More than half of the funds allotted to city councillors for the development of their wards over the past 10 years remain unutilised.
According to data provided by the Corporation of Chennai under the Right to Information Act, 53.77 per cent of the total allocation of Rs. 259.95 crore, since 2003-04, has not been spent. That amounts to a staggering Rs. 139.78 crore that could have been used to improve civic infrastructure in the city.
The utilisation of ward development funds has dwindled from 97.61 per cent in 2003-04 to 17.83 per cent in 2012-13. During the same period, the total amount allocated per year has increased from 9.3 crore to 60 crore.
All councillors are allotted a discretionary fund known as Councillors’ Ward Development Fund every year. The councillors can utilise the money to undertake permissible development works in their respective wards.
However, of the Rs. 259.95 crore allotted since 2003-04, only Rs. 120.17 crore (46.23%) have been spent by councillors.
The allocation per councillor has increased from Rs. 6 lakh to Rs. 30 lakh over the past 10 years. But there has been a significant decrease in spending.
In 2003-04, 97.61 per cent of the allotted Rs. 9.3 crore were utilised. But in 2004-05, when the allocation increased to Rs. 10.85 crore, the expenditure fell to 85.07 per cent.
As the allocation increased further, the utilisation plunged. In 2011-12, when the allotment went up to Rs. 46.5 crore, the utilisation fell from 62.75 per cent the previous year to 29.59 per cent. In 2012-13, this further slipped to 17.83 per cent while allocation rose to Rs. 60 crore.
An exception is the year before the 2011 council elections when spending rose to 62.75 per cent.
A senior Corporation official attributes the underutilisation of funds to four factors: non-feasibility of proposed works, time consumed in correspondence, local issues and councillors’ lack of interest in carrying out development works. “The funds don’t lapse at the end of the financial year. They remain with the Corporation to be used for other purposes,” he says.
Not much seems to have changed after the AIADMK swept the council elections in 2011. The percentage of expenditure stood at a meagre 17.83 per cent last year.
“Most councillors are aware of how much money is available through local area development funds but not how best to utilise them. Also, political parties have informally instituted restrictions on spending, sometimes making it mandatory to spend on infrastructure that reflects the party’s stand. Rainwater harvesting is a prime example of that in Chennai,” says Satyarupa Shekhar of Transparent Chennai which interviewed nearly 100 councillors last year as part of its study on the roles and responsibilities of councillors.
“It is the duty of the councillors to strive for the improvement of their wards; to supplement municipal infrastructure using the ward development fund. However, not only are the processes involving improvement in infrastructure and service delivery inadequate and difficult, but councillors and street-level bureaucrats seem to lack the willingness to work together,” says Shekhar.