Last month a ‘letter bomb’, whose apparent target was chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, created a tumult in Congress circles in Mumbai and Delhi. This was around the same time alliance partner NCP was raising the issue of need for better coordination at the state-level, training its gun on the CM. The letter had 43 names and 39 signatures with 13 demands to be discussed at a meeting with the party high command and CM. Out of the 13, few had anything to do with Mumbai, but the letter had names of nine Mumbai MLAs, and five of them had their signatures on it.
The MLAs conveniently ignored the fact that the CM already had a special daylong meeting with them barely two months ago at Sahyadri state guesthouse, Malabar Hill. During the meeting, held on May 3, as many as 363 points concerning the city were raised by 38 legislators. Barring a few, almost all the issues were related to housing and urban development departments as the city is more keen on TDR, FSI, redevelopment, MHADA and MMRDA than matters concerning tourism potential of the metro, security of its citizens and their properties, transport woes of the metropolis, forestland, public health and environment etc.
Interestingly, several leaders seemed deeply interested in the slum clusters, concessions to be offered, and issues of slum handover to third parties. Surprisingly, none raised the matter of funds worth crores of rupees being diverted to Mumbai Slum Repair Board, a high-profile unit of MHADA, whose mandate is to provide facilities to slums and work on their rehabilitation. Insiders say, an engineer working with the slum board is considered an institution, because he can procure as many letters of politicians as he wishes to stall a move for his transfer. And the reason is that the slum board handles the maximum expenditure of legislators and parliamentarians’ local area fund. Works such as flooring, drainage, sanitation, lighting, approach roads, concretisation, drinking water etc are done through the board. The contractors’ lobby working with the board is so strong that its members are considered experts in getting things done their way.
The slum board spends funds worth crores made available by the state government whereas other bodies cry hoarse for state grants. The slum board was given Rs 119 cr during the year 2008-09 and Rs 67 cr in 2009-10. Office bearers of political parties say the funds were disbursed purely with an eye on the general elections held in April-May and September-October in 2009. The slum pockets are the real vote banks of political parties and such expenditure was needed most as a part of the campaigning, they say.
One interesting fact also came to light and that’s about MMRDA doling out Rs 200 crore to the slum board to implement the Nirmal Sanitation campaign, meant for the construction of public toilets in Mumbai. The rulebook says such a programme can only be implemented by BMC, it being the civic authority. But politics prevailed as the civic body is controlled by Shiv Sena-BJP and the Congress-led Democratic Front government did not want any credit to go in favour of the saffron alliance.
According to the figures available, of the Rs 200 crore equal amounts were distributed in 36 assembly constituencies of Mumbai. An amount of Rs 14 crore was spent to provide toilets in slum pockets adjacent to railway lines. Rs 11.60 crore were expended to provide similar facilities at Ramabai Nagar in the suburbs.
As if this was not enough, the state social justice department gave Rs 117 crore to the slum board in the year 2010-11 and Rs 49 crore in the year 2011-12. For the current fiscal, Rs 60 crore has been sanctioned, but is yet to be allocated for the purpose.
The total amount handed to the slum board during the last three years comes to Rs 563 crore. With such a whopping sum, one would feel that by now the shanties in the city should have had 5-star facilities. We all know the reality.
— The writer is political editor of MiD DAY