The way the Coimbatore Corporation is executing the Central Government-funded Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) project has come in for criticism.
The civic body is implementing Pilloor Phase-II drinking water scheme for over Rs. 110 crore, underground drainage scheme for over Rs. 350 crore, solid waste management scheme for around Rs. 100 crore, storm water drain and desilting of natural drains for nearly Rs. 180 crore and Basic Services for Urban Poor project for over Rs. 250 crore.
According to the Government's guidelines, the Corporation, which is the project implementing agency, is supposed to involve citizens by forming the Citizens' Technical Advisory Committee (CTAC). “The involvement is at every level – right from project formulation to implementation to audit,” says S. Baskar, Coordinator, IC Centre for Governance. The organisation is the anchor NGO to coordinate the JNNURM activities.
Sadly, that does not seem to have happened, though. The citizens' participation was made a mere formality, says R. Raveendran, a CTAC member and Honorary President, Residents' Awareness Association of Coimbatore. “Even before the CTAC was constituted, the Corporation had sent the detailed project reports for Pilloor Phase II scheme, underground drainage and BSUP,” he says.
A few CTAC meetings were held but nothing much came out of it. Once, when the CTAC complained that a contractor executing the UGD work was using ordinary cement and poor quality bricks, the Corporation fined him.
One of the JNNURM guidelines is that the civic body implementing the projects has to form ward-level citizens' committee to prioritise work. In fact, the citizens can suggest the work they want.
In Coimbatore's case there has been no active citizens' committee. And if it was, it was filled with politicians, Mr. Raveendran adds.
The JNNURM project provides for appointing people with technical and managerial expertise to review progress of projects. Had that happened the GIS (geographic information system) project would not have been a failure, says Mr. Baskar.
“The Corporation did not have people with the required qualification to evaluate the project executed by the agency for the GIS project, which is worth Rs. 4 crore,” he says and adds that with the right people or the right approach the Corporation could have well utilised the money.
The GIS project is to help the Corporation maintain and manage property tax.
The Corporation's approach has defeated the very purpose of the JNNURM scheme, which is to measure the success of the scheme not by the money spent but by assessing whether the intended benefits had reached the beneficiaries.
At the fag end of the scheme, it is evident that the Corporation has failed, he says.
Mr. Raveendran says the Corporation has failed in door-to-door collection and segregation of waste in the solid waste management project, supplying 135 litres per capita per day to the city's residents, providing underground drainage connection within the time frame and proceeding as per schedule with the storm water drainage project. The inordinate delay has disabled the Corporation from accessing more funds from the Central Government for other JNNURM projects like traffic and transport management, multi-level car parking, etc., he points out.
The charges are not true, says Mayor R. Venkatachalam. The Corporation did not receive any proposal to involve the citizens. It received instructions only to form ward committees, which the Councillors filled with their supporters and there is nothing wrong about it.
“This is what the State Government and politicians do,” he justifies.
He adds that the JNNURM projects suffered temporary setbacks because of series of by-elections and elections and escalation in price of raw materials. Other than that there has been no major problem.