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Thursday, August 11, 2005

Funds are not a problem

To counter the popular litany of how Mumbai pays a large share of the nation's taxes and doesn't get enough back, the Indian Express has a report that quotes a "top state bureaucrat" as saying: "Funds are not a problem, the quality of decision-making is." The report contunues:
The state government has dipped into kitty of Mumbai’s prime planning authority, the MMRDA, at least twice—Rs 1,000 crore was loaned to bail out the cotton crisis and around Rs 400 crore for the Krishna Valley Irrigation Project. The money has still not been returned.

‘‘Most funds are cornered by political lobbies from Western Maharashtra,’’ said a former finance secretary. ‘‘Legislators and MPs in Western Maharashtra, from all parties, are accountable to their constituencies. If they don’t bring in funds, they are finished.’’

That’s why on July 26, when Mumbai was marooned, Finance Minister Jayant Patil rushed 325 km southwards to his constituency, Sangli.

Patil returned only yesterday. ‘‘I was not assigned to go there,’’ he acknowledged. ‘‘I went on my own since my constituency suffered huge losses.’’

So Patil’s job—assessing damage, distributing ex-gratia and preparing a statement of losses for Central assistance—was left to his officials.

[...]

On that torrential Tuesday, Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh spent precious time getting Sena rebel leader Narayan Rane sworn in as revenue minister. The next day, Rane rushed to his constituency in the Konkan, also hit hard by the floods.
There is a conflict of interest here that is written into the system: a member of parliament might reasonably feel that his first loyalties lie with the people who have voted him into power; but when he is a minister, his duty is towards the portfolio he has been given as well. Sometimes these interests collide, as now, and someone's going to feel shortchanged. Maybe, in at least this one respect, the American system works better.

This is also one of many reasonable arguments to make Mumbai a separate state, but there are also many reasonable arguments against that, so let's not go there.