The Indian Express’ Mumbai edition published an investigation on January 31, uncovering an unequal distribution of funds for development and maintenance works in Mumbai’s wards. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) reportedly released Rs 500.58 crore between February and December 2023, but the funds only reached constituencies represented by MLAs from the ruling parties. Opposition MLAs received nothing.
The revelation is concerning, considering the absence of a functioning local body in BMC since February 2022 due to ongoing litigation over ward formation. The BMC commissioner currently serves as administrator, managing daily operations. A resolution passed in February 2023 routed ward-related funds through Mumbai’s 36 MLAs.
Mumbai has two districts: Mumbai city and Mumbai suburban. Each district in Maharashtra has a guardian minister, a member of the State’s ministerial council. Mumbai has two such ministers, one for each district. They head the District Planning and Development Committee (DPDC) and hold the power to approve proposals for allocating development funds.
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Among the 36 MLAs, 21 belong to the ruling parties–the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Shiv Sena (Eknath Shinde), and the NCP (Ajit Pawar). The remaining 15 are from Shiv Sena (Uddhav Thackeray), the Congress, and the Samajwadi Party. The investigation found that none of these 15 Opposition MLAs received any portion of the Rs 500.58 crore allocation.
The news has initiated widespread debate, highlighting concerns about the Eknath Shinde-led three-party government’s governance model potentially denying public amenities and development to citizens residing in specific areas based on their representatives’ political affiliation.
The Indian Express report prompted Frontline to explore whether this unequal treatment extends beyond Mumbai. It has been found that Opposition MLAs across Maharashtra face similar challenges in securing development projects for their constituencies.
Opposition MLAs allege malpractices and hurdles
Yashomati Thakur, a Congress MLA from the Teosa assembly constituency in Amravati district and former minister for women and child welfare in the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, has alleged “serious malpractices” and “planned hurdles” employed by political functionaries and government machinery, respectively, to hinder development works in Opposition constituencies.
Thakur said that when the Congress MLAs met Chief Minister Eknath Shinde to express their grievances, she personally informed him about demands for a percentage from political functionaries and middlemen close to his administration for clearing development work files in their constituencies. She also accused the Shinde government of stalling various projects approved by the Thackeray government. While courts intervened to lift these stays, Thakur claims the government machinery has shown no initiative to begin the projects.
She further alleged that approved works related to irrigation and water supply in her constituencies remain uninitiated by the current government. “Despite the high court order lifting the stay, the government machinery invents new hurdles, delaying development work. This doesn’t happen in ruling party constituencies. This suggests clear instructions to the bureaucracy not to work in our constituencies,” Thakur told Frontline.
Ajay Choudhari, leader of the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Thackeray) legislative party in the State Assembly and MLA from Shivadi constituency in South Mumbai, made a startling statement to the media on February 1. He claimed that Deputy Chief Minister and State’s Finance Minister Ajit Pawar confided in him about having clear instructions from Chief Minister Shinde to obstruct work in Opposition-held constituencies. “I had gone to Pawar’s cabin for work related to my constituency. There he told me in private that he had such instructions from CM Shinde. Especially, works in Shiv Sena (Uddhav Thackeray) MLAs’ constituencies are being stopped at every possible level,” said Choudhari. Ajit Pawar could not be reached for comment on this allegation.
Denying development to Opposition constituencies
The unequal treatment by the political leadership in Maharashtra is evident even in sensitive constituencies like tribal reserved seats. Sunil Bhusara represents the Vikramgad assembly constituency in Palghar district, reserved for Scheduled Tribes (ST). Bhusara, affiliated with NCP, aligned with Sharad Pawar after Ajit Pawar’s departure from his uncle’s camp. Currently, Bhusara faces various issues. “The Uddhav Thackeray-led government had passed works of Rs 218 crore in my constituency. But after Shinde came to power, they cancelled all the approved works,” he said. He highlights the unutilised Rs 92 crore allocated for a medical college in Jawhar city, with the former Medical Education Minister Girish Mahajan proposing a shift to Palghar.
Regarding the DPDC fund, Bhusara said, “The guardian minister does not approve the works suggested by me. But he approves the work in my constituency suggested by his party men or Eknath Shinde’s party men.”
This partiality by the State government has surfaced repeatedly in the last year and a half. In instances such as the declaration of drought, the Jath assembly constituency in Sangli district was initially excluded from the drought-hit tehsil list. Allegations emerged that the Congress-affiliated Jath MLA’s political affiliation led to the oversight. However, after protests, the government included Jath in the list of drought-hit tehsils.
Social activists and civil society in Maharashtra criticise the biased approach by the State government. Senior social activists condemn it as anti-people and unconstitutional. “The political leadership might have problems with MLA of the area. But denying, cancelling or ignoring the public-related work in his or her constituency is against the oath they have taken as a minister,” said social activist Ulka Mahajan. “Despite that, if they are using the public fund like a private property then people should throw them out of the government.”
While the political class may believe that blocking funds in a particular constituency can impact election outcomes, it ultimately hampers the overall development of the State. Seventy-two Opposition MLAs out of 288 face this discrimination, affecting nearly 25 per cent of the State intentionally. Balasaheb Thorat, Congress’ leader of the legislative party and an eight-term MLA, summed up: “If the government thinks to harass the leader politically, blocking funds is the right strategy, then that is a false assumption. Because no government can afford to keep a large part of the State underdeveloped. It will ultimately derail their governance.”