if bureaucrats were accountable enough, the problems would have been half-solved. The decisions are taken only for big projects, but the minute details of the same are ignored.
Additional municipal commissioner SVR Srinivas said the delays in projects amount to denying benefits to citizens. “That is the precise reason we are focusing on all the projects in a planned manner from now on. The blueprint of several projects with their timeline is already prepared for the next fiscal year,” he said.
The BMC has come under heavy criticism from all quarters for delaying major developmental and infrastructure projects although it is sitting on a lot of taxpayers’ money.