news Thursday, April 30, 2015 - 05:30
A BRUHAT ISSUE – III: The Karnataka HC has asked the state government to hold elections to the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) within six months. This directive comes in the backdrop of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s ambitious plan to split the existing BBMP into three smaller municipal corporations. We dissect the entire issue at hand in this five-part series. Read previous copy- Bruhat Bengaluru- Tracing the explosive growth and why splitting BBMP won't suffice If financial health is to be taken as the bottomline, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has been lying comatose for a while, kept alive only by alternately conniving and obliging state governments irrespective of political ideologies. The BBMP is a financial disaster for many reasons, the prime among them being the tendency to live beyond its means, not mopping up enough revenue for itself, and, of course, rampant corruption at all levels of the corporation. The last BBMP Budget presented in the council in March this year was a de facto statement of its bankrupt state. The outlay of Rs 6,730 crore was seen as pure grandstanding, it was perceived to be a manifesto of tall promises. The unannounced truth was that the BBMP did not have the financial resources to carry out any project worth the name, leave alone the media-hyped, ambitious ones. Actual receipts in the BBMP Budgets were overestimated by over 100 per cent in each of the previous five years. On the other hand, total receipts declined in each of the previous four years. In fact, there has been a decrease in receipts by 25 per cent since 2011-12. What the Budget did not brag about was this: there were outstanding loans of over Rs 3,000 crore, with pending bills of over Rs 2,500 crore – which essentially was roughly twice the size of the palike’s total annual receipts. And so what did the BBMP do? Shortly before this year's Budget was presented, the palike was reported to have been scouting around – believe it or not – to sell some of its leased properties. Properties worth Rs 1,676 crore lie pledged with the Housing and Urban Development Corporation Limited (HUDCO). These include prime properties like KR Market, Public Utility Building, and Mayo Hall court complex. It is not that someone has been holding a gun to the BBMP’s head to make it spend. It has been a wastrel of an institution – squandering precious public money and not being held accountable either. The corporation has been time and again been pulled up the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG). Only last year, the CAG report on urban local bodies in Karnataka found gross irregularities in the BBMP’s solid waste management programmes. The CAG found “fictitious payments on transfer of municipal solid waste (MSW),” discrepancies in award of work of transporting waste, improper transportation of MSW, “unfruitful expenditure” on a garbage segregation unit, diversion of funds to certain firms for creating infrastructure to process waste. Moreover, the BBMP lost a Rs 280 crore grant simply because it did not prepare a report on waste management in time. The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM) had asked the palike to submit a master plan on the issue by February 2008, and a subsequent detailed project report (DPR) by April 2008. The BBMP outsourced it to the Infrastructure Development Corporation (Karnataka) Limited (iDeCK, for short), which completed its work only in December 2009. In other words, iDeCK made its money, but the city and its people lost a much-needed grant. Another CAG report (for the year ended on March 2010) had found that Rs 1,065 crore was lying in 165 bank accounts being operated in names of individuals. The account holders included those working in the BBMP. That’s not all. The CAG also found that the BBMP’s mechanism in property tax management suffered from several deficiencies. The palike has faltered every year in mopping up the revenue that is legally its own. Tax compliance itself is just about half. But then, revenue targets are not met either. The BBMP’s revenue collection target for 2010-11 was Rs 1,500 crore, but achievement was Rs 1,008 crore. Moreover, the BBMP has been collecting property tax at old rates. The rates under the unit area value (UAV) system have not been revised since 2008-09, though rates should have been modified in 2011 at the end of the block period. According to the Karnataka Municipal Corporations Act, 1976, the tax rates may be revised by 15-30 per cent after every block period of three years. The tax rates have apparently not been changed because of political compulsions. Meanwhile, corruption has been unbridled. And the one tasked with checking it – the Bangalore Metropolitan Task Force (BMTF) – has hands tied behind its back. The BMTF had been set up for the better protection of property belonging to the government, BBMP and other agencies. The watchdog had peaked under its Additional Director-General of Police (ADGP), Rajvir Sharma, during the fag end of the last Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the state. In 2012 alone, the force registered 208 cases and arrested 62 persons.  It summoned 310 persons and interrogated over 200. The BMTF, which was set up in 1996, had registered only 32 cases in 15 years till 2011. It became a terror for everyone with a finger in the BBMP pie – from corporators and officials to contractors and middlemen. Sharma was on an overdrive. He even went after the minister for law and parliamentary affairs Suresh Kumar, deputy chief minister R Ashoka, Mayor D Venkatesh Murthy, Commissioner Siddaiah, and officials like Bharat Lal Meena and Pradeep Singh Kharola. Sharma made powerful enemies. The rankled BJP tried to transfer him, but he had got a stay from the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT). The BBMP Employees Association had at that time staged a demonstration demanding his transfer. But like most watchdogs in this country, the BMTF is not allowed to bite. During the hearing of a case earlier this year filed by the BMTF against realty giant Brigade Enterprises, the court said that the BMTF did not have powers to initiate investigation under the IPC. So, if the BMTF cannot file a criminal case, there is little it can do to end corruption.  The BMTF, which was set up by a government order almost 20 years back, needs to be empowered to nail corporators, employees and contractors. For that the government needs to empower it legally. Till then, the watchdog can only bark. Subir Ghosh (www.subirghosh.in) is a Bengaluru-based writer and journalist. TNM Exclusive: Latest data that tells if you live in most or least polluted area of Bengaluru Read previous copy- Bruhat Bengaluru- Tracing the explosive growth and why splitting BBMP won't suffice  

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