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Tuesday, February 13, 2007


BEST surcharge: Rs 357cr raised, but where did it go?
Officials Evasive On Funds To Fight Malnutrition Among Kids
Viju B TNN, Mumbai: Over the last three decades Mumbaikars have paid a whopping Rs 357 crore as surcharge on BEST bus tickets to fund nutrition schemes for underprivileged children, but now it appears the money may not have reached the intended beneficiaries. The amount collected under the ‘nutrition surcharge’ is currently Rs 1.7 crore per month, and adds up to Rs 357 crore in the past 32 years. But more than 7,000 children still die due to malnutrition in the state every year. The welfare fund managed by the government used to initially charge five paise before it was increased to 15 paise per ticket last year. Since then, 7,700 children have died of illnesses linked to malnourishment. In all, 24,024 malnourished children, predominantly in tribal areas, have died in the past three years in Maharashtra due to the absence of effective welfare schemes. The information regarding the surcharge and the funds collected was revealed when a curious commuter filed a query under the RTI Act after he realised that the BEST ticket he had purchased mentioned a special surcharge. Chandrakant Anandpara (79), who occasionally travels by bus from his Malabar Hill residence to his office at Byculla, filed an RTI application with BEST asking why the surcharge was being collected. “I also inquired about the number of years BEST has been collecting the fund and what purpose it served,’’ Anandpara said. BEST replied that the surcharge was first imposed to rehabilitate refugees from Bangladesh. “From December 1971 to March 1973, BEST collected Rs 13.85 crore under the head of the Bangladesh refugee relief surcharge fund,’’ the undertaking said. Thereafter, the surcharge was collected under various heads like the scarcity relief surcharge (April 1973-March 1974) when Rs 12.95 crore was raised, child nutrition surcharge (April 1974-March 1975, Rs 36.86 crore), and then as nutrition surcharge (April 1975 to July 2006, Rs 321.08 crore). “When I asked BEST how this fund was being used, they referred me to the transport department. But the latter gave me an evasive reply,’’ said Anandpara. A senior official with the women and child welfare department, however, said the funds were being utilised properly to implement several welfare programmes, including providing children in remote and backward areas a nutritious diet and healthcare.
‘Malnutrition deaths in state have declined’
Mumbai: Asserting that the nutrition surcharge collected from BEST passengers had been properly utilised, a senior official with the women and child welfare department said the money had been used to implement several welfare programmes, including providing children in remote and backward areas a nutritious diet and healthcare. The official said malnutrition deaths in Maharashtra had declined from 8,003 in 2004-2005 to 7,700 in 2005-2006. “The state government has now set up 10,176 anganwadi centres under the Integrated Child Development Scheme,’’ the official said. The anganwadi serves as a creche for children of labourers and marginal farmers, where meals are provided to the children while their parents are away at work. The malnutrition issue has even figured in the Bombay high court, where in response to a PIL, judges asked the government to implement a series of measures to check such deaths and then file a compliance report. In response, the state has implemented healthcare and nutritional programmes. RTI activists say the public is being kept in the dark on the utilisation of relief funds. Activist Shailesh Gandhi had asked for details of the CM’s relief fund. “The appellate authority refused to provide information stating that it was a private trust. We have the right to know how public money is being spent for relief activities,’’ Gandhi said.
Publication: Times of India Mumbai; Date:2007 Feb 05; Section:Front Page; Page Number 1

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