Dharamsala was among the first 12 cities in the country (first in Himachal) to be selected under the Smart City Mission of the Union Government on May 24, 2016. The mission was launched on June 23, 2015.
In the last five years after its selection, very little has been done under the programme in Dharamsala. Frequently changing Chief Executive Officers (CEOs), tampering with the initial autonomous structure of the special purpose vehicle created under the scheme and the failure of the state government to contribute its financial share have hampered the implementation of the project.
Special purpose vehicle
According to the Smart City Mission guidelines, a special purpose vehicle was incorporated as a public limited company under the Companies Act on July 20, 2016. In the said company, the Dharamsala Municipal Corporation and the state government had 50 per cent stake each —the Central Government was to provide for the 50 per cent fund share of the corporation.
Dharamsala Smart City Company Ltd. had the Divisional Commissioner of Kangra as its Chairman and the Commissioner of Dharamsala Municipal Corporation as its Managing Director. The company, as per the scheme, after floating tenders appointed a project management consultant on September 23, 2017. The idea was to take all decisions regarding the implementation of the project at the local level in consultation with professional experts appointed for the purpose.
The state government has changed the organisational structure of Smart City Dharamsala Company Ltd. Now, the Chief Secretary is the Chairman of the company while the Secretaries of various departments concerned are members of the company board. The Municipal Corporation Commissioner is still the Managing Director-cum-Chief Executive Officer of the company.
It was also ordered that the decision on tenders of Rs 10 crore and above would be taken at the minister’s level.
The move to change the structure of Dharamsala Smart City Company Ltd. had drawn flak from various quarters. Opposition leaders had said that the structure of the company had been changed in violation of the rules of the Smart City Mission. Since now senior bureaucrats, who are also holding the charge of various government departments, are members of the company board, decision making has become time consuming. Earlier, all decisions of the company were taken by its board based in Dharamsala in consultation with project consultants.
6,820 acres were to be covered
According to the plans framed for the development of Dharamsala as a smart city, the pan-city development area was 6,820.11 acres or 27.6 square kilometres. The total population of the city to be covered under the Smart City Mission was 53,543. In the first phase, 772 acres were developed — 11.30 per cent of the total area of the city was taken up.
State still to give 50% funds
The Central Government has provided an initial grant of Rs 196 crore for the project. According to the rules of the scheme, the state government was also to contribute an equal share. However, the Himachal Government has till date contributed just Rs 26.89 crore to the project.
Special state plea rejected
The government had represented to the Union Government that Himachal being a special category state gets 90 per cent Central grants, it (Central Government) should also contribute to the Smart City project in the same proportion. However, the Union Government did not accept the plea of the Himachal Government. At present, as per the rules, the Himachal Government should contribute its 50 per cent share to the project.
However, the irony is that in the last five years, even Rs 222.89 crore available for the project has not been spent.
Till date, the authorities responsible for the implementation of the project in Dharamsala have spent just Rs 66.12 crore — Rs 52.67 crore on accrued liability and administrative expenses and Rs 13.45 crore as office expenses.
Few works completed
The works that have been completed in Dharamsala under the programme are solar rooftop power plants of Rs 1.59 crore, Dharamsala Smart City Website (Rs 36 lakh), e-Nagar Palika (Rs 1.17 crore), GIS web portal (Rs 1.28 crore), root zone sewage treatment plant (Rs 1.38 crore), shelter for urban homeless (Rs 57 lakh), a parking complex in the Deputy Commissioner’s office funded by Asian Development Bank (Rs 3.43 crore), augmentation and automation of water treatment plants at source (Rs 29.73 crore), Bhagsunag Precinct Area Development (Rs 4.14 crore), smart roads built by the PWD (Rs 21.18 crore), smart LED-based streetlights (Rs 1.55 crore), LED lights (Rs 5.19 crore) and a cultural centre (Rs 5.19 crore).
Work in progress
The works under execution include intelligent and barrier-free bus shelters at a cost of Rs 9 crore, smart classrooms (Rs 3.55 crore), inclusive smart streets (Rs 26.20 crore), underground dustbins (Rs 6.07 crore), root zone sewage treatment plants phase II (Rs 2.11 crore), state-of-the-art treatment of tapped potable water (Rs 7.32 crore), a skill development centre (Rs 2.13 crore), augmentation and automation of sewage treatment plants (Rs 11.19 crore), Smart City office complex (Rs 24.44 crore), property tax mapping (Rs 24 lakh) and rooftop PV plant (Rs 50 lakh).
Tenders not yet called
The works in the tendering process include parks and playgrounds at a cost of Rs 3.77 crore, improving walkways and stairs (Rs 30.40 lakh), upgrade of mountaineering institute (Rs 5.22 crore), smart cards and digital payment system (Rs 1.22 crore), and a parking lot near the Dalai Lama Temple (Rs 5.75 crore).
The works for which bid documents will be ready by April include robotics and virtual reality labs in government schools to be set up at a cost of Rs 1.05 crore, walkable roads under phase 1 (Rs 27 crore), eco-tourism (Rs 1.38 crore) and smart metering (Rs 5.22 crore).
Rs 314 cr works under planning
The works in the planning stage include walkable roads phase 2, LED-based streetlights, parks and playgrounds, ICT-based electric buses, GPS-enabled taxis, development of Kotwali Bazaar, redevelopment of Kachehri Adda, public e-toilets, fire emergency and response system, solar trees, variable messaging system, parking at the zonal hospital, Bhagsunag, behind court, Lions Club, Rain Basera and stadium, an integrated control and command centre, and a city app and platform. These 25 projects are estimated to cost Rs 314 crore.
Shortage of staff
There are 50 sanctioned posts under the Smart City project — 24 posts of engineers and administrative staff, who were to be posted here on deputation from other government departments, and 26 posts of peon and computer expert, who were to be recruited directly. However, till date, the government has posted only eight employees on deputation. Only four peons have been recruited directly and the remaining posts are vacant. Overall, there are only 12 employees working in the project against the sanctioned posts.
The Dharamsala Municipal Council was upgraded as corporation in 2015 so that it could be selected under the Smart City Programme. However, even more than five years after its upgrade, the corporation is continuing with the same staff strength. The MC authorities had asked the state government for 67 additional posts.
At present, there is one Executive Engineer and an SDO working as municipal engineers in the corporation. These two officials have to look after the implementation of the Municipal Act rules by the owners of buildings, approval of maps of new buildings and deviations in old buildings and carry out constructions in the corporation area.
No sanitary inspector
Despite the fact that the area of the corporation has been increased many times, there is no sanitary inspector at present — there is one sanitary supervisor in the corporation. In new panchayat areas that have been merged with the corporation, people have been complaining of lack of sanitation.
Heavy workload in MC
A doctor from the Zonal Hospital has been given the additional charge of Food Safety Officer in the corporation but he is not available usually due to his duties in the hospital. The workload in the corporation has increased so much that some employees, who are on deputation, have sought transfer to their parent departments.
The Shimla Municipal Corporation has staff strength six times that of the Dharamsala Municipal Corporation while the areas under both corporations are almost the same. Slow decision making in the government is hampering the working of the Dharamsala Municipal Corporation and the Smart City project.
A proposal to fill posts in the Dharamsala Municipal Corporation and Smart City Company Ltd is with the Finance Department.
‘Injustice’ with merged areas
Areas newly merged with the municipal corporation are out of the Smart City project. Brig SK Pathak (Retd), a nominated member of the corporation, has been taking up the issues of the residents of the merged areas. He says that gross injustice has been done with the areas merged with the corporation.
Adjoining villages such as Bord, Khanyara, Sidhbari, Sidhpur and Sakoh were brought under the corporation’s jurisdiction. However, all these areas have been left out of the Smart City project. Brig Pathak (Retd) had written to Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur and Kangra MP Shanta Kumar regarding injustice done to the villages that were merged with the corporation. These villages have lost all their privileges such as MNREGA, subsidised water and telephone charges. Instead, these will now have to pay property tax and other taxes of the corporation, he says.
Provision of basic amenities
Brig Pathak (Retd) says that as per the guidelines issued by the Union Ministry for Urban Development, a smart city is to provide core infrastructure to its residents, including adequate water supply, 24-hour uninterrupted electricity supply, streetlights, sanitation, sewerage and solid waste management, safety of citizens especially senior citizens, women and children, and health and education.
The old areas of the previous Dharamsala Municipal Council from Ward No. 1 to 10 already have most of these basic facilities. However, the newly merged areas lack these facilities. By keeping them out of the preview of the Smart City programme the basic purpose of the project has been defeated, says Brig Pathak (Retd).
Model area not developed
The Smart City project also envisaged that initially about one square kilometre area was to be developed as a model area. However, no such model area has been developed. The nominated members of the corporation say that most of the works under the project are only commercial and tourism oriented and not people-oriented. None of the representatives of the newly merged areas are in the City Advisory Committee of the Smart City project, they add.
Pradeep Thakur, Commissioner of Dharamsala Municipal Corporation and Managing Director of Smart City Company, says that the government is serious about fast-tracking the project. Many works are being executed and many others are in the tendering process. By the end of the current year, many works will be taken up to improve the quality of life of Dharamsala residents.
He adds a proposal of additional posts has been sent to the government to tide over the staff shortage in the project and the MC.
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