GUWAHATI, Sept 14: If it is a boon that Guwahati has been chosen as one of the 20 Indian cities to be developed as ‘smart’ ones, the implementing authorities in the State are ‘not smart’ enough to avail the opportunity to the fullest extent. An irony of sorts!
Guwahati Smart City Limited (GSCL) – a special purpose vehicle (SPV) and a subsidiary company formed with equal stakes between the Centre and State Government to execute the smart city mission in Guwahati – has failed to address the key issues of the city. Guwahati, the most populated and largest city in the Northeast, is among 20 cities selected in the first lot of smart cities. It was done under the Smart Cities Mission in 2016. It was so good that far. However, what is out to spell doom for the opportunity is that the GSCL has been missing the boat, since its inception, while implementing various projects under the mission.
What is the state of affairs on the ground? In April 2017, then Union Minister of Housing & Urban Affairs M Venkaiah Naidu said that the progress of the smart city project in Guwahati had been tardy. Naidu (now vice president of India) had said that after reviewing the progress of work. The residents of the city were not surprised at the statement from Naidu. However, what causes every conscious denizen of Guwahati raise his/her eye brow is the tweet on August 26 this year from the Union Ministry, now headed by Hardeep Singh Puri that ‘unique geographic and demographic conditions are behind the sluggish execution of the projects under the Smart City Mission’ in Guwahati. If not anything else, this statement suggests that there has been no tangible progress in the scene in the smart city-select from April 2017 to August 2018.
The nine most-hyped projects under the Smart City Mission are – the development of Borsola Beel, development of the Bharalu river, development of the Mora Bharalu river, the Brahmaputra river-front development project, conservation and restoration of Deepor Beel, erection of the National Flag atop Gandhi Mandap, an integrated traffic management system, installation of 30 drinking water ATMs and 30 public toilets and conversion of all streetlight posts into solar smart poles. The residents of the city mostly rate developing the Bharalu as the most important one and the erection of the National Flag atop Gandhi Mandop as the least.
The GSCL has already erected a 310-foot-tall pole to hoist a 120 foot X 80 foot National Flag atop Sarania Hill here on August 15. This is the first visible project, with an estimated cost of Rs 2.9 crore, being completed under the mission.
Meanwhile, Rs 5.58 crore has already been sanctioned so far for the development of the Bharalu river. The most important aspects of the project are construction of a sewage treatment plant (STP) with a treatment capacity of 85.5 million litres daily (MLD) near Ulubari fish feed farm, a new bridge at Jonali, dismantling of the existing wooden bridge and the construction of an RCC bridge with pathways and a utility corridor, new pedestrian bridges, retention walls/embankments all along the banks up to Bharalumukh pumping station, a walkway over the river along its banks, children’s playground, public toilet facilities, drinking water points etc.
“It is a matter of pride that we now have the country’s third tallest flag. But this shouldn’t have been the first priority of the government, especially when the city is suffering from real problems such as landslides, water logging, lack of electricity, traffic jam etc. The priority could have been need-based,” Nandita Borkakoty, a resident of flood-prone Tarun Nagar in the city, said.
Another resident, Bhargav Borah, said, “We’re patriots with or without a tall flag. However, we’re not comfortable and safe in the city without an integrated traffic management system or a foolproof solution for flash flood. These are the issues that need to be taken care of.”