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In a strange turn of events, the Varanasi Municipal Corporation has outsourced the city’s Smart City project to a private conglomerate consisting of several Japanese firms with the local governing body not playing any role in the same.

This information, revealed during the city’s Budget announcement on October 15, has raised concerns that the city’s most ambitious project will not be exercised by the democratically elected corporators.

The Smart City Mission was launched by the Government of India in 2015 to develop 100 cities across the country in order to make them sustainable and more eco-friendly. The project is being moderated by the Union Ministry of Urban Development, which works in close collaboration with the state governments of the concerned cities.

The names of the cities came under various rounds. Varanasi, the constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, came up in the third round of winners. Currently, there are 12 cities from Uttar Pradesh which have to develop under the Smart City project. Besides Varanasi, the list has Moradabad, Agra, Allahabad, Aligarh, Saharanpur, Bareilly, Kanpur, Jhansi, Lucknow, Ghaziabad and Rampur districts of Uttar Pradesh.

The issue came in light last year in November when Shatrudra Prakash, a Member of Legislative Council from Samajwadi Party, told the contestants that the outcome of the Mayor’s election was no longer important. Prakash argued that sooner or later elected Mayor and Corporators will not have any say in developing Varanasi as a Smart City. However, the concern raised by Prakash went unheard until a week ago when the Municipal Corporation passed the allocating the budget of Smart City project to a private company.

Under Smart City Act, a Committee has been constituted in which even the elected Mayor does not have any position. Moreover, the city’s commissioner is holding the chairman position of the committee while the Municipal Commissioner holds the position of member secretary.

Under Section 91(1) of the Act, a budget worth Rs 1,000 crore was created but on October 15, the total budget of Rs 700 crore was put before the working committee. When members and corporators raised the concern for the remaining Rs 300 crore, they were informed that a separate unit will oversee the work of Smart City.

The interesting fact is that none of the elected members of the working committee and corporators raised concerns over why the elected individuals have been ripped off of the Smart City project and instead gave their nod to the newly-revised budget.

However, some of the corporators have raised their concern after it was revealed that they will not be consulted while planning out the Smart City project.

Shatrudra Prakash, who spoke with TwoCircles.net over the issue, said, “Now the corporators and other members are worrying over their role in the corporation in Prime Minister’s constituency. But they should have taken a stand long back, even before I had raised the issue.”

“A large chunk of the budget has been allocated to the private company under the Chairmanship of Commissioner who is appointed by the government. That is not a problem. But what then is the role of the elected Mayor? Is she not fit for the job?” asked Prakash.

The firm, which is designed to oversee the work of Smart City, does not have any functionary of the municipal corporation or any corporator in its body yet it has been functioning on the resources allocated for Municipal Corporation, he added.

Prashant Singh, one of the corporators from Varanasi, told TwoCircles.net, “We raised our concern on this issue but we were told that this is the rule made by the state and the central governments and a Mayor could not do anything in this.”

Singh further said, “A corporator already has limited power. We contest election and fight so that we could address problems of our wards. But scrapping this smart city project from our hands feels like killing whatever power we had.”

Since Yogi Adityanath came into the power in the state, various works were outsourced to several private firms. One of the major projects was the grounding of electric cables of the whole city. Since the completion of the work, Municipal Corporation is fighting with complaints arose from broken roads or pavements with no work handling agency on the redressal front. Singh said, “We feel the same will happen with this Smart City project. The company functionaries will move out after completing projects, and we will be left with solving the complaints only. And if we have to do that only, why not giving us more power to carry out the project.”

Nitin Bansal, the Municipal Commissioner of Varanasi, gave a formal and official response to the TwoCircles.net over the issue. He said, “The Act is formed by the government and the work structure is decided by the governments. We have to follow the procedure. I cannot comment more than this.”

The Smart City Mission is one in which “Major investments in time and resources will have to be made during the planning phase prior to participation in the Challenge”. Moreover, the structure of planning and execution in the Smart City project is different as “this is different from the conventional Detailed Project Report-driven approach”, notes the website of Smart City Mission.

The dissent and protest over keeping the government body out of the government-funded project will do less harm on the pre-decided execution, as MLC Prakash said, “None of the elected personnel has any role left in this government. Companies will carry out the work, so the accountability towards the public will be less transparent.”


Autor(en)/Author(s): Siddhant Mohan

Quelle/Source: TwoCircles, 27.10.2018

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