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Need a governance architecture where corruption can’t burn into

Dimple Mehta, sister-in-law of Mira Bhayander MLA Narendra Mehta and the elected Mayor of the Mira Bhayander Municipal Corporation (MBMC), has come under the scanner over the legitimacy of her caste certificate based on which she was crowned the first citizen of the twin-city in August 2017. However, the validity of her caste certificate has been challenged by social activist Pradeep Jangam. Mehta had captured the Mayor’s chair on the advantage of her claims of belonging to the Hindu Darzi, a caste which has been recognised as Other Backward Class (OBC). Even if it’s proven to be true, she will retain her position or she can successfully manage her stand. Her brother-in-law Narendra Mehta is known to be a corrupt politician. In spite of his corrupt image, he managed to get acquitted in a 14-year-old case of bribery by a court in Thane. Special Judge V V Bambarde of the district court let off the legislator after the prosecution failed to prove the case against the accused that allegedly demanded and accepted a bribe of Rs 20,000 from the complainant in 2002 when he was a corporator. He was trialled under Sections 7, 12, 13(1), (d) and 13(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act of 1988.

The corruption and fraud allegations are not limited to Mehta and family, but if you investigate and research, 90 per cent of Mira Bhayander Municipal Corporation (MBMC) is lured in corruption. Time and again Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) has laid traps and arrested many officers, corporators and officials for accepting bribe and making strange demands from people. There is a chain of money distribution — the bribe is taken on whichever levels it gets circulated from — Mayor to ward officer. The corruption is very systematic. There is not any single window system for the service provided to the public, and they tend to approach all the departments for a single work or for an NoC and if any officer has kept their paper pending, for minimising the time, common men are required to offer bribe to save their valuable time.

There is no awareness of Right to Service Act as such! Municipal Corporation officers are getting benefits of this — they pile files at one corner of their table and wait for a party to come and approach them. Officers are also taking advantage by producing wrong information and rules which will influence people to offer bribe. If any corruption occurs in interdepartmental works, in that case, audit department doesn’t have enough and required knowledge or training regarding all the issues and they are not capable to take any action against anybody. If any corruption occurs departmentally, then, the files of that work either get burnt by officers or they will be kept safe in their homes for future references. And after all such incidences happen, no action has been taken on the said officers for missing files and the officers become well trained to involve in corruption again.

It is an open secret that corruption is a well established way of life in the grimy, unresponsive and over-staffed Municipal Corporation. It is endemic to the way the city is managed. In the last two to two-and-half decades, the scams became larger, the amounts siphoned off grew exponentially, and modus operandi turned more brazen than ever. The situation is similar in the BMC too, for that matter no Municipal Corporation in India is corruption-free. The BMC, India’s largest and richest civic body, with its current annual budget of Rs 37,000 crore, ostensibly does not have the talent and expertise to plan or maintain the city’s 2,000 kilometre road network. Its officers repeatedly gave road work contracts to the same cartel of firms that had either not delivered good roads or should have been blacklisted for shoddy work. Few attempts that were made to rein in the thriving parallel civic system hit political roadblocks and had to be abandoned. The latest scam to unfold — the Road Scam that could be worth Rs 340 crore or more, then joins a long list of corruption scandals in the Municipal Corporation. The Road Scam was settled barely after an internal inquiry demanded by the Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta. Of the 34 roads examined, all showed evidences of massive irregularities, large-scale use of inferior material, fall short to meet the BMC’s specifications and so on. The BMC allocated nearly Rs 3,200 crore every year for the roads department and undertook more than 3,000 road work projects in the last three years. Imagine the scale of corruption!

Then, the BMC’s top officers were unable to nab the wrong-doers or the complicit involved in skulduggery. Two senior officials – Chief Engineer (roads) and Chief Engineer (vigilance) – were suspended. Independent auditors were hand in glove in the scam, approving shoddy work and inaccurate bills of the contractors. Ten employees from two auditor firms are under arrest, there are FIRs against these firms that got the contracts. Before this the nullah cleaning scam occurred in which contractors fraudulently cleared out less silt and inflated bills. And there were other scams that the Congress gleefully pointed out – dumping ground scam, fire brigade scam, tablet scam and waste management scam. But beyond all politics, there is the issue how corruption corrodes into urban governance! It leads to below par civic services, shoddy and dangerous infrastructure and a thriving mini-economy in which the city and its residents are held to ransom.

Wide-ranging BMC corruption means that not only is public money being siphoned off by a nexus of conniving officials and contractors, but Mumbai is deprived of its basic civic capital, including good roads. The challenge then is not merely to nail those involved in the scams, however politically expedient it is, but to evolve an urban governance architecture in which the “gatekeepers” have fewer chances to play dirty. In 2014, Modi publically spoke “Na khaunga na khane dunga”, but all those speeches and promises remained jumlas.

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Dr Vaidehi Taman
Dr Vaidehi an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with Honourary Doctorate in Journalism, Investigative Journalist, Editor, Ethical Hacker, Philanthropist, and Author. She is Editor-in-Chief of Newsmakers Broadcasting and Communications Pvt. Ltd. for 11 years, which features an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, monthly magazines like Hackers5, Beyond The News (international) and Maritime Bridges. She is also an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, Certified Security Analyst and is also a Licensed Penetration Tester which caters to her freelance jobs.

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