No pace in Guwahati Development Schemes despite GDD change of guard a year ago
Despite numerous efforts taken up by the government to make Guwahati ‘smart’ and prosperous, the city is seen continuing to battle its way for just a fresh breath of air. And some water!
With BJP’s Gauhati (East) MLA Siddhartha Bhattacharya completing a year in his new role as the Guwahati Development Department (GDD) Minister, the department still seems to function at a snail’s pace and has achieved little success in delivering the things it once promised.
Majority of the city dwellers are still deprived of potable drinking water, as the existing water supply projects are running out of age and the under-construction ones are crippled with several impediments.
Works are currently going on for four major water supply projects in Guwahati including the one funded by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
The JICA-assisted project, which was initiated in early 2010, has already missed several deadlines for completion and has left Guwahatians clueless about their right of having uninterrupted supply of pure drinking water.
Status of JICA-funded water supply project in Guwahati
The Rs 1,450 crore JICA-assisted water-supply project is being looked after by Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA), which falls within the purview of GDD.
According to an official from Guwahati Jal Board (GJB), which is responsible for operation and maintenance of the JICA-funded project, partial commissioning of the project has been started in Kharghuli and Pandu.
“On 1st of March, we started partial commissioning of the project in some areas in Kharghuli and Pandu. As part of the commissioning, we have covered 60 and 150 households in Kharghuli and Pandu, respectively, and have been supplying water to those households. We are now providing the water for free, as the tariff for the same has not been approved by the government due to the ongoing Lok Sabha elections,” a GJB official told G Plus.
The ground reality, however, is somewhat different from the claim made by GJB.
A quick fact check has revealed that around two months after the partial commissioning, the beneficiaries are yet to receive uninterrupted supply of potable water, even for a month, due to technical and other reasons.
One of the residents in Kharghuli area, on condition of anonymity said, “We have not received new water supply connections as claimed by the government. Yes, some of our neighbours have got the connections, but they are receiving water intermittently.”
When asked about the resident’s allegation, the GJB official said, “We had to stop supplying water for two days by the end of April in order to perform hydrostatic work.”
In addition, the government has so far completed 70% of the pipe laying work in the South Central Guwahati Metropolitan Area (GMA) regions under the JICA-funded project.
Most of the areas in east Guwahati, including Chandmari, Zoo Road, Kharghuli, have seen the completion of pipe laying works. However, the areas with drains, hard rocks and other gaps are yet to be connected with water-supply pipes.
Responding to a query regarding the delay in completing the pipe laying works, the GJB official said, “The pipe laying work has been stalled since we terminated the concerned contractor, IVRCL, which is based out of Hyderabd, due to non-performance. We will float a new tender for the work once the elections are over.”
Furthermore, the government has made little progress in the construction of the 191 MLD water treatment plant (WTP) in Kharghuli, with only 30% of the work on the plant being completed so far.
Upon completion, the WTP will cater to the people living in the South Central Guwahati Metropolitan Area (GMA).
In order to expedite works under the JICA-funded project, Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal, along with Siddhartha Bhattacharya and other officials, recently made a visit to the project site at Ramsa Hills and Kharghuli. Post the visit, CM has directed JICA officials to complete the remaining portion of the project early.
Sonowal even asked GDD and JICA officials to commission the first phase of the project before October this year. In the first phase, around 5,000 people will receive water-supply connection, while approximately 2,000 houses in Pan Bazar and Fancy Bazar areas of the city are expected to be benefitted.
The water supply project, which is slated to be completed in 2020 as per the new deadline, aims to cater to the North and South Central regions of Guwahati metropolitan area.
According to GJB, approximately 50% of the work has been completed in the North Guwahati region under the JICA-assisted project.
The pipe laying work is hardly making any progress in the region, as the government had to terminate the old contractor due to several reasons including delay in starting the work. A new contractor has already been selected for the purpose to start the pipe laying work soon.
Status of ‘smart’ initiatives under ‘Smart City’ city project
A couple of initiatives have been taken for the city of Guwahati as part of the Government of India’s Smart City project that seeks to transform 100 cities across the country.
One of the much-hyped initiatives of the Smart City project included the installation of a 120 X 80 feet tall National Flag atop Sarania Hill near Gandhi Mandap on 2nd October last year.
However, the tricolour was seen to have torn within 35 days of its official unfurling, bringing shame to the very intention of the Smart City project.
Since its installation, the flag was seen to be shredded on at least three different occasions, prompting the concerned officials to replace it with spares and forcing the flagpole to wear a deserted look most of the times.
The flag that weighs approximately half a ton was installed by Bajaj Electricals Limited, a contractor which was selected by Guwahati Smart City Limited authorities (GSCL) to install and maintain the flag.
Despite spending a whopping Rs 2.91 crores on the project, the contractor has appeared to have failed in keeping the flag in good shape. The project cost includes the construction of the flagpole, entire structure surrounding the pole, lighting arrangements and the cost of 12 spare flags.
“High wind pressure around the Gandhi Mandap hilltop has resulted in the frequent tearing of the flag. We have directed Bajaj Electricals Limited and other agencies related to the project to study the issue and come up with the best possible solution so that such incidents will not occur in future,” an official from GSCL told G Plus.
According to the official, replenishment of the flag currently costs nothing, as GSCL has been using the spares. But the spare stock is running out fast as GSCL has so far used up at least three of the spares.
Lack of space for bio-toilets
As part of the Smart City project, GSCL, in September last year, launched an initiative to provide sustainable and hygienic sanitation to the residents of Guwahati.
The initiative includes installation of 30 smart bio-toilets across the city. However, GSCL has not been able to find adequate or appropriate space to install the units.
The contractor who was selected by GSCL for the project, has so far installed 20 bio-toilets in various locations, but has not found enough space to install the remaining 10 toilets.
A GSCL official said, “We are working with Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) to find out suitable locations to install the remaining bio-toilet units. Work is also going on to install two new units at ISBT and Jalukbari.”
The bio-toilet units are equipped with an auto-flush system and do not require any manpower to operate. It took around Rs 30 lakhs to build each of the coin-operated systems that are 450 ft² in size.
Monitoring the system has become a major issue of concern, as people are resorting to malpractice while using the units.
The GSCL official added, “We have reports of people misusing the units. In some places, LED bulbs that were fitted inside and outside the units were stolen. People even cut the steel bench fabricated to the system and took it away.
“In some areas, people were seen inserting a coin before entering the unit and keeping the door open for the next person once he is done using the toilet, so that the next entrant did not have to pay.”
The smart bio-toilet units that are currently in operation are installed at Judges Field, GMDA office, Gauhati Medical College & Hospital, Dr B Barooah Cancer Institute, Sonaram Field, Mahavir Udyan in Fancy Bazar, Azara Civil Hospital, State Zoo (2 units), Dispur circle office, Assam Engineering Institute in Chandmari, District Transport Office, Nabagraha Temple, Regional Science Centre in Khanapara, Sarusajai Stadium, Dharapur, Gorchuk vegetable market, Nehru Stadium, Tarunram Phukan Park, and Food Villa on MG road.
Apart from the commissioned projects, a lot of other projects are currently underway and are in pipeline under various schemes to upgrade the city of Guwahati.
A proactive and decisive government is the only thing that is required to complete those schemes and projects on time.