An eye-popping order for 17 specced-out iPhones, each costing Rs 1.6 lakh, for senior municipal officials in Hyderabad has been put on hold after outrage. The outgoing standing committee of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation, headed by the mayor, had gifted themselves the flashy devices for having approved the annual budget estimates of the civic body.
This came at a time when Telangana state revenues have taken a serious hit - like all other states - because of the COVID-19 pandemic and Hyderabad witnessed its worst-ever floods that caused widespread suffering and enormous damage to public and private property.
The standing committee, whose term ends in February 2021 when a new panel will be elected, met on Thursday to pass 14 resolutions and approved the Rs 5,600-crore annual budget estimate for the corporation.
"It is this kind of brazen abuse of power by the TRS that has led to the people rejecting them in the GHMC elections," said Krishnasagar, BJP spokesperson, referring to the recently held municipal elections.
"When the GHMC has no money to even pay salary to staff, who has given them the right to gift themselves, using public money?" said Krishnasagar, whose party stunned the ruling TRS by winning 48 of the 150 wards while the ruling party got 56.
Mayor Bonthu Rammohan cited the "tradition" of gifting laptops and tablets in the past for passing the budget and said this time iPhones should be given to the mayor, deputy mayor and other standing committee members. Additionally, he recommended the same expensive iPhone 12 Pro Max 512 GB to staff, including an assistant commissioner, personal secretary to the mayor and additional personal secretary to the mayor.
The same proposal to gift iPhones to the standing committee was also made in June but did not go through. Documents accessed by NDTV suggest administrative sanction has been accorded for the procurement of 17 iPhones at Rs 31 lakh.
Critics point out that despite the so-called "tradition", the outgoing team should have shown some sensitivity since this was a year of massive floods in Hyderabad when citizens suffered huge economic loss.
The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government had promised to pay Rs 10,000 to every flood-hit family but many still complain they haven't got the compensation.
"We were made to wait for hours in queues during this Covid time and still were not paid the amount. Those who got it had to pay a commission of Rs 1,000-2,000 rupees to the local politician. And these people generously gift themselves expensive phones," rued Chandrakala, resident of Aiyernagar.
Others pointed out that the government has no money to lay new drainage lines and yet was taking such unnecessary liberties with taxpayers money.