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Eye on polls, CMC hikes outlay on roads and water

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) intends to spend Rs 72 crore more in the current fiscal than in 2013-14 on roads. The allocation for water supply has risen by Rs 80 crore.

“We are committed to making the roads pothole-free,” mayor Sovan Chatterjee said on Friday while presenting what was possibly his last budget before the civic body goes to the polls next year.

The Rs 165.45crore-deficit budget has proposed an outlay of Rs 303 crore for roads. The CMC will pay from its coffers Rs 263 crore — Rs 32 crore more than the last fiscal — while the state government will provide a grant of Rs 40 crore.

The proposed allocation for water supply is Rs 320 crore, Rs 80 crore more than 2013-14.

“Roads and water supply directly affect the people. It would be foolish to neglect these two sectors before an election,” said a Trinamul councillor.

The budget, however, made no announcement of any major scheme. The tax rates have been kept unchanged.

The allocation on water supply has been finalised to ensure that some of the key projects are wrapped up in this financial year. One such project is related to supply of potable water to households along the Bypass, who now use underground water drawn by pumps.

Apart from a distribution network, the CMC is building a water treatment plant for these households. The plant will treat 30 million gallon water a day.

“A major problem in the eastern part of the city is the dependence on ground water…. It is expected that this project will be completed in this financial year,” mayor Chatterjee said.

The estimate of receipts and expenditure for 2013-14, published along with the mayor’s budget statement, revealed how the Sambunath Kow episode affected the civic body’s earnings.

The CMC had estimated to earn Rs 250 crore from public-private partnership (PPP) projects in 2013-14 but has ended up raising only Rs 25 crore. Sources said the civic body had planned to sell a plot near the Silver Spring housing estate, off the Bypass, to a private promoter under the PPP scheme.

Kow, the Trinamul councillor of the area, was allegedly trying to clear the area of encroachments when he clashed with a local Trinamul supporter.

The supporter died and Kow was arrested.

The incident forced the CMC to put the scheme — and the other land monetisation schemes under the PPP — on the backburner. “The Kow incident reduced the CMC’s earnings under the PPP head by Rs 225 crore,” said an official.

The CMC has pegged its PPP earning for 2014-15 at Rs 250 crore.

The budget does not have any provision for a year’s property tax waiver for buildings whose exteriors are painted in Mamata Banerjee’s favourite blue and white colours. The decision to offer the waiver was taken at a recent meeting of the mayoral council.

“The waiver can be effective only if the CMC act is amended. Unless that is done, the civic budget cannot have that provision,” said an official.

“The civic body failed to attain the target of property tax collection in 2013-14. For 2014-15, they have set an even higher target. At the same time they have announced the waiver scheme. It doesn’t seem feasible,” said Rupa Bagchi, CPM councillor and the leader of Opposition in the civic house.