Saturday, August 14, 2010

IMC : The villain or a scapegoat ?

No one will shed tears for the epitaph that was scripted for the Imphal Municipal Council, by the Government of Manipur a few days back. Technically it is just a suspension of the Council and not a dissolution or doing away with the present crop of Councillors and letting the status of the employees of IMC hang in the balance, but in spirit the suspension can be said to be as good as ringing the ‘pack up time’ bell for the Councillors ! It would not be fair to pick on the IMC primarily on the basis of financial bunglings and the loss to the State exchequer, for there are other numerous institutions or Government agencies which have proved to be a bigger embarassment than the IMC. The amount said to have been misutilised or misappropriated and the sum of money which the Government has to dole out every month to meet the salary demands of the IMC plus other needs may be said to be peanuts if we go in for a comparative study of all Government agencies in the State. Just for the records or for those who strictly believe in going by statistics and other details, the State Government is understood to cough up Rs 19 lakhs every month to meet the demands of the IMC, including the salaries of its employees as well as the honorarium of the Councillors. This is against the Rs 5.5 lakhs which the IMC is able to generate as income every month. Simple calculation tells us that every month the shortfall between the needs of the IMC and the revenue it generates is Rs 13.5 lakhs. In other words, this means that the State exchequer or the tax payers of the land have had to meet the salary requirements and other needs of the IMC staff and the Councillors for years. As per the official notification issued by the State Government on August 9, 2010, a Committee of Officers headed by the Additional Secretary (MAHUD) as the Chairman with the Chief Engineer of PDA, Under Secretary (Finance) and Assistant Director (MAHUD) as members on September 3, 2009 was set up to study the functioning of the IMC and the decision to suspend the Council was based on the report submitted by the said Committee. Yes, the IMC has been a gravy train, and its efficiency or rather ineffeciency can be seen every time one takes a walk through Nagamapal or any street in the commercial centres of Imphal. In fact, it is something of a providence that no contagious diseases have spread from the rotting garbages, that have become the landmark of Imphal in the bazar areas. There were many other loopholes pointed out by the Committee and this includes, apart from the financial mismanagement, abuse of power and administrative lapses, failure to document the properties and assets of the IMC, fixing Rs 15,000 as the salary of the Chairperson against the Government approved rate of Rs 1500 per month, Rs 13,000 against the approved amount of Rs 1200 per month for the Vice Chairperson, Rs 12,000 as against the approved amount of Rs 800. Not only this, the IMC was also nailed for diverting the fund of Rs 13.92 lakhs granted by the 12th Finance Commission to purchase two tipper trucks to pay the salary of its employees and other needs. Not only this, another Rs 36,46,000 released by the 12th Finance Commission in 2006-'07 for solid waste management, but out of this amount Rs 24,64,657 was diverted to pay the salaries of the employees and the Chairperson.
Given this damning fact, there is no reason to exonerate the present crop of Councillors and possibility of lodging cases of fund embezzlement in the law Court cannot be dismissed altogether. Chief Minister O Ibobi has cracked his whip and this is wonderful, but there are still some questions which may be raised, though, at the risk of being dubbed cynics or overly pessimistic, refusing to see anything positive in what the Government does. It would do good for all to remember the numerous times that employees of the IMC have gone on strike to demand their pay and salaries. It will also help all not to forget that the IMC had been rendered comatose or handicapped by lack of basic necessities such as fuel to operate their pick up trucks to clear garbage. In fact, the mess that the IMC finds itself in today is not a recent development and it stretches back to the time as far as our memory can recall. The question now is, and this is very important, why has the SPF Government suddenly woken up to the reality of the viruses eating away the vital organs of the IMC ? Mr Ibobi has been the Chief Minister, without a break since 2002, and it is during this time that Imphal started its first step towards urbanisation as understood universally but conveniently forgot the baggages that come along with the process of urbanisation. The dug up roads and the open manholes that dot the streets of Imphal, thanks to the Sewerage Project is an apt example. This is but one example that we can think of at the moment, but the sudden interest shown by the Government in the functioning of the IMC is somewhat intriguing if we take the past into considerations. Let's also take into considerations some very important points. Imphal is one of the cities or State capitals selected for the first phase of the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewable Mission under the Union Ministry of Urban Development. There is also the Urban Housing Scheme, Drainage System etc, just to name a few which are in the pipeline and which have already started. Not surprisingly all these projects involve huge amount of money and given the reputation of the SPF Government, there are bound to be sceptics like us, who may smell something more than just toning up the administration of the IMC, for if the IMC is there, the projects mentioned, can go to them, in short the fund for these projects. We leave it to Mr Ibobi and his men and the Babudom to answer why such questions have cropped up in the first place ! Also do not forget the Zero Garbage campaign launched on August 12, 2010 ! Will it be Zero Garbage or Zero Performance ?

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