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Thursday, 18.04.2024
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The panel asked the union ministry of housing and urban affairs (MoHUA) to handhold cities to complete the projects even after the SCM deadline ends in June 2024

The flagship Smart Cities Mission (SCM) should be extended to a second phase with a focus on second-tier cities to decongest state capitals, and special purpose vehicles (SPVs) created to run the mission be continued, a parliamentary standing committee recommended in its report tabled in Parliament on Thursday.

The panel asked the union ministry of housing and urban affairs (MoHUA) to handhold cities to complete the projects even after the SCM deadline ends in June 2024.

The report titled “Smart Cities Mission: An Evaluation” noted that as of December 2023, out of 7,970 projects worth ₹1,70,400 crore taken up, 6,419 projects worth ₹1,25,105 crore have been completed and 1,551 projects worth ₹45,295 crore are at work order stage.

However, in cities such as Lakshadweep, Daman and Diu, Puducherry, and Port Blair have been released below 50% of pledged central funds.

As regards matching contribution by the state government/ULBs, only 28 cities have received 100% of their share of funds from states/ULBs.

However, funds released by states/ULBs have been below 60% in 14 cities.

The parliamentary committee on housing and urban affairs, chaired by MP Rajiv Ranjan Singh, made recommendations to the ministry to ensure that the impact of the mission is long lasting even as it flagged several shortcomings such as the failure of the participating cities to raise funds through PPP and other sources, an inter-city disparity in the implementation of SCM projects, lack of defined governance structure and monitoring capacity of the SPVs.

Going forward, the committee said, the infrastructure and the digital assets created under SCM should be maintained and privacy safeguards be put in place, the Centre should assist the cities in formulating masterplans for greenfield development, engage elected representatives in planning and decision-making.

Launched in 2015, SCM aimed to improve the quality of life in urban India through smart solutions.

A total of 100 cities were selected through a competition and the Mission identified 21 sectors including housing, transport, water, health, solid waste management and smart governance that the participants had to focus on.

According to the parliamentary panel report, Madurai was the only among the 100 smart cities to complete 100% of the projects by December 2023, the previously proposed deadline for the completion of the projects.

56 cities completed more than 80% of the work in the same time frame.

However, the progress of work was 50% or below 50% in 14 cities by then.

Gangtok, Atal Nagar, Shillong, Silvassa, Itanagar, Puducherry, Saharanpur, and Port Blair completed only 16%, 23%, 24%, 28%, 31%, 32%, 35% and 39% of projects respectively, the committee found.

Those lagging were cities from the northeast, Union Territories, and the hilly areas.

On this, the panel observed that a separate plan be chalked out to ensure that smaller cities like those in the northeast can reap the benefit of the scheme noting that even the increase in central funding to 90% from the original 50% did not yield any result.

“However, even after the altered funding pattern, out of the 15 cities at the bottom of the ranking, 8 cities are from north-eastern states,” the report said.

Failure to raise funds

The report stated that only 6% of projects for the flagship SCM projects across 100 cities could be funded through public-private partnerships (PPPs) as opposed to the recommended 21%.

The committee also found that almost 50 cities could not generate any funding via this method.

On this, the committee asked the government to analyse why the drive failed and introduce remedial measures noting that government funding alone cannot meet the cost of increased infrastructure in cities.

The panel also found a similar departure from the SCM guidelines.

While it was proposed that 5% of total funding for the projects should be generated through loans, only a little more than half of the target was reached.

“Except six cities namely, Bhopal, Hubbali-Dharwad, Kochi, Visakhapatnam, Chandigarh, and Srinagar, none of the cities could generate funds through loans for the smart cities’ projects. Out of the proposed ₹9,844 crore, cities managed ₹5,298 crore (54% of proposed funds) through loans,” the report read.

The Union government had allocated financial support of ₹48,000 crore to the 100 smart cities over the mission period of five years with an equal amount matched by state government and urban local bodies.

The exception being for 13 Himalayan and north eastern states where Union government will be providing 90% of the funding and the remaining 10% by state and ULBs.

21% of funds were supposed to come from convergence, the SCM guidelines said.

The committee also highlighted that the execution of projects which was planned through the convergence of funds from other national or state missions or schemes, there was a lack of a robust mechanism to ensure coordination and smooth and harmonized monitoring.

The committee said, “This will bring about positive convergence and ward off duplication and wastage of resources.”

Need for IT strategy, privacy safeguards

The committee also highlighted that given the introduction of integrated command and control centres (ICCC) as part of Smart Cities, there is a need for a comprehensive framework and operation and maintenance strategies to ensure increased lifetime utility, value of infrastructure/assets and their timely upgradation.

“Further, assessment should be done about the number of ICCC platform required in various cities of a state and thereafter steps should be taken to create a state-level ICCC for connecting and putting together all the ICCCs in the state to create a common e-governance platform,” the committee said.

The committee noted that various applications of these ICCCs like CCTV surveillance systems, early warning and disaster response systems and other functions will generate and use large volumes of data from these varied digital sources.

“The Committee, therefore, recommend that a robust system should be put in place to protect digital platforms from cyberattack and to ensure that sensitive public and private data is adequately protected and safeguarded,” the report quoted.

Further, the committee wanted information on the status of appointment of city data officers and data teams and the city-wise implementation status of data policy frameworks and guidelines as declared by the ministry.

Involvement of elected representatives, fixed tenure of CEOs

The committee noted that the frequent transfer of CEOs and lack of clear guidelines and directions for dedicated CEOs with fixed tenure by the ministry is one of the reasons for projects facing delays.

The committee recommended dedicated CEOs with a minimum fixed tenure along with a clear and strong governance structure that also includes representation from the city administration, local self-government, experts in urban development and concerned stakeholders which will ensure clear accountability, decision-making and transparency in working of the SCM at the city level.

Further, the committee noted that the state-level advisory forum meetings which include MP, MLA, Mayor, District Collector, CEOs of the smart cities are not held regularly.

On average, one to eight meetings have taken place in the first five years of the scheme, they said.

“The meetings took place in the range of 1 to 8 in these five years and extended tenure up to September 2023. Further, in Amravati and Imphal, no meeting took place. Thus, most of the Smart Cities failed to leverage the expertise and grassroot connection of Members of Parliament and other representatives/experts by not convening the meetings of Smart City Advisory Forum (SCAF) regularly, the report said.

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Autor(en)/Author(s): Soumya Chatterjee

Quelle/Source: Hindustan Times, 09.02.2024

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