A tailor-made plan that went awry

LYING IDLE: The sewing machines lying idle at the BMP Kanakanapalya tailoring centre in Jayanagar in Bangalore. Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash  

Afshan Yasmeen

Over 50 high-powered sewing machines bought by BMP gathering dust

BANGALORE: The erstwhile Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BMP) bought over 50 high-powered tailoring machines (used in garment factories) in 1985. The idea was to start a unit to design uniforms for children studying in BMP schools. The plan did not materialise and the machines are lying unused at the BMP Kanakanapalya tailoring centre in Jayanagar 2nd Block.

That is not all.

The Social Welfare Department officials, who realised that such costly machines (each cost over Rs. 8,000 then) could not be left unguarded, appointed a watchman to protect them. The watchman has been provided with an accommodation in the centre's premises and is a permanent BMP employee.

It was the idea of the former Deputy Mayor and the 1985 Jayanagar corporator Lakshmidevi to start a small garments unit to design uniforms for BMP schoolchildren.

She had proposed to encourage women entrepreneurship by employing candidates who pass out of BMP tailoring centres. The result: The civic body ended up wasting more than Rs. 50 lakh.

The Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike's (BBMP) Social Welfare Department, which has become unpopular for some of its measures, has ensured that almost every welfare scheme launched by the civic body turned controversial. Either the annual budgetary allocations have not been used or have been diverted for other purposes.

As a result, crores of rupees meant for the welfare of the downtrodden have been "siphoned off" by officials and most of the funds have lapsed, allege human rights activists.

The tailoring course, one of the popular welfare schemes of the civic body, became controversial in 2002-03 when officials opted to pay more for a less popular brand. As a result, beneficiaries did not get the stipend, certificates and machines for almost four years. The backlog was cleared only after protests and demonstrations by the candidates. The former Mayor P.R. Ramesh, who represented Visvesvarapuram where the Kanakanapalya Centre is situated, alleged that the officials never took care to utilise grants for SC/ST communities.

In the last six years, schemes such as model houses for the weaker section, aids and appliances for the disabled, financial assistance to meritorious students, health insurance, prevention of alcoholic addiction and self-employment schemes such as computer training, coaching in electrical wiring, driving, mobile repairing and beautician courses have not been successful.

Although the total budgetary provision allocated by the civic body for the welfare of the downtrodden from April 2000 to March 2006 is Rs. 43.69 crore, the actual utilisation till June 2005 stands at Rs. 6.46 crore.

"This means only 15 per cent of the total allocation set aside for 72 months has been used in 63 months. Actually, the civic body should have used 87.5 per cent instead of 15 per cent in 63 months," Basavaraj Kouthal, convenor of Human Rights Forum for Dalit Liberation, told The Hindu .

According to BMP budget copies, the civic body has spent the highest (43 per cent) allocation in 2002-03 and lowest (10 per cent) in 2003-04.

"It is unfortunate that officials are making merry under the pretext of welfare of SC/ST," Mr. Kouthal added.

Admitting that most of the SC/ST grants were not utilised, BBMP Deputy Commissioner (Administration) Venkataramana Nayak said that an explanation was sought from the officials during whose tenure the funds lapsed.