Saturday, April 17, 1999
I HAD met Meenakshi Dutta Ghosh when she had just joined as the Chairperson of Chandigarh Housing Board and CITCO (Chandigarh Industrial & Tourism Corporation). For the next 22 months we met a few times and I found her to be a jovial, informal and a well-read bureaucrat. Never did she ever mention the work she was silently doing in CITCO and the CHB to improve their functioning and bring an element of accountability in them.
It is indeed surprising to learn that in the 22- year history of the CHB neither administrative approvals were taken nor proper procedures were followed by the engineering wing for any task undertaken by it. It was Ghosh who introduced this in the CHB for the first time. Reportedly, the present Board of Directors of the CHB put its foot down and insisted that proper procedures had to be followed. With the support of a chairperson like her it was finally made mandatory that every consolidated expenditure pertaining to public works had to be wetted by a three-member committee comprising the Chief Engineer,CPWD, and engineer and architect member of the board of the CHB.
"I felt there was no procedure for accountability. The only procedure adopted was to apprise the board of the CHB, which certainly was not enough. So we decided to introduce transparency and accountability. For years together recoveries of payments were pending and nothing substantial had been done in this regard. I was shocked that installments of even showrooms and HIG category housing were pending. After we got into the act, we immediately achieved a profile of recoveries". A sense of satisfaction was lit large on her pretty and chiselled face.
When Meenakshi Dutta Ghosh joined the CHB in 1997, the board was merely pursuing projects in Sector 61 and west of Sector 38, which was started in 1994. The CHB had not been allotted even an inch of land for nearly three years, making it difficult to justify its fixed establishment costs. Ghosh got 7 acres land in Sector 52 and a 112- acre tract in Sector 50 and 51 allotted to the CHB for public housing. The first and at least half of the second allotment will cater to low cost housing.
"Chandigarhs client profile is changing. We have to build new parts of Chandigarh keeping in view affordable accommodation -- like 2-room condominiums for professionals, hostels for schools etc. The CHB should rope in HUDCO for development of the commercial strip in Phase III of Chandigarh", Ghosh opined.
Going through the dusty files of the CHB, she also realised that its precious commercial property was deteriorating because the auction rates were neither logical nor affordable as per the going market price. She changed the rates after a survey of the market and 108 commercial booths and shops were put up for auction. The net result was that the CHB was richer by Rs 40 crore.
During 1997-99, the CHB was buzzing with activity. Urban infrastructure development projects were entrusted to the CHB. Moreover, two prestigious projects were restarted entirely due to her efforts. The first one was the Kalagram project, which was entrusted to the CHB in April, 1998. Within 10 months, she had the entire project planning undertaken and approved. Kalagram would be constructed at a cost of Rs. 5 crore in three phases. This project, conceived a couple of years ago, had remained shelved because no decisive steps were taken to start it. Today, because of Ghosh and Satish Chandra, MD, CITCO, the construction of the first phase has already begun.
The second project is the Exhibition Centre which would put Chandigarh on the national scene as a second option to the users of Pragati Maidan in New Delhi. The Chandigarh Administration has allotted 6.5 acres of land for the project which is to be constructed at the cost of Rs. 66 crore by the CHB. This centre would cater to the needs of all the states in the region for holding exhibitions, trade fairs and various other kinds of activities. One only hopes that its construction would be completed as per the schedule without burdening the exchequer with the escalated costs due to the delays which have become so common these days.
As a Chairperson of CITCO, too, she did a lot. By the time she said good-bye to Chandigarh, the construction of the new block of 86 rooms in Hotel Mountview had been completed. During her rather short tenure, she also got Yatri Niwas and Lake-Chef View Hotels renovated.
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