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Clean CM must come clean on allotment of funds

Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan has been lauded for his clean image, but questions will surely be raised, thanks to his recent decision to allocate Rs 189.60 crore for providing amenities to the urban poor living in the city’s slums. This move is to keep city legislators, particularly from the Congress and NCP, in good humour. The amount is part of approximately Rs 3,500-crore special funds approved by the state towards development work recommended by 367 legislators — 289 from State Assembly and 78 from State Council.

While the ruling party legislators will get Rs 10 crore each for their recommended work, legislators from Opposition parties will be given Rs 2-3 crore. For Mumbai, which has 36 state assembly constituencies, Rs 237 crore were sanctioned initially, but this was reduced to Rs 189.60 crore, thanks to the 20 per cent cut to the state annual budget, necessitated by the financial crunch.

The question is — how and where will this money be spent? According to the state’s decision, the entire amount will go towards slums to provide basic facilities such as roads, public toilets, welfare centres, improvement of drainage and sewage lines etc. The funds would be spent through the Slum Improvement Board, a unit of MHADA. But it triggers a few questions — was a survey conducted to ascertain the areas in Mumbai that were in need of such basic facilities? Most importantly, when BMC is mandated with the above responsibilities, being the civic body of the city, why is the State using its own funds?

Rules say the civic body is bound to spend at least 25 per cent of the total annual budget on operation and maintenance in its areas. Furthermore, the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) has redeveloped most of the slum pockets in Mumbai. According to current figures, 1.5 lakh homes have been constructed and allotted to slum dwellers under SRA, and the remaining will also be developed in the near future. Additionally, as many as 400 schemes under SRA are in various stages. Dharavi, the biggest slum settlement in Asia, has got a special redevelopment authority with construction plans ready. So, is it pragmatic to spend crores of rupees in the name of basic amenities?

Besides these, the city gets huge funding under the MLA Constituency Development Scheme (MLACDS) and Member of Parliament Local Area Development Fund (MPLAD). Mumbai has six Lok Sabha members and 12 Rajya Sabha members, who have selected the metropolis as a nodal district to spend the allocated Rs 5 crore every year. 19 MLCs have selected Mumbai as their nodal district to spend the allocated Rs 2 crore every year. The total amount adds up to a whopping Rs 200 crore every year.

According to rough estimates, more than half of the amount is spent on providing amenities to slums, chawls and dilapidated structures. On top of this, the state has now allocated Rs 189.60 crore. And the biggest question is whether any data is available with the slum board about locations and requirements of basic facilities. Why is the CM, known as Mr Clean, allowing such multiple funding? Tomorrow if the slum pockets are taken under the SRA, these funds will go down the drain.

These funds have been doled out to MLAs keeping an eye on the coming elections. Nobody knows where, how and when these funds will be put to use.

Most funds go to Slum Improvement Board for utilisation. The slum body is popular among legislators and MPs as, apart from roads, nullahs, toilets and streetlights, it is asked to develop gardens, recreation grounds, gymnasiums, community centres too. No prizes are needed to guess why our legislators or MPs want Slum Improvement Board to undertake such ventures. Anybody can check the quality of projects completed by the slum body.

Probably for the first time a question has been raised about the astronomical cost of construction of slum board projects. Congress MP Gurudas Kamat wrote to slum board with a copy to CM and raised questions over the “extraordinary high cost of construction of Slum Board-built welfare centres, gymnasiums, balwadis and toilets.” According to him, a structure with an area of 300 or 350 sq ft consumes Rs 10 lakh each. Such constructions with stone soling, brick walls with angles, and asbestos roofing cost Rs 3,000 per sq ft, which is much more than the cost of construction of a super-class high-rise tower with all the modern amenities.

Kamat has also alleged misuse of funds, which according to him, needs to be probed with action against the guilty. So, while the fund utilisation by slum board is under scrutiny, the government wants to allocate fresh funds towards it. The onus to provide answers to these questions rests on the CM, who heads the state housing department that controls the Slum Board.

— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY¬†

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