The civic administrations move to prune the budget, presented in April this year, has raised the hackles of councillors and former councillors from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who are lobbying hard with the State government against the move. The civic administration has argued for a revision citing its necessity as the COVID-19 pandemic had severely affected the BBMPs finances, a claim contested by former councillors.
Any revision of the budget will only result in the dropping of civic works, a prospect councillors, cutting across party lines, are not comfortable with given that civic polls may be held any day, depending on directions from the Karnataka High Court.
On the eve of an election, which councillor or party would want civic works to be axed? Instead, we demand that the BBMP start the civic works announced in the budget, a senior BJP councillor and party strategist said.
Gaurav Gupta, Administrator, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), told The Hindu that while efforts to present a realistic budget were on, it was premature to comment on the issue as a proposal to the effect is yet to be made.
L. Srinivas from the BJP had presented a budget of 11,969.5 crore for the current financial year, which the State government pruned by 254 crore. A budget of 11,715.2 crore was finally approved.
The BBMP has set a target of 3,538 crore from property tax, 4,339 crore from the State government and 2,316 crore from non tax-revenue, among other sources.
The budget was approved by the State government just a few months ago. What are the grounds to prune it? We have taken up this issue with senior ministers, who have promised that there will be no revision of the budget, Mr. Srinivas said.
However, senior civic officials said the budget was unrealistic in its revenue projections, which has only become more stark due to the pandemic and the resultant financial crisis. For instance, the State governments grants are unlikely to come as promised, sources said.
When asked about the financial constraints, Mr. Srinivas said BBMP should award tenders and start civic works. The civic body doesnt pay the bills immediately. The pandemic must not be used as an excuse to deny development, he said.
In the past, the civic budgets had come under severe criticism over variance between the estimates and actuals. Data from Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy shows it varies in the range of 25% to 40%. The only exception was in the year 2015-16 when the civic administration led by an administrator now Chief Secretary T.M. Vijay Bhaskar pruned the budget presented by the council to a realistic level. That year, the variance was only 3%.
Councillors often inflate revenue projections, grant civic works themselves and start works, even as the BBMP falls short of revenue to pay contractors. This leads to a problem of pending bills, which undermines the financial health of the civic body, pointed out a senior civic official.
A section of BBMP contractors had recently threatened to stop all ongoing civic works as pending bills had mounted to 2,500 crore for works that are as old as two years.