GSCL - Guwahati Smart City in Limbo
The much-hyped Guwahati Smart City project conceptualised in the beginning of 2016 has not moved an inch in the last four years. A project which promised to change the face of Guwahati has been given scant attention by an apathetic government.
Since inception, the company - Guwahati Smart City Limited (GSCL) - created as a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), has witnessed work being confined to only boardroom meetings and it has become a victim of red-tapism. In a span of four years it appears as if there is a musical chair competition of sorts going on for the Managing Director’s (MD) chair of the company. Five MDs have been changed so far and this very fact shows the apathy of the state government towards the project otherwise tom-tommed by the central government at one point in time as a great step for the future. Till date, 18 board meetings of the company have taken place without any tangible work on the ground.
“You can say nothing has moved since we have taken up this project…frequent changes of MDs coupled with unrealistic DPR of projects which need large sums of money has become the main stumbling block…nothing is implemented on the ground,” a senior official who wished anonymity told G Plus.
Secondly, Assam has even failed to utilise the Centre’s funding of Rs 500 crores per year. This has happened mainly due to the filing of unrealistic Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) which, which by themselves, also require huge state funding.
The Gauhati High Court, in a recent order over a PIL, directed the Principal Secretary of the State Finance Department to constitute a committee of senior officers and experts, including people from the police and the field of finance, for monitoring the utilisation of funds lying unutilised with the GSCL.
The court also made it clear that the constitution of the committee was not to create impediments in the bid process or implementation of the project.
“The committee must make sure that the processes are not delayed, rather with their assistance, are speeded up,” the court order said.
As per Smart Cities Council India (SCCI), half of the 23 cities surveyed do not generate enough revenue internally to even pay for the salaries of their municipal staff, while a third of the municipal staff positions remain vacant.
Experts opined that the funding for smart cities is falling through the cracks as there are very few cities doing value capture financing. Some cities lack the time and resources to complete the projects.
Needless to say for instance, in the case of the Guwahati Smart City project, initially after the hype and hoopla associated with the project, political interference became the order of the day rather than a realistic approach.
If the project has not moved, the blame squarely lies with the political class and with the management for making faulty and unrealistic DPRs.
There were around 11 projects under the smart city preparation plan till March 2018 out of which, at present, only 5 projects are under process.
Since the beginning till date, the 11 projects under smart city were Borsola Beel development, Mora Bharalu development, Bharalu development, Brahmaputra Riverfront development, Deepor Beel development, Integrated Command and Control Centre (ICCC) with smart electricity poles for smart lighting, Anytime Water Machines, Smart Public Toilets, Highest National Flag construction at Gandhi Mandap, Gandhi Mandap development and a special road from Guwahati to AIIMS at Changsari.
Of these 11 projects, the ones which are at present under process are Anytime Water Machines, Smart Public Toilets, Highest National Flag construction at Gandhi Mandap, Gandhi Mandap development and Project Jyoti.
3 projects have been completed according GSCL viz Installation of 20 Anytime Water Machines across Guwahati, Installation of 20 Bio-Toilets and commissioning of the highest National Flag at Gandhi Mandap.
Building 100 smart cities was an election promise of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2014. After coming to power, the Narendra Modi-led government allocated Rs 7,060 crores for this purpose in its first budget. It formally launched the Smart Cities Mission in June 2015, with an allocation of Rs 48,000 crores. Over the next two years, 100 cities were selected for central grants of Rs 500 crores each.
According to the Union Ministry of Urban Development, there is no universally accepted definition of a Smart City. It means different things to different people as the conceptualisation of Smart City varies from city to city and country to country, depending on the level of development and willingness to change and reform the resources and aspirations of the city residents.
In Guwahati, the Brahmaputra riverfront development was expected to be a reform for the city beautification and the project was aptly put under the Smart City Mission. But ironically, the project has been put on hold despite the fact that the detailed project report is being prepared by Tata Consulting Engineers.
In 2009-10 the Congress-led Tarun Gogoi government had also dreamt of a Rs 300 crore plan for beautifying the Brahmaputra riverfront and GMDA was assigned with the task. But even that task remained a pipedream then.