Smart City Nashik Part 2, by Mr Gurmeet Bagga, Deputy Mayor Nashik

This is the transcript of the talk delivered by Mr. Gurmeet Bagga (Deputy Mayor, Nashik) on 29 June 2016 in the Nashik city Workshop

PLEASE NOTE: [The facts and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and have not been verified or endorsed by the project team in any way]

Mr Praveen Gedam put forth his views as a ‘Municipal Commissioner’ of Nashik . But I feel his personal opinions might vary.

SPV (Special Purpose Vehicle) faced its first opposition in Nashik, and we were the first ones to raise voice against SPV in the whole country. The Panchayati Raj system which was strengthened under the supervision of Yashwantraoji Chavhan and later Rajiv Gandhi in 74th Amendment gave it the status of third level government. Some 10-15 years ago the state pledged to make it a third government and now by showing distrust in this institution they are introducing SPV. In the response to the question on the problems of different departments, the honorable Commissioner suggested that the SPV is the solution to it. But I think it is not. Because the Corporation only tells people’s representative what to do, but only the Commissioner has the right to decide how to do it. If you see the act, the chief of the Development Authority is the Commissioner, and all the departments come under its circumference. But if one feels that the bodies within the Panchayati Raj are not functioning properly or are corrupt. Then our demand was, the government should openly criticize and disregard the Panchayati Raj, and then set up the new institution. But the Government does not have the daring to this. Now they want to set up a different system, and but they are not bold enough, hence the adoption of SPV.

The question raised here was, what is the percentage of power in the hands of a Corporator? People have the right to question the Corporator, and they also have the right not to elect the Corporator after five years and send him/her home, if the Corporator is wrong. In SPV all the responsibilities and the trust is placed upon a single person, I will ask a simple question if that person is corrupt then what will happen. There is a proverb in the Marathi “एक माठ उध्वस्त करायला गेलं, तर दुसरं माठ तयार होतो”, which means, in order to destroy one thing you end up creating a similar thing. The government wants its control and according to them SPV will ensure it.

Smart city…Smart city…Everyone is talking about Smart City. But did anyone tried to analyse the reality behind it? The Central Government will give 500 million, and that is their maximum limit. The State Government will provide 250 million, a total of 750 million will be given in the span of 5 years. Now plans of every Corporation are of about 3000 million, which suggests 2250 million will be people’s money. But the Central and the State Government will keep control on this 3000 million. Previously Commissioner Sir suggested, the son is given the responsibility of constructing the house which is funded by the father. But, I would say, the planning of the house here is being done by the grandfather.

In JNNURM, the requirements of the Corporation was asked beforehand and then plans were sanctioned according to the needs of the specific Corporations. But such freedom is not given in Smart City project. In Smart City project, every proposal is required to fit in within the given criteria. I could not understand this logic. Instead of giving us what we need, we are being given what is not required. It is a topic of debate, for example, the majority of the accidents take place on the newly constructed roads. Similarly, will there be enough facilities available for people coming to the Smart Cities? This is the biggest concern.

I am of the opinion that the limit of every city should be set. The funds which are being spent on the cities, this should be utilized to build roads, infrastructure, in villages, and make the villages ‘Smart’. What improvement could be done in Mumbai with a meagre amount of 500 million? The sewage cleaning in Mumbai itself requires about 1000 million. 500 million is enough for cities like Amravati and Solapur. In Nashik also, what will happen in 750 million?

Banning of LBT (Local Body Tax) or ‘Chungi’ (cess) made us weak and led to the loss of 650 million in last five years. We did not say anything about banning of LBT, but in return, it is state’s responsibility to make us economically secure. They decided 650-750 million is your LBT, and there will be an increase of only 8%. If one analyses the budget of Nashik Municipal Corporation from 1992, then one can find the increase of 27% in the LBT. The 8% increase which is given in LBT is not justified, the inflation itself is 8% then what additional support the state is providing us? Besides this, where is our additional income due to the spatial growth of the city? By cutting down the increase in LBT to 8%, which was once 27%, lead to loss of around 100-125 million in the Corporation’s development funds every year. Within this five years of span, we lost around 750 million. If we could recover this loss only, then we would be self-sufficient enough to develop and support two more smart cities.

Provide technical knowledge, if the corporation or the local body is lacking in management due to the huge migration of people towards cities. The Corporation Act suggest that the Municipal Corporation cannot introduce any new tax, and the Corporation cannot even give deficit budget. There are many questions to be addressed within limited availability of funds. But instead of economically strengthening the Corporations, the state is giving them a package and with the condition that if you accept this package then only we will support you. The control of this package will also be in the hands of the state. We were first ones in the country to raise voice against this. Few officers will come to control this city, who will be absolutely unfamiliar about the needs of the city. There will be no accountability in this project. Cases are going on against our commissioner and ex-commissioner, but nothing can be done against them. If a public representative does corruption, then at least through elections people can send the representative back home. Increase tenure of Commissioner, make it at least five years, and they also have the implementation power. He is state’s person and not elected by local representatives.

With this project, the state is trying to destroy the ‘glory of the democracy’. Democracy respects views and opinions of everyone irrespective of their caste, gender, class, etc. Everyone has the right to express their views on development. But the introduction of SPV will lead to the end of this freedom of expression and hence, we are against SPV. If you ask me the result of Smart City project, then I would say “It will be another failure of the Government” and nothing more than that. It will be 100% failure model of this government.

How can the requirements of Mumbai and Nagpur will be fulfilled in 750 million? We are saying give the funds according to the needs of the particular cities. Above everything I would say, this money is being utilized at a wrong place. The city with zero unemployment figures can only overcome its problems. Various schemes like green city, etc. which are involved in this project can be easily done if the government supports the individual TP (Town Planning) schemes. With the help of a good TP scheme, the city can inevitably become smart. The state has sidelined all these issues like strengthening of urban local bodies. Keep an accountability of everything. There should be a discussion on the city’s vision, then only can the city become smart. Actually, the word ‘smart’ is itself not appropriate. Translation of smart in Marathi is ‘Chatur’ meaning canny. There should be an ‘Intelligent City’, which provide solutions for every problem.

One more thing, the government edited the smart city document at least 20 times. Till now, even the government is not sure of what they really want to do in the Smart City. Just to propose something different from the Congress government’s JNNRUM, this Government introduced the Smart City scheme. I don’t think people will be benefitted from this scheme. And at every stage, we will stand against SPV. Due to such opposition, now at least they made additions in document suggesting Mayor, Deputy Mayor, six representatives, etc. will be included in the committee. We are saying do not include us but build a tie-up with the local body. We are only against the ‘single person based’ (व्यक्ति आधारित) system. There should be a joint decision of all the committee members, then only it can be perfect. Single person decision can either be right or wrong, I think the joint decision system only can be fruitful. Hence, we are opposing SPV. I hope the government tries to understand the ground reality.

Lastly, I would like to add that, there will be no transparency in the SPV system. These all are/will be political decisions. If we (Nashik) stands third in the ranking list of Maharashtra then why are we (Nashik) not among the three cities selected from Maharashtra? Nashik is in the third rank in the State Government’s list of 10 cities and Nashik is not among the three cities of Maharashtra selected by Central Government. This clearly suggests that it was a political decision. The recent list of fast smart cities includes cities of form the state where the elections are upcoming. Such decisions are political, and there is no transparency. I will pray that the end of this scheme should be good, but I know it will be a “Failure, Failure, and Failure!”

Q: Funds in the smart city project will be spent in a selected zone of the city, then can this be called as welfare expenditure?

A: Here, the question is not about the funds. But the issue is different i.e. Why SPV? Like today, small-small tenders are being floated by the Municipal Corporation. But in the Smart City project, a big tender will be given to private corporates like Adnani, Ambani, etc. And I feel that this scheme is designed keeping in focus the sustenance of these big private corporations.

Q: Nowadays, there is an increase in law and order situations in the city. Are there any solutions proposed in the Smart City proposal to cater such situations?

A: I am of the opinion that, this will further increase with the implementation of the Smart City project. In the natural expansion of the city, you get introduced to the person coming into the city. But in today’s haphazard expansion of the city which may be due to unemployment, I am not blaming anyone, in particular, one cannot identify who is coming in and going out. I am representing my ward since past 20 years, even then I am not acquainted with people living in various bastis. For example, in my childhood, I used to be afraid of eating missal outside because everyone was familiar with each other, but today my grandson would not fear for going into a bar because no one recognizes him due to the tremendous expansion of the city. We have to deal with all these disadvantages of living in a big city. That is why I suggest, do not spend this money on cities. Instead, let’s decide the limit of Nashik and we should start developing neighboring areas like Ozar, Pimpalgaon, etc. Because of this opinion of mine, people started opposing me as they are thinking that a huge fund is coming with Smart City. But I know, even in JNNURM there was a ceiling limit on the funds. In that project, due to increased (or consciously increased) cost led to the expenditure of 55% share of our tax instead of 30%. The achievement they claimed was, they built 60,000 houses instead of 16,000 houses. Here I would say, building houses is not the responsibility of the Municipal Corporation for that we have MHADA (Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority). MHADA is responsible for building houses for the poor. If one analyses today’s rate, the MHADA is selling for Rs 3300 and the private developer is selling for Rs 2800. The government should first analyse all these aspects before planning for the future. I will state a simple example, we all need drivers, maids, security guards, etc. then why can’t they stay in our neighborhood? If with every society, four 180 sqft plots are allowed which will further give additional benefit of 1000 sqft FSI to society. Then these four plots will accommodate the families of drivers, maids, and security guard. Such an arrangement will solve the problem of around 70,000 houses in the city. This arrangement will also have a social impact as it allows interaction of children across classes which will encourage equality. Why cannot we think like this?

Instead of focusing on making Nashik glossy, we should work towards ensuring its strengths. Development is not about making a city shiny and polished; this can be the perspective of people at the center. But for me, development means if every member of a city could earn enough to fulfill his/her basic needs, then I would say that the my city is developed.

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