BBMP budget: a people's agenda

Rather than taking up large infrastructure projects, the BBMP budget must solve day-to-day problems.

The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) will soon present a spending plan for the city in the upcoming budget. The mayor and the commissioner have invited ideas and inputs from citizens for its annual rigmarole exercise. They very well know that the BBMP budget has been a fiction for decades.

And last seven budgets, five by a BJP majority Council and two by the Congress-JDS combine were a real tomfoolery. Some 75% of revenues projected were in the form of grants and loans. Most of the expenditures were to capital projects. Grandiose budget pronouncements turned out to be gimmicks severely damaging the credibility of BBMP and inducing ever more cynicism in the minds of people.

Hope springs eternal and so will when BBMP releases its budget for the next fiscal. First and foremost, what is required is for the budget numbers to be credible in order for the institution to regain trust and cooperation of the citizens. Secondly, there should be a realisation that the BBMP neither has the financial wherewithal nor the technical expertise to execute large infrastructure projects. Hence, they should refrain from announcing projects that cost more than Rs 5 crore. Finally, the budget should focus on solving the day-to-day problems that have been afflicting the residents for a long time.

On the revenue side, despite BBMP’s best efforts to improve own tax collection, the figure is likely to remain around Rs 2,500 crore for the remainder of current council’s term. Any attempt to inflate the budget by projecting revenues to be Rs 10,000 crore by including income from Akrama-Sakrama without clearing the legal hurdles and significant grants from state government will be viewed as a publi­city stunt. Worse, it will likely end up as fiction again this year.

The Council should also find a permanent solution to solve the revenue woes of BBMP. Forcing state government to set aside taxes collected from petroleum products and motor vehicles within Bengaluru (which is already the law) might be the best way forward.

On the expenditure side, here are a few problems BBMP has made pronouncements and set aside expenditure for over a decade but yet to solve them:

The Complete Geographical Information System (GIS) Project: The then BMP had announced GIS project in its 2003-04 budget and allocated funds for mapping every property in the city in 2004-05. It is still struggling to complete it due to which property tax collection falls short of target every year. It’s time to complete it on a war footing this year.

Strive to make the city garbage free and devoid it of stagnant water: The main cause for many diseases in the city is the poor garbage collection, intricate storm water drainage system and stagnant water.

The 2008 budget talked about appointment of ‘litter cops’. The 2009 budget proposal included establishment of decentralised waste segregation unit in various parts of the city. The 2010 budget document includes a concept of secondary collection units.

In the 2011 budget, each ward was allocated a sum for garbage segregation. Closing of all open drains is also a must to make the city more walkable. The Garden City is indeed a garbage city and it is time the BBMP ended it with a lump sum allocation.

Stray dog menace

End stray dog menace: The menace of stray dogs has been afflicting citizens for over a decade and has claimed lives of many children in the past. The Palike started tackling this menace in 2005-06 with a modest allocation of Rs 3 crore and has since raised it to Rs 5 crore. But the number of stray dogs as well incidents of dog bites and attacks on citizens have increased exponentially. Ending stray dog menace must be taken as a priority before more lives are lost.

Develop social infrastructure: The poor people of Bengaluru certainly deserve better. Both the state and the BBMP budgets are overly focused on physical infrastructure and negligent on social infrastructure.

The Palike must take up development of a minimum of three to four slums every year for the next three years and provide basic amenities while ensuring that slum children are educated and women get affordable quality healthcare.

Improve accountability: The BBMP is clueless about is assets, liabilities, work orders and cash balances. The immediate need this financial year is to subject itself to an outside auditor to get its finances in order.

The budget document should delineate all the departments with responsibilities and include performance indicators that can enable the citizens to evaluate the services rendered by the BBMP. Also, an economic survey is a sine quo non to capture statistics and update the people on the progress of the city.

Rather than announcing large infrastructure projects that will either be non-starters or will take a decade or more for completion, the BBMP councillors and administrators must set simple goals and solve some of the day-to-day problems in this financial year. An effort undertaken to this effect will be laudable and can certainly help in regaining some of the lost credibility of the institution.

(The writer is a Bengaluru-based money manager)

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