Monday, January 14, 2013

Bhopal proves CAG right on JNNURM

The Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) in his report on the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) tabled in the Parliament about six weeks ago has pointed out that the programme has failed. The ambitious 7-year programme launched in 2005 with the objectives of fast-track development of cities along with strengthening of the urban local bodies and making them more accountable “has failed on all counts”, says the CAG.

He further says, “other than housing and urban infrastructure, it was intended to strengthen the urban local bodies (ULB) to make them efficient, accountable and transparent could not be achieved as has been envisaged in terms of their structure, composition, financial resources, functions and powers…However in selected states and Union Territories ….all the mandatory and optional reforms were not implemented as per the commitments made in the Memorandum of Agreement. Thus the objective of bringing about reforms in institutional financial and structural governance structure of the ULBs to make them efficient, accountable and transparent could not be achieved…”

The performance audit of the CAG has revealed huge deficiencies in respect of delays in almost completion of all projects. The report stated that the ministries of the Central Government were not equipped to monitor a project of such magnitude. It seems, once the money was allocated to a state the ministry concerned had abdicated all responsibilities in regard to ensuring completion of the projects and monitoring quality of the work carried out.

If the Central ministries are not equipped to monitor the projects under the program the departments of the state governments are no better. We in Bhopal are all too familiar with the failure of the government and their implementing agency, the Bhopal Municipal Corporation (BMC) in monitoring and ensuring commissioning of projects in accordance with their own deadlines. 

Housing for urban poor on Idgah Hills
The case of BRTS is well known. It has already missed several deadlines and is likely to miss a few more. The ambitious targets set at various points of time have had no relationship with the capability of the BMC.  No wonder the project is dragging on and on without any signs of completion. Apart from a few bridges, many stretches of the BRTS corridor are still incomplete. No one knows when the whole thing will be completed. Even if it gets completed in another couple of years’ time there wouldn’t be sufficient number of buses, along with the necessary feeder services to make the fullest use of the corridor. Now that the Commissioner BMC has been moved away after a spat with the Mayor, there is going to be a fresh setback to the progress of the project – not that he seemed to be very proactive in pushing for its completion. In the meantime people are being subjected to untold hardships in commuting through the broken down and half-finished roads. Many accidents have taken place of which some were fatal.

Likewise, the housing project taken up under the Mission on the Idgah Hills for provision of basic services for the urban poor is yet to be completed. Many among the huge number of blocks are almost ready but are yet to be occupied for the reasons of fraudulent allotments. The case is reportedly in the courts and no one knows when one would see the end of it. In the meantime cores of rupees invested in erecting the multi-storied blocks – a veritable jungle of them – are going to produce no returns.

In the Mission there were two significant objectives: one of redevelopment of the inner (older parts of the) city and strengthening of the municipality to ensure enhancement of self-sustaining capabilities of the city. Both have hardly been taken up for implementation. Bhopal has a significant inner city that was the core of the capital during the Nawabi era. It is a thriving market place where one can sense the vibrancy of trade and commerce. As in other such cities, it is congested and crowded with very little municipal intervention. Except a railway over-bridge in its outer parts, the old city has not received any attention under the Mission.

The Municipal Corporation, too, has largely remained the same old inefficient and incompetent civic body that it used to be before the commencement of the Mission. Neither has its capabilities nor is its abilities to provide better services to the people have improved. Rampant politicking and nepotism has held it back from achieving its potential, if at all there was any. During the last seven years of the Mission the quality of life of the people that should have been bettered has, in fact, deteriorated The roads are damaged, the city is infested with stray dogs, heaps of garbage are visible all over, water – fresh and of sewers – keep flowing on the streets creating pools eating away whatever is left of the roads. On the one hand, while the Minister Urban Administration is pouring money in attempting beautification of three roads and the area around the Lake, the rest of the city hardly gets any attention for want of finances. Efficiency, accountability and transparency, as envisaged in the Mission Objectives could not be achieved in so far as the BMC is concerned. It continues to function in its old lackadaisical and opaque ways. After all, opacity sustains confusion enabling all concerned to make merry with government funds.

The 7-year term of the Mission ended in December last but nothing much has been achieved. Elsewhere, in other cities at least the BRT Systems have been put in place with significant benefits to the citizenry. Bhopal, however, has drawn a blank so far. Perhaps, we will have to wait either for extension of the Mission or formulation of another one before some semblance of improvement becomes visible. That may, however, happen in another decade’s time or so.  

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