BJP insider had queered the pitch earlier by suggesting to CM that Rs 115 crore on laptops was ‘wasteful’. However, the same amount spent on roads and drains would not make the slightest difference, considering that Rs 75,000 crore has been spent in the last 13 years on infrastructure, with little to show for it
BBMP’s move to distribute free laptops to poor students had created a buzz early this year, but a BJP insider played spoilsport and influenced Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa into nixing the civic body’s decision, on the ground of it being ‘wasteful expenditure’. However, it is now being pointed out by concerned corporators that the Rs 115 crore that was set aside for the purpose would have been even more ‘wasteful’ – literally going down the drain — if it had been used on developmental work, considering the poor state of the city’s infrastructure despite vast amounts being spent over the years.
Sources say the government had released special grants, out of which Rs 115 crore was diverted for procuring laptops, adding that due process was followed in the matter.
The taxation and financial standing committee, exercising its powers under the Karnataka Municipal Corporation Act, Section 172, had diverted part of the special grants for purchase of laptops for poor students. The decision of the standing committee was unanimousty approved by all corporators, irrespective of political affiliation, in the council headed by Mayor M Goutham Kumar. Later, then BBMP Commissioner BH Anil Kumar had issued job codes (work orders) for procuring the laptops.
The rationale of the corporation was that due to the coronavirus pandemic, online education was being resorted to nationwide. However, poor families would not be able to take advantage of the new trend, and hence the corporators thought of procuring laptops and distributing them to families below the poverty line who would not be able to afford a laptop costing around Rs 50,000 or a smartphone of around Rs 10,000.
There was an electoral angle too, as the ruling BJP in the council was hoping it would create a huge vote bank for the party in the upcoming BBMP polls, likely to be scheduled after December 2020 or in early April 2021. But all that came to nought with the motivated ‘tip-off’ from a BJP insider to the CM.
“If elections are held now, then due to corona pandemic the BJP cannot rely on educated voters as it would be very hard for them to come out and vote. But the party cannot ignore the lower-income groups, especially those below the poverty line and living in slums, as they may swing the poll outcome the other way. Hence, the party should reconsider distributing laptops to the poor and needy families in Bengaluru,” said a BJP insider who wished to remain anonymous.
Had the Rs 115 crore been diverted to development work like tarring roads or desilting drains, it would have been like pouring water into a leaking bucket. In the six years of BJP rule (2010-2015 and 2019-2020), four years of Congress-JDS rule (2015-2019) and three years under an administrator (2007-2010), the corporation has spent more than Rs 75,000 crore on ‘development’ — with hardly anything to write home about.
“Distributing laptops would in fact have made a difference to families who cannot afford them. The BJP would be able to create a new vote bank by distributing at least one laptop per family, which in turn would create at least 3-4 voters. Hence, this is the right time for Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa and other BJP leaders to do a rethink on the distribution of laptops to poor and needy families,” said a BJP leader.
Another BJP leader noted that the taxation and finance standing committee had all the powers to re-appropriate any grants from any particular head to be used for any purpose which should benefit the larger community, and hence there was no foul play. “The committee did not recommend procuring laptops from any particular company at any given price. It is the responsibility of officials to take a final call on it. The laptops can be distributed through the Education standing committee or the Social Welfare standing committee,” said a corporator.
In fact, during a council meeting, senior BJP corporator Padmanabha Reddy had demanded distribution of laptops or else stopping online education as many children could not afford to switch to the new medium of learning.
BBMP Commissioner N Manjunatha Prasad had suggested visiting the Government of India’s online portal, which carries quotes by various companies, and procuring laptops directly without inviting tenders.
‘No rules flouted’
Meanwhile, replying to an SMS sent by TheBengaluruLive, former BBMP Commissioner BH Anil Kumar, who had issued the job codes, denied any foul play. He said, “Let me know which rules of the KMC Act have been flouted and who is saying that the rules have been flouted. All re-appropriation of funds from one head to another are done only after the same has been approved by the standing committees and the council has approved it finally. Only after the re-appropriation is done are the job codes issued. No violation of this procedure happened.”