Govt misses golden opportunity
By Gayathri Nivas
Whichever party wins in the BBMP election, it will inherit a bankrupt city corporation.
After former prime minister H D Deve Gowda uttered a more than four-letter-word against Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa for allegedly conceding undue land demands of Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprise for Gowda’s not so pet project — the NICE expressway and infrastructure corridor — it is the turn of Governor H R Bhardwaj, who accused the state government of ‘maladministration’ and ‘neglect of duty’. The constitutional head of state made the not very nice utterances in respect of Bangalore city’s traffic bottlenecks and slow paced infrastructure development, at a conference on e-governance and digitisation of government earlier this week.
Whether Gowda rightly or wrongly used the yuck word has been debated enough and the issue laid to rest after the JD(S) patriarch made a public apology to the chief minister. Hence, the governor’s latest barb needs examination.
The Yeddyurappa government has completed 18 months in office and is into the 19th month. Meanwhile, the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike or city corporation, has completed three years without an elected council. During this three-year Opposition-free run of the corporation, Yeddyurappa was deputy chief minister holding finance portfolio under the previous JD(S)-BJP coalition regime and later became the chief minister, keeping the charge of Bangalore city to himself. During this period, at least two state budgets and two corporation budgets have been adopted. But no funds transfer worth its name, from the state coffers to the civic body, had taken place. Nevertheless, the corporation took up Rs 800-1,000 crore worth of works, which were paid for from the huge property tax money it generated after lifting a two-year freeze on tax collection. The corporation had temporarily stopped accepting tax as it wished to graduate from a voluntary or self-assessment method to a capital gains-based method, which met with some resistance.
At least Rs 6,700 crore worth of outstanding bills, on going works and works already allotted to contractors through work code are still to be financed. And the corporation kitty is ostensibly empty, if the contractors, who went on a strike recently demanding clearance of their dues, are to be believed.
For the record, Yeddyurappa can be adjudged the richest chief minister of all his immediate predecessors as his government has received funds from the World Bank, from the Central government under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), besides the tax monies. But there is hardly any concrete gameplan to justify the huge spending or ensure planned development of nearly 600 sq km of newly added areas, which upgraded the corporation from plain Bangalore to Bruhat Bangalore or Bigger Bangalore.
The state government frittered away a golden opportunity to turn the new Bangalore areas into an urban model worth emulating. The lack of an overarching plan has resulted in sporadic development of the city at the whims and fancies of the more influential city MLAs, who are putting the cart before the horse. For instance, before laying sanitary and water supply lines, roads have been tarred, which will not only necessitate their inevitable digging at a later date but also cost precious funds for relaying them. Kerbs built with long lasting stones have been uprooted to be replaced by concrete slabs of limited lifespan.
The five new layouts envisaged are begging for attention. With housing building activity yet to takeoff, the government can freely lay roads, flyovers, identify waste dumps and create other amenities. But inaction is conspicuous. Similar is the case of the traffic signal-free corridors proposed, barring a few stretches — again the handiwork of a few ruling BJP MLAs close to the powers that be.
Debt and neglect
A slew of projects worth a whopping Rs 22,000 crore has been cleared by the state Cabinet a couple of months ago but there are no funds to foot them, it is said. Conveniently, the government kept the tenders called for these projects in abeyance after some questions were raised regarding the post haste manner in which the financial bids were opened, ostensibly to overcome the poll code of conduct, which took effect on January 15. The chief minister, in a magnanimous gesture, said the new elected council could take up the tendering and blamed the Opposition for the delays which would entail in implementing critical infrastructure projects.
Well said chief minister but whichever party is elected to power, it will inherit an unenviable heirloom of debt and neglect. And if there is one word that is meaningless in politics, it is speculate. Almost all politicians speculate all the time, gameplanning ahead for likely, and unlikely, outcomes. And if it is an election year, they are at it with full fury. The latest theme for speculation? Will the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike election happen on February 21 or not.