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The iconic Indian national flag at Gandhi Mandap in Guwahati, Assam
The iconic Indian national flag at Gandhi Mandap in Guwahati, Assam|EastMojo image
IN-DEPTH

Guwahati’s Smart City project remains a distant dream

Frequent change in authorities, poor execution of projects and lackadaisical behaviour of officials hinder the Northeast metropolis’ ambitious urban renewal plan

Kalyan Deb

Guwahati: The Union government’s ambitious Guwahati Smart City project is increasingly coming under a cloud as frequent change in authorities, poor execution of projects and lackadaisical behaviour of officials are hindering the Northeast metropolis’ ambitious urban renewal and retrofitting plan.

The Smart City project started in Guwahati early in 2016 after the sprawling city located in Assam was selected as one of the first 20 such projects in India (ranked 17th), winning a contest between all the major cities in the country. However, for various reasons, little has been done till date, and as time goes by, the project has started to look like a distant dream.

“Political leaders have a say on every project under the smart city mission and many projects are kept on hold by the leaders for reasons unknown,” said a highly-placed source in Dispur.

The source, who has worked with the Guwahati Smart City Ltd (GSCL) for quite some time now, revealed that too much political interference has obstructed the smooth flow of works under Smart City Mission. He also said that politicians do not have proper planning.

There were around 11 projects under Smart City preparation plan till March last year, of which, at present, only five projects are underway.

Water ATMs installed in Guwahati under Smart City Mission by Assam law minister Siddhartha Bhattacharya
Water ATMs installed in Guwahati under Smart City Mission by Assam law minister Siddhartha Bhattacharya
EastMojo image

The 11 projects which were under Smart City were Borsola Beel development, Mora Bharalu development, Bharalu development, Brahmaputra Riverfront development, Deepor Beel development, Integrated Command and Control Centre (ICCC) with smart electricity poles for smart lighting, anytime water machines, smart public toilets, highest national flag construction at Gandhi Mandap, Gandhi Mandap development and a special road from Guwahati to AIIMS at Changsari.

Of these projects, the ones which are currently underway are anytime water machines, smart public toilets, highest national flag construction at Gandhi Mandap, Gandhi Mandap development and Project Jyoti.

Three projects are completed according to the claims made by GSCL – installation of 20 anytime water machines across Guwahati, installation of 20 bio-toilets and commissioning of the highest national flag at Gandhi Mandap.

A source in the GSCL said that the other projects are kept on hold for various reasons. Apart from a section of politicians allegedly holding a few projects, the frequent transfer of managing directors of the special purpose vehicle (SPV) is also reportedly creating hurdles. To add to it, even the completed projects are not functioning properly.

When the Smart City Mission was started by the Centre, some main goals were identified such as 24/7 electricity supply (with minimum 10% solar energy requirement); smart metering and demand management; energy efficient street lighting; 24X7 water supply, waste water recycling, rainwater harvesting; solid waste management; robust IT connectivity and digitalisation; visible area-based development like overhead wires, hoardings, railings, paving, river and lake sides, drain edges; encroachment-free public areas; intelligent traffic management; smart parking; non-vehicle streets/zones; encouragement to non-motorised transport (walking and cycling); pedestrian-friendly pathways; ensuring safety with CCTV monitoring etc. However, due to lack of proper planning, several projects are dysfunctional.

In Guwahati, the government does not have such huge plans yet and even from the already planned projects, some important ones, which are essential for the city to become at least 10% smart are being kept on hold, said experts.

The Central government is not happy with the progress of the Guwahati Smart City projects, especially because the Guwahati Smart City ltd (GSCL) has till now not started the work for Integrated Control and Command Centre (ICCC). A source in the GSCL told EastMojo, “The Centre is not happy with GSCL because many cities in India have already launched ICCC whereas Guwahati has not yet started it.”

The Bhopal Smart City Development Corporation Ltd (BSCDCL) launched India’s first cloud-based Common Integrated Data Centre, Disaster Recovery Centre and Integrated Control and Command Centre (ICCC) powered by Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s Universal Platform last year. The ICCC will enable the Madhya Pradesh state administration to monitor and administer multiple city civic utilities and citizen services across seven cities in the state through a central cloud. These cities include Bhopal, Gwalior, Jabalpur, Indore, Ujjain, Satna, and Sagar.

Talking about Guwahati, the GSCL had also planned to construct and launch an ICCC connecting various citizen amenities under one umbrella and keeping a vigil across the city. But the source in the GSCL said that the project is on hold now.

“The detailed project report (DPR) for the project was made by Tata Consulting Engineers and even request for proposal (RFP) was floated for the project,” said the GSCL source explaining that many parties were interested but the Guwahati Development Department (GDD) minister has reportedly kept the project on hold.

The ICCC project was estimated to be constructed with a budget of Rs 190 crore in Guwahati and it would have been very helpful to avert incidents like the bomb blast that happened on Zoo Road in the city earlier in May this year, added the source.

Public Sector Undertakings (PSU) were expected to be involved in the project according to the mandates of the Central government.

The source also said that initially there was an issue about finding a plot of land for constructing the infrastructure. The ICCC requires a central monitoring room which would be attached to around 5,000 CCTV cameras fixed across the city. M Angamuthu, the former GSCL managing director (MD), according to the source, was enthusiastic about the project and accordingly the RFP was floated as he was confident that finding a plot of land for a building to set up the central control unit would not be a major issue, said the source. But as soon as Angamuthu was transferred and the new GDD minister took charge, the RFP was cancelled.

The project DPR was prepared keeping in mind lifetime vigilance of the city, smart traffic management, smart parking allotment, smart poles with solar electricity for the poles and timely stoppage of buses at bus stops.

The GSCL source revealed that frequent change of GSCL MDs is also a reason for delay of projects under smart city initiative.

The Assam government is violating the Centre’s orders on the operation of the SPV created for carrying out the smart city projects as mandated by the Union ministry of urban development.

A highly placed source in Dispur told EastMojo: “The managing director (MD) appointed for Guwahati Smart City Ltd cannot be transferred before two years of his tenure as the MD in GSCL according to the mandates of the Centre, but in Guwahati the MDs are getting transferred frequently.”

The frequent transfers have raised serious concerns regarding the completion of the projects.

IAS officer Ashutosh Agnihotri was the first GSCL MD who was released from the charge in just six months. At present, Moloy Bora is the MD, but before him around five MDs were already been appointed and transferred from the post.

A source in the GSCL said, “The frequent transfer of MDs does affect the flow of the work. Every individual has own way of dealing with works and with the change of the officers, the work flow gets affected every time the officer is transferred.”

The source revealed that some officers are dedicated to their work and carry out various projects in a speedy manner, whereas some officers are very scared of the political bosses and are scared to take decisions.

Many projects which were under GSCL before are on hold only because the officers are not taking decisions.

According to Union ministry of urban development, there is no universally accepted definition of a ‘Smart City’. It means different things to different people as the conceptualisation of Smart City, varies from city to city and country to country, depending on the level of development and willingness to change and reform the resources and aspirations of the city residents.

In Guwahati, the Brahmaputra riverfront development was expected to be a reform for the city beautification and the project was aptly put under the Smart City Mission but ironically the project is on hold now despite the detailed project report being prepared by Tata Consulting Engineers.

“The Brahmaputra river front beautification project is on hold now for various reasons,” said a source in GSCL.

The source revealed that the detailed project report (DPR) of the project is complete which has an estimated budget of Rs 826 crore, including works like embankment (filling and cutting of earth); construction of concrete sloping wall with rock filling; construction of infrastructure work like cycling lane, footpath, jetties and river bank protection works aiming continuity and access along the river
linkages from the city to the riverfront, development of cultural precinct in the government areas, revitalisation of the river ecology etc, but the project is on hold now as the GSCL is not being able to get the land for the purpose.

The stretch from Governor’s House to Bharalumukh is expected to be beautified under the project but there are lands belonging to various departments like Assam Police, Inland Water Transport, Assam Tourism Developmental Corporation, Guwahati Metropolitan development Corporation (GMDA), Guwahati Municipal Corporation, many private parks and so on. The GSCL source said that getting the land is an issue, also there is a six lane flyover which will be constructed from Bharalumukh to North Guwahati, and there the project has to be further revised.

In 2009-10 the Tarun Gogoi government in Assam had also thought of a Rs 300 crore plan for beautifying the Brahmaputra riverfront and GMDA was assigned with the task. But even that task remains a dream like all other projects GMDA starts working on, said sources.

The GSCL source said that at present the government is not thinking of starting the project.

Also development of Borsola Beel, Bharalu River, Mora Bharalu and Deepor Beel were essential when it started but at present the projects are on hold for unknown reasons, despite presenting a detailed project report.

An estimated budget of Rs 215 crore was required for developing Borsola Beel, Rs 444 crore for Bharalu river, Rs 488 crore for Mora Bharalu River and Rs 250 crore for Deepor Beel according to the DPR but at present it seems the government does not want to start working on the projects. Further, “the GSCL is asked to think of other ideas like how to develop the open spaces of Guwahati,” said a source in GSCL.

According to the Borsola Beel development plan, sewage treatment plant would have been constructed; the lake was expected to be cleaned and re-sectioned; parks around the lake would have been developed with foot over bridge and retaining walls; overhead electrical wires would have been removed and laid underground.

In Bharalu river sewage treatment plant was expected to be constructed at Ulubari; river would have been cleaned and re-sectioned; compaction and retaining walls would have been constructed; construction of infrastructure work like landscaping, bridge, walkway, jogging tracks, cycling tracks and shops were in the plan; a pumping station also would have been constructed.

For Deepor Beel it was planned to construct an elephant corridor, restoration and conservation of the beel was planned; construction of sewage treatment plant was estimated; infrastructural work like eco-tourism and boating was expected; construction of watch tower and viewing deck was planned in the DPR.

Similarly, for all the projects which are on hold various facilities were planned but the GSCL has kept the works on hold.

There were 11 projects, of which five projects are in process. Even of those five projects, only three are commissioned but ironically, not functioning well.

With a pole height of 319.5 feet or 97.4 metres, the national flag unfurled in Guwahati on October 2 last year is the third tallest in the country
With a pole height of 319.5 feet or 97.4 metres, the national flag unfurled in Guwahati on October 2 last year is the third tallest in the country
File image

The third highest national flag in India which was constructed under the Smart City Mission at Gandhi Mandap in Guwahati at a cost of Rs 2.9 crore is being seen as a total loss of public money. After the hoisting of the flag on October 2 last year, the flag got replaced twice. Even then, it remains torn.

“Bajaj Electricals Limited has not yet received the bill for construction of the flag as there are technical issues which require to be corrected. The government has blocked the payment of the bill for the time being,” said a source in the GSCL.

The flag post was constructed at a cost of approximately Rs 2.91 cr with a height of 319.5 ft and with a flag of 120 x 80 ft dimension. The flag pole is made of high-strength steel and weighs around 46,000 kg.

The source said that the quality of the of material by which the flag was made is being retested and other scientific reasons are being extracted to know the exact cause for the flag being torn every time it is hoisted, said the source.

Many Guwahatians are irked at the government as the highest flag according to them could have been a project under by the tourism department and not under Smart City Mission. They feel it is a waste of public money.

Talking about other commissioned projects under smart city project, 20 water ATM machines were installed in 20 locations across the city and 20 bio-toilets were installed at 20 different locations in the city. Rs 2.9 crore were spent in installing the water ATMs and Rs 9.53 crore are spent to install the toilets.

However, currently, none of these function regularly. There are complaints regarding the water ATMs installed in the city that the they are mostly empty.

A source in the GSCL said that there are machines which need to be refill after the water is over, so sometimes it takes time to refill the water as all the ATMs are not fixed at locations where water is available 24/7.

Also many have complained that at times the coins inserted are accepted by the machines but water is not supplied. A Rs 2 coin has to be inserted in the water ATM to extract water.

Similarly, there are also complaints about the bio-toilets which are installed in the city. The toilets are often dirty and not cleaned; at the same time many find it difficult to use.

GSCL has till now received Rs 380 crore from both the Centre and the state in the first phase to carry out smart city project works but the SPV is incapable of utilising the money. “If the funds issued in the first phase are not utilised, the funds in the second phase will not be received,” said a source in the GSCL.

In the first phase, the Central government issued Rs 191 crore and the state government issued Rs 189 crore but till now only Rs 15.9 crore has been utilised in only five projects.

In order to transform Guwahati into a smart city, a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) – Guwahati Smart City Limited has been incorporated to plan, design, implement, coordinate and monitor the smart city project, which has remained ineffective.

The GSCL is a company incorporated under the Indian Companies Act, 2013 with equal shareholding from the Government of Assam. The total proposed cost for the Guwahati Smart City project is around Rs 2,296 crore. Out of the total proposed cost, Rs 1,579 crore has been allocated for Area Based Development (ABD) and Rs 622 crore for pan city development.