Rivalry and bickerings among councillors of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) have left about Rs 4 crore unutilised for over a year in 15 boroughs.
In the civic budget for 2003-2004, mayor Subrata Mukherjee had allotted a development fund of Rs 25 lakh to each borough committee.
The condition set for spending the fund was that it would have to be utilised for borough-level development work involving at least two wards. Each borough is a cluster of nine to 12 wards.
Since the chairman of a borough committee is elected by the councillors of the constituent wards, and there not being a single borough in which all the councillors belong to the same party, the chairmen studiously avoided development schemes involving two or more wards.
Instead, they sought equal distribution of the borough fund among the councillors, which was not allowed in the mayor’s guidelines.
“I had allotted Rs 25 lakh to each borough with the assurance that if the money was used as per the guidelines this year, I will double the allotment next year. But not a single borough chairman has been able to utilise the fund since April,” lamented the mayor.
“This proves that the councillors and borough chairmen are unresponsive to people’s welfare, unless allowed to handle funds individually,” he added.
“There are localised problems in all the wards and their redressal requires funds. But I don’t want to invite the criticism or displeasure of the councillors by singling out two or three wards only,” said borough X chairman Arup Biswas.
“I would prefer that the mayor distribute the fund among the 10 councillors in my borough and like the MLAs and MPs, each councillor is allowed a free hand to spend the money for his local area development,” said Biswas.
Mayor Mukherjee, on the other hand, argued that if the councillors had any zeal for development work, they could utilise the fund to improve basic infrastructure, like laying water mains, beautifying parks, covering the open drains, repairing the sewer pipes or cleaning up a waterbody.
Citing an example, the mayor said there was a risk of severe contamination of potable water in more than four wards in east Calcutta, because of the mushrooming of shanties on the northern flank of Park Circus’ bridge no. 4.
The shanty-dwellers were drawing water from the big-diameter water mains by removing the sealants at the pipe joints. What was even more dangerous was that they were defacating right on the water mains. A metal jacket or a concrete cover could have been provided for the water mains with the borough fund, said Mukherjee.