A debate on Bangalore's Municipal Corporation's third quarter financial results was held on March 15. This interaction is a sign of the continuing partnership between the BMP and citizens through PROOF. The debate was attended by the city's Mayor C. M. Nagaraj, BMP Commissioner M.R. Srinivas Murthy, Additional Commissioner of Finance P. K. Srihari, Deputy Director Education Mr.Shantaraju and Director of Health Dr.Susheela Shekar. About 190 citizens were also present. Discussions were held in a cordial manner with optimism and enthusiasm pervading the atmosphere.

The citizens' analysis was presented by Dr. Krishna Kumar, an economist with an interest in urban affairs. He commended the BMP for the tremendous improvement in the quality of answers since the first quarter. The Mayor emphasised that the BMP was working towards transparency in all its departments. He said finances have improved this year. "I hope PROOF can organise a symposium for all corporators on reading financial statements," he added.

The BMP Commissioner Mr. Srinivas Murthy in his reply said that he got the feeling that more and more people believe the BMP now and thanked PROOF for the opportunity to show that it can also be transparent. "I assured the gathering that no one need have any doubt about the BMP's ability to raise loans for capital projects," he added. Mr. Srihari clarified that the BMP was still using the legacy cash-based system of accounting but the switchover to the accrual system will take place at the earliest. He pointed out that property tax collected was Rs 170 crores, which had overshot last year's collection by Rs. 5 crores.

Through the series of interactions with the BMP since the release of first quarter results, citizens have noted that there is a disconnect between budget's listing of a public works item and the actual commencement of the work, and in turn its allocated finances being consumed. Because of time taken by the process of initiating and proceeding with the works (tendering, contracting, internal rules, etc), sometimes money for a listed capital receipt (an approved borrowing) has not been withdrawn by the BMP at the time of results scrutiny. The works process itself may not have taken off until well into the second half of the year, but the capital is already available for withdrawal. This results in confusion in the budgetary analysis, where captial receipts indicate crores of rupees allocated, and expenditures have not yet begun.

Excerpts from the exchange at the Q3 debate

Q: What does the BMP propose to do to increase tax collection?

The BMP hopes to bring 20,000 more properties in the tax net. Tax collections are not on target (only 78 per cent has been collected) as many taxpayers are not paying on time. But plans are on the anvil to identify all properties and bring them into the net. A clearer picture should emerge by Q2 in the next financial year.

Q: Why is there a shortfall in drawing loans?

This happens when due to various reasons there is no progress in works. As no expenditure is being incurred no amount is withdrawn.

Q: What happens to money not spent at the end at the financial year?

The money not spent is still available for the next year. When it is found that there is not much progress in works, withdrawal of funds is reduced. Unlike in revenue receipts where money not recovered is lost, there is no major loss in this case.

Q: What is the BMP doing for people living in slums?

The fact is that 17 per cent of Bangalore's population lives in the slums. A proposal for giving clear titles to all slum dwellers is awaiting clearance from the state government. BWSSB has, in collaboration with AusAid, worked out a model to provide water and sanitation in all slums. Many more such projects are on the anvil and can be expected to be announced in the next financial year. Also 10,000 pourakarmikas have been granted minimum wages.

Q: Why has money on maintenance of BMP vehicles come down?

This function has been decentralised due to irregularities highlighted by the Lok Ayukta. Because those in charge of the vehicles are now going to maintain them, the costs are coming down.

Radio - PROOF Puttanna comes of age

Courtesy voicesforall.org PROOF RADIO SERIES - AIR 101.3 FM, Bangalore, Every Wednesday - 8.00-8.15pm

From a bunch of amateurs setting out to produce a radio series on issues concerning governance in September 2002 to today, the AIR aired PROOF Puttanna program has come a long way. Previously, live programs aired from the AIR studios every Wednesday. While live programs have their own charm and dynamic, since January PEC has been pre-recording programs at the VOICES studio. This gives the campaign more flexibility. The episode aired on the 19th March, 2003 was the 26th in the series.

The purpose and focus of the programme has, by and large, remained the same - empowering citizens to be partners in Bangalore's development, encouraging citizens to understand the working of the BMP and thus ensuring transparent, efficient and accountable administration. The programme has seen the participation of corporators, administrators, teachers, students, senior citizens, artists, NGO's and professionals from various fields. Notable amongst the many guests who have appeared in the programme are the BMP commissioner, BMP Joint Commissioner of Finance and the cine artist Vishnuvardhan.

At the end of each episode the listeners are invited to send their reply to a question and win a prize. The response has been good and is covering a large area. This is borne out by the fact that we get letters from places, which are over 80 km distant from Bangalore.