ALTHOUGH, ALMOST first off the block in sending schemes for approval under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), the Bhopal Municipal Corporation (BMC) has, reportedly, realised only now – after a lapse of around a year – its technical incapacity to execute them.
The Corporation submitted proposals of Rs 2,153 crore and approvals have already been received for projects for Rs 400-odd crore. The complaint now is of withdrawal by the government of the only executive engineer who was until recently available for executing these projects.
The report, in this connection, in this newspaper (January 24) has, inter alia, revealed the lop-sided ways of the government. Whereas for implementation of JNNURM projects of more than Rs 2,000 crores only an executive engineer was considered adequate, for an ADB project of mere 169-crore a superintending engineer-headed ‘project implementation unit’ and another ‘project management unit’ under a principal secretary have been created.
The Corporation has, therefore, asked the government to equip it with an entire civil engineering hierarchy with a superintending engineer at the top for execution of JNNURM projects.
Although, the grievance of the Corporation would seem to be justified, people in general are sceptical about its capability to execute projects worth thousands of crores of rupees. The reasons are not far to seek. Over the years the Corporation has collected taxes, received government grants, taken loans from various sources and made outlays to improve the town’s civic infrastructure.
After spending all those crores or rupees it has precious little to show in the shape of a healthy, functioning infrastructure or, for instance, an improved quality of life of the citizens. The state of affairs prevailing in the town is enough of a proof in this regard – nothing functions and nothing works.
All over there are evidences of civic non-governance – lawlessness and anarchy. The roads are in terrible shape, sewers and fresh-water pipes leak all over the town, even in the supposedly plushest of markets/colonies where garbage, too, piles up. Cattle lounge chewing cud in the middle of roads, encroachment on roads/pavements are rampant, the basements, meant for parking, continue to be misused.
The numerous drives against these and other aberrations, never sustained, ended up only in waste of time, money and effort without any enduring results, the Corporation, eventually, succumbing to pressures of the vested interests.
As it exists today, with the Mayor and (the majority in) the municipal council in two opposing (political) camps, deadlocks and disruptions are frequent. In the acutely polarised Council the councillors dissipate their energy mostly in pursuing partisan interests. Besides, racked as it is by corruption, nepotism and gamesmanship, the citizens’ concerns almost always are on the back-burner.
A widely shared hunch is that on completion of the JNNURM the Corporation would end up spending for the benefit of the citizens only the fraction of the total outlay once famously mentioned by late Rajiv Gandhi.
Hence, whether immaculately staffed or not, the Corporation cannot be trusted with the enormous sums that are reportedly lined up for projects under the JNNURM, and of ADB, DFID, etc.
One would much rather like a dedicated empowered authority, comprising qualified and experienced personnel from relevant disciplines, constituted for implementation of these multi-crore projects. Such an authority would be able to pay focused attention to the projects which government or civic bodies seldom do.
The personnel so appointed could be made accountable for their performance with a non-transferable tenure during the currency of the project(s). Another small independent body could be created to ensure quality assurance and to monitor progress of the works to avoid time and cost overruns.
The JNNURM is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to upgrade and beautify the City in congruence with its natural splendour and 1000-year old history. The government, therefore, would do well to consider appropriate action in the matter.