Urban development minister M Venkaiah Naidu on Thursday announced the first list of 20 cities to be developed as Smart Cities, but Mumbai doesn’t find its name on the list.
The ouster gave way to another bitter war of words between allies Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The latter said the Sena’s demand to make city mayor Snehal Ambekar chairman of the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) under the project proved to be a major hurdle.
Chances already appeared bleak after the Sena first opposed the inclusion of the Mumbai civic body under the project and later introduced 14 amendments that weakened the nature of the project itself while passing the proposal in the general body last month.
A senior leader from the BJP, who did not wish to be named said, “Apart from the demand for reservation for locals in jobs, the demand for the mayor’s involvements proved to be the biggest hurdle. It diluted the concept of Smart Cities.”
The BJP was forced to be a silent spectator while Sena demanded the amendments on the final day of the deadline to send the proposal to the Union government. Not being a part of the Centre’s flagship programme would have been a major embarrassment for the BJP. The Sena had opposed the ambitious project saying the Central government wanted direct control over the civic bodies of major cities like Mumbai. For decades, its position as leader of the Mumbai civic body has been the Sena’s source of power and influence and it did not want the Central government’s to intervene. In its mouthpiece Saamna, the Sena had alleged that the formation of an SPV with an independent CEO would have control on the functioning of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). The Sena had also objected to raising private equity under the project, one of its main motives.
Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray had said the party will continue to oppose the project if riders to safeguard the autonomy of urban civic bodies were not incorporated into the scheme.
All the amendments were a bid to ensure that corporators retain control of the project.
Rais Shaikh, Samajwadi Party corporator and a member of the standing committee, said, “We were sure the Sena’s amendments would result in the city losing out. It is not surprising. This is a big embarrassment as brand Mumbai has been damaged.” Shaikh also said the party has demanded the officer-in-charge of creating the smart city proposal should resign.
Civic officials were also wary of the Sena’s demand for 85% reservation for Maharashtrians in the 60 lakh jobs created under the project. Civic officials had pointed out that this might derail Mumbai’s chances as there cannot be reservation in the private sector.
The Sena, however, said the city lost out because of a delay in submission. Rahul Shewale, senior Sena leader and a Member of Parliament, said, “Mumbai will definitely get into the second list. We lost out in the first list only because of some delay in submissions.”
The major cities from Maharashtra that made it to the Prime Minister’s ambitious plan were Pune and Solapur. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) will have to refine the policy, meet deficiencies and enter round two in the next few months. Manoj Kotak, BJP group leader in BMC, said, “We will ask the municipal commissioner to try and refine the policy and get Mumbai into the second list.”