Smart City Mission takes up easy projects, deflects from initial proposal

Prime Minister’s pet project aims at providing strong infrastructure, and 'smart' solutions to its citizens, but, at the ground level, the progress tells a different story.

smart city
Incomplete white topped roads, bus shelters, inefficient LED lights, and a couple of other projects is what the BSCL has managed to achieve in three years. Photo: By special arrangement

It has been more than three years since the smart city work kick-started in Karnataka’s Belagavi district. The district, with its innovative proposal, was part of the Union Minister of Urban Development’s first list of 20 cities announced on January 28, 2016 for the smart city project. Now, the Belagavi Smart City Limited (BSCL) has deflected from its own plan.

As per the revised smart city proposal, a sum of ₹2,035 crore has been allocated for the BSCL, out of which ₹1,036 crore is funded from Smart City Mission, and the rest of the amount is from Public Private Partnership (PPP) and Convergence funded projects.

Before the selection, BSCL project proposal got feedback from around 1.75 lakh people through letters and social media handles. The initial proposal which had skill development projects, sustainable projects etc have not made it to the revised project. “In Belagavi around ₹400 crores has been allocated for white topped roads and this was not there earlier. There was a lot of scope for other innovative projects. But the funds have been diverted now,” says Rajkumar Topannavar, District General Secretary, BJP.

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“We got selected because of the proposal. Subsequently they have taken up other projects. Earlier the projects were eco-friendly. They might be facing some practical problems in implementing these projects but the centre should have intervened and got the clearance for the projects immediately. When the projects get delayed, the authorities will start taking up projects which are easy,” says a retired civil engineer who was involved in forming the initial BSCL proposal.

belagavi
An incomplete white-topped road in Belagavi. Photo: By special arrangement

Incomplete white topped roads, gas pipelines, inefficient LED lights, bus shelters, and a couple of other projects is what the BSCL has managed to achieve in three years. “They have installed fancy street lights which are of no use other than being photo worthy. They just want to show people that they have done some visible work,” says Amrut Charantimath, a local activist and environmentalist.

Talking to The Federal, Kiran Subbarao L, Assistant Executive Engineer, Belagavi Smart City Limited (BSCL) said most of the innovative projects included in the proposal were just to crack the deal with central government. “Some of the projects were in the proposal just to get the smart city tag and fit into the criteria given by the central government,” he said.

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For example, a housing project worth ₹26 crores, was allotted for the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) in 2016. But this project was dropped in the revised proposal as the land value was too high. “All the proposals were not studied before submission. That is the main reason why most of the proposed projects were dropped,” says Topannavar.

Not so ‘smart’, eco-friendly

Prime Minister’s pet project aims at providing strong infrastructure, decent quality of life, a clean and sustainable environment, and ‘smart’ solutions to its citizens. But at the ground level, the progress in three years tells a different story. For example in Belagavi city, as per the data accessed from the district’s forest department, over 160 indigenous trees have been chopped across the city under smart city project.

So far, only 32 trees have been relocated, that too with the help of local NGOs and activists. The trees were either chopped to widen the roads or build footpaths or for cycle tracks. “The roads that they are building could have been planned more smartly. These so-called smart roads are end-to-end. There is absolutely no space to plant trees. Even ornamental plants cannot be planted,” says Madhav Prabhu, founder of Pyaas Foundation, a Belagavi based NGO.

Talking about relocation of trees, he says that the age-old trees are replaced with the ornamental plants. “We are not increasing the indigenous species but instead we are bringing in foreign species into our habitat and these are parasitic”, he adds.

Srinivas Allavalli, an Urban Expert based in Bengaluru says the whole idea of compensatory planting and relocation is futile. “If they say they are going to chop one tree, let them plant 15 other trees in prior. Yes, afforestation is needed and we must do it but compensatory planting is not the solution. Don’t just promise afforestation. You plant first and then chop,” he adds.

No sync between the civic agencies

In Belagavi, at least four civic agencies like the corporation, urban development, PWD are into building roads. In addition to these, BSCL too is building roads. “When three agencies are already doing road works, why do you want to utilize smart city funds for roads again?,” asks Topannavar.

“Lack of coordination between civic agencies is a huge problem. This is the opposite of maximum governance and minimum government,” adds Allavalli.

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