Civic participation essential for effective BMC budget, say experts

In absence of elected representatives, holding the BMC accountable for planning and implementation of the budget is crucial.

A month after the BMC announced its budget for the fiscal year 2024-25, experts called for greater citizen participation in the planning and implementation of the budget.

Not only is the BMC the richest civic body in the country, but also this year they have announced the highest budget ever at nearly Rs. 60,000 crore. Secondly, elections have not taken place after the term of the previous elected officials ended in March 2022.

The Municipal Commissioner, appointed as the administrator, has been at the helm of the civic body’s functioning for two years now. The corporation was put under an administrator after a period of 38 years, and for the first time the administrator’s rule has lasted for such long period of time.

The discussion organised by Mumbai First, Blue Ribbon Movement and Bombay Management Association at Walchand Hirachand Hall had eminent speakers such as Prashant Pisolkar, the former Chief Auditor at MCGM, Amita Bhide, Professor at Centre for Urban Policy and Governance at TISS, and Milind Mhaske, CEO of Praja Foundation. The panel was moderated by Sanjay Ubale of Mumbai First. The experts highlighted the gaps in budget planning and implementation and also drew attention to people’s role.

Prashant Pisolkar said that all the proposals go to the Municipal Commissioner, and he signs them in his capacity as the commissioner, as the standing committee, and as the corporation, which puts a lot of power in the hands of one individual. He said, “There is no elected representative. Councillors are not there. So, it is very difficult to represent citizens to this highest body.”


Read more: BMC budget 2024-25: Focusing on long-term infrastructure projects


People’s role

All three panellists mentioned the significance of civic participation in the forming of the budget as well as its execution. The BMC had asked citizens to send in their suggestions on where they would like to see their money being spent.

While this is a laudable step, Milind pointed out that this call for suggestions should have been put out when the administrative process for the creation of the budget started.

He said, ” …this year and the last year we had participatory budgeting exercise done which I think was a tick box. It was opened up in January. By the time there is nothing left to be written in the budget. The budget has actually gone for printing.”

Panel discussion on BMC budget for 2024
The highlight of the panel discussion on decoding BMC’s budget for 2024 was importance of civic participation in the planning process. Pic: Shruti Gokarn

Had this process been started in conjunction with the administrative process, in August or September, the suggestions of citizens could have informed the budget. He further added that even if the call for participation is sent out late, citizens should avail of this opportunity to put their suggestions forward.

Both he and Amita gave the examples of other cities like Pune and Bengaluru, where the call for citizen participation is carried out in a far more effective manner. Amita pointed out that in its effort to seek participation, the BMC does not indicate what kind of projects and how much amount can be suggested by people. As opposed to that, the corporation in Pune which gives citizens an upper limit to suggest for the projects they would like to see undertaken.

Prashant emphasised the importance of holding the BMC accountable by creating vigilance groups at the ward level. This helps to keep a watch on the projects being carried out there, to approach the BMC to get problems solved, and to question the civic body, if needed. He said, “It is absolutely necessary that we should have some pressure groups, who are going to watch at least the projects, which are in their ward or in their vicinity, and they should monitor it.”

Accountability of the BMC

Amita highlighted a reason for the reduced accountability of the BMC: reduced property tax. She explained that when citizens contribute property tax, they also feel the need to make sure their money is utilised effectively for the city. She said, “Property tax is a very, very important instrument. For one, it is not only the own revenue of the corporation, but it is also the citizen contribution to the city government, and therefore a way for strengthening the corporation’s accountability.”

Milind stressed that citizens must read the budget, which is available on the BMC website to understand how their money is going to be spent and to ensure it is well spent. He also spoke about the utility of the municipal secretary’s office, which acts like a conduit between citizens and the BMC, telling the audience that they could approach them.


Read more: BMC health budget utilisation at 71%, lowest in five years


BMC’s skewed allocation of funds

While speaking about fund allocation, Amita drew attention to the irony that the wards which require the most resources for development, are provided a tiny fraction of the budget and the so called VIP wards which are already developed are given a large part of the funds.

She illustrated this by giving the example of M-East ward, “How much do we allocate to this ward? We carried out a budgetary analysis of just the amount which has been allocated to the development plan. Capital expenditure was something around 0.75 %. It reached its maximum in 2021 at about 1.79%. In the current budget it is 0.02%.”

This kind of inequity is also reflected in the way funds are earmarked for ward level work and big infrastructure projects, with ward level allocation faring far lower. In fact, Milind pointed out that the budget has kept aside a mere 16% for the wards.

The best way to make sure that the BMC spends public funds in the most effective manner is for citizens to hold them accountable. They can do this by being active participants in the budgeting process and questioning the corporation.

Resources-

You can find the BMC’s budget for the fiscal year 2024-25 here.
You can take a look at previous budgets here.

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