#VinitasPune -Is Our City Really Improving With These Civic ‘Study Tours’?

PMC Study Tours
Image used for representation only

Just last week, the General Body of the Pune Municipal Corporation approved a study tour of corporators to Indore to visit solid waste management plants and yes, with no cap on the number of people. 

Yes, there are stringent rules laid down for corporators for study tours that include accountability and transparency of expenditure and approval by the state government.

These tours has also seen sustained campaigns for decades now, by activists questioning such extravagance at the expense of the public exchequer. Yet, various political leaders across party lines, hunt for opportunities to travel around the country and even abroad for these ‘study tours’. 

The latest approval from PMC for the Indore tour is on the backdrop of it being ranked 1   in waste segregation amongst cities with a one million population. This award was conferred in the month of June by The Centre for Science and Education (CSE).

And now much later this year, our corporators (along with PMC officials and others) are all set to visit Indore’s solid waste management sites in the pursuit of first hand knowledge.

Just last month, a dozen Pimpri-Chinchwad corporators and some civic officials dashed off to Barcelona in November this year, for a three day ‘Smart City Expo.’

Activists Maruti Bhapkar and Manav Kamble have demanded a detailed report of the knowledge they gained there which can be of use to PCMC and also seemed transparency in expenditure as well.

Bhapkar states that, these tours are a way of ‘entertaining’ themselves. He criticized the fact that some of the members of the tour did not even know English and there was no question of having the services of a Marathi translator there.

Can’t Smart City projects be studied through video conferencing? asked Maruti Bhapkar

Inspired by Aam Aadmi Party’s apparent success in enhancing educational standards in the municipal schools of Delhi, October 2018 witnessed, ten corporators and officials visiting Delhi Municipal Corporation to study the improvement formula in order to adapt it to Pune.

For the record, Pune does lag behind in this area and its municipal schools are allegedly ridden with corruption in its mid-day meal schemes, school uniform distribution programmes and rank poorly in the quality of teaching and environment.

When Maharashtra’s RTI Act was instituted in 2003, I had filed a RTI application seeking information on a South India study tour by PMC corporators regarding places of visit, expenditure incurred and sought reports submitted by the corporators of the tour.

The response I received exposed the casualness with which the tour was undertaken. In their reports, they stated that the Pune-Mumbai expressway was picturesque ( they took a flight from Mumbai), they enjoyed the Indian Airlines travel!  The report also mentioned how Munnar had beautiful tea gardens on its slopes and learning from that, Pune’s hill slopes should also have such tea plantations and that like one of the coasts in Kerala, Pune’s Pashan and Katraj Lakes too should have coconut plantations!

It was shocking to read these reports, written mostly in shabby handwriting. Also, a couple of members who accompanied the study tour group had nothing to do with the subject of the tour. The expenditure too was haphazardly compiled.

Two decades later, the story is pretty much the same…

Activists Vijay Kumbhar, Vivek Velankar and Lt Gen Sudhir Jatar (retd) have been continuously campaigning over the past few decades, yet the questionable ties between the civic administration and the local political class defies every protest and rules and regulations scripted in the BPMC Act.

What is most distressing and annoying is the fact that, Pune’s civic amenities are going from bad to worse and nothing seems to have come out of these study tours.

As for Mumbai, a RTI application by The Indian Express, has revealed that in the last four years, the BMC corporators have spent Rs.2.9 crore on study tours to various cities and sometimes made repetitive visits to the same places. No recommendation reports exist from these visits to possiblest implement in Mumbai either. 

Besides, in these days of digital technology and e-governance, why can’t corporators and civic officials study all that they want through video conferencing and other technological methods which are available?

As for the solid waste management land fill sites in Indore that are to be studied, am sure a video can be obtained which would give them enough material, right?

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#All views expressed in this column are those of the author and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to the same. 

Vinita Deshmukh

Vinita Deshmukh

Passion for the written word that comes alive, not only to tell a story, but to speak out loud about all that's good, bad and the ugly in society...

That's Vinita Deshmukh, Senior journalist and RTI activist who believes in journalism that reflects the views and needs of the common man.

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Vinita Deshmukh

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