Needed: Activism to get BBMP to make ward-wise budgets

Needed: Activism to get BBMP to make ward-wise budgets, fix leaks

The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) affects every resident of Bengaluru. Most people believe that it is corrupt, inefficient and non-responsive. In response, the BBMP throws up its hands and says it doesn’t have the funds to meet all of the peoples’ expectations.

The Karnataka Municipal Corporations Act, in furtherance of the Constitution’s Twelfth Schedule has devolved public health, education, sanitation, solid waste management, environmental protection, slum improvement, parks and playgrounds, street lighting, parking lots, bus stops, public conveniences and burial grounds to the BBMP.

The constitution of Ward Committees has opened up opportunities to citizens living in Bengaluru’s 198 wards to participate in improving the city. Through the ward committee members, citizens can seek public welfare investments appropriate to each ward. However, citizens can achieve precious little if they do not understand where the BBMP’s money comes from and where it goes.

BBMP’s income

BBMP budgets available in the public domain reveal a chronic, yearly overstatement of income. For example, the BBMP estimated incomes of Rs 9,356 crore (2016-17) and Rs 9,996 crore (2017-18), against which it received only Rs 6,572 and Rs 7,321 crore respectively. Similarly, the 2018-19 income estimates were revised from Rs 10,129 crore to Rs 7,379 crore in July 2019, three months after the end of the financial year. This is theatre of the absurd.

The BBMP receives two-thirds of its revenues from Union and state government grants and one-third from tax and non-tax revenues from its own, devolved revenue sources such as property tax, cess receipts, advertisement tax, fines, hawking fees, lease of its properties and improvement charges. Revenue collection from its own sources is abysmally short of targets. In 2017-18, the BBMP collected only Rs 2,384 crore, 56% of the estimated Rs 4,266 crore and only Rs 1,589 crore of property tax against the target of Rs 2,600 crore. Clearly, the BBMP has been thoroughly unprofessional and incompetent in its revenue raising efforts.

Receipts of Union and state government grants are also erratic, lumpy and unpredictable. In 2015-16, BBMP received Rs 848 crore over its budget estimate; in 2016-17 and 2017-18, there were shortfalls of Rs 1,314 crore and Rs 202 crore, respectively.

BBMP’s expenditure

The BBMP allocates and spends approximately 10-12% of its money on salaries and 20% on other fixed expenses. About 38% is allocated to zonal public works, roads and stormwater drains and other civil work-related activities (2019-20). That leaves essential services such as schools, medical facilities and town-planning severely starved of funds.

The approach to public works expenditure is cavalier, ad-hoc and opaque. Large sums of money are earmarked to be spent at the discretion of the mayor, deputy mayor and commissioner, and even the minister in charge of Bengaluru, who is not even elected to the BBMP. In 2016-17 and 2017-18, the discretionary expenditures incurred on works were Rs 396 crore and Rs 339 crore, respectively. The minister in charge of Bengaluru spent Rs 22.09 crore (2016-17) and Rs 53.13 crore (2017-18) at his discretion. In 2018-19, the BBMP budget allocated a discretionary expenditure of Rs 400.70 crore (revised from Rs 778.89 crore). Nearly a year after the financial year ended, no details are available in the public domain of how this money was spent. For 2019-20, Rs 906.24 crore has been allocated for discretionary works.

It is not known as to how works under this discretionary quota are selected. It is horrifying, but true: the money that we pay as taxes to the BBMP is allocated like a slush fund, to individuals. There is a snowballing arbitrariness in allocations and payment of bills, because mayors change every year. Thus, within the discretionary quota given to them, the mayor and others have discretion in bill payments as well! Given the scope for exercise of wide-ranging arbitrary powers, it is no wonder that various chief ministers have held on to the Bengaluru minister portfolio, for the huge opportunity it provides for patronage and control over Bengaluru.

Despite the constitution of Ward Committees, the future does not auger well for ordinary citizens because it is near impossible to keep a tab on the BBMP’s estimates, revised estimates and expenditure performance on a real time basis. For example, we still do not know how much was spent and on what in 2018-19, though we are 10 months into the current financial year. Furthermore, revised estimates for 2019-20 are not yet available, though the financial year is coming to a close.

The BBMP budget is made without an intelligent consideration of the previous year’s income and expenditure. There is neither transparency nor peoples’ participation in budgeting. Each such distorted budget exacerbates the problem, by continuing with wildly optimistic revenue estimates that are invariably slashed. To make matters worse, the BBMP deludes itself by sanctioning works on the basis of these wild estimates and leaving many of these incomplete. Payments to these are made through the discretionary funds allocated to individuals like the mayor, the deputy mayor and the minister in charge of Bengaluru.

The BBMP is thus caught in a vicious trap of its own making.

To make citizens’ participation meaningful and promote equitable development, ward-wise budgets must be made. All ward budgets should be consolidated and added to the head office’s budget, which would deal with larger works that transcend wards. Discretionary quotas have to be minimized and must not be given to outsiders such as the minister for Bengaluru. There must be norms for selecting works under the discretionary quota. As we approach BBMP elections, only we, the citizens of Bengaluru, can put pressure on the BBMP to improve its budgeting processes and come clean before us.  

(The writer is a former Accountant General and served as Director (Finance) of the Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation Ltd).

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