There is an upcoming state budget this Friday. With an election around the corner, this budget will be a positive self-appraisal and a statement of intent. Ahead of the recent central budget, we had a great problem analysis and hints of potential action in the well-written economic survey. But the finance minister presumably thought it was fictional writing, since nothing he set out seemed drawn from the economic survey exercise.
We are concerned about what the state budget has in store for the city. While we might collectively wring our hands that the state has no role in the city’s business, the reality is that in our dysfunctional set up, it’s the state that calls the shots. If proof is needed, the multiple infrastructure projects across the city currently are a result of the `7,300 crores state provision for Bengaluru two years ago.
A sign of intent in all budget pronouncements is the Rupees Crores allocated for grand projects. We never talk of goals, principles to achieve them and outcomes.The problem with an emphasis on highlighting project allocations is it leads to speculation on leakages, irrespective of the party in power. We had the PM say 10%. His local party leader says it is 30%. These are allegations, but can be avoided with a greater focus on outcomes in budgets. So what are some citizen outcomes one can have in the state budget? Embrace a goal of moving more people faster and safer – this will help justify higher spending on public transport including a ‘bus bhagya’, walkable footpaths, inter-modal connectivity and even white topping.
Improving air quality as an outcome will drive policies towards electric vehicles, charging infrastructure, curtailing new building permissions by linking it to prior infrastructure provisioning and investments to avoid garbage burning.
Outcome of fixing the lake environment will mean greater transparency on common assets, zero untreated waste, effluents, implementing proper storm water drains, buffer zone treatment, etc.It is likely we will go to our graves desiring outcome orientation while being burdened annually on crores of proposed spending and grandiose projects in our government budgets. Bengaluru has the largest per-capita involvement on civic issues. If collectively citizen voices can demand accountability for money spent and reward those who deliver on it, chances are we could usher in a dawn where budgets take their rightful place in the non-fiction section.
V Ravichandar, urbanist
Author, an urban expert who is part of BBMP Restructuring Committee, calls himself the Patron Saint of Lost Causes