Contrary to his long-standing dictum of “ jitna aata, utni roti” (only as many chapatis as the quantity of flour or cutting the coat according to the cloth) — Urban Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu is slowly yielding to political compulsions by allowing more cities to participate in the upcoming Smart City Mission competition.
As per the Urban Development Policy, only 100 cities are listed to be developed as Smart Cities in the next five years. The ministry, however, has now allowed nine more capitals, including Patna, Thiruvananthapuram, Bengaluru, Amaravati, Itanagar and Gangtok, to participate in the next round of the competition. It has also allowed the governments of Jammu and Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh to nominate two cities each — Jammu and Srinagar, and Rae Bareli and Meerut respectively — in contravention of the rules. Though Aishwar Rao, ministry spokesperson, said there was nothing political about letting these cities compete, events in Jammu and Kashmir, U.P. and Bihar suggest otherwise.
The Jammu and Kashmir government did not nominate the one city it was entitled to, following the standoff between regional leaders from Jammu and Kashmir for over a year, with both demanding a Smart City. Peoples Democratic Party legislator Muhammad Ashraf Mir, who served as urban development minister in Jammu and Kashmir until March 2016, told The Hindu that compared to Jammu province, Srinagar had a better Smart City proposal and yet the government decided to nominate both to “keep the political mouths shut.”
However, though the State failed to submit its proposal on time, the Centre is ready to consider its twin submission, even though only one city can be allotted to it.
Meerut or Rae Bareli? A similar tussle between Rae Bareli and Meerut has prevented the Uttar Pradesh government from making a clear bid. Despite the fact that between Raebareli and Meerut only one city will be elected, the urban development ministry in the centre has allowed the both to compete in the next round. A senior official at the ministry, said, “If there is no way you can accommodate both the cities, what’s the point of having them in the competition?”
An MP on the parliamentary standing committee for urban development, Mr. Agarwal warned the centre against allotting Smart City funds to Rae Bareli, which is Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s constituency, but stressed that Rae Bareli wasn’t dropped from the competition because there was “political pressure” on the State government.
Despite the fact that between Rae Bareli and Meerut only one city will be elected, the Urban Development Ministry at the centre has allowed both to compete in the next round.
“I wonder why” said a senior official at the ministry. “If there is no way you can accommodate both the cities, what’s the point of having them in the competition?”
The ministry official said that in February 2016, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar urged Mr. Naidu to include Patna in the Smart City Mission. At that time Mr. Naidu had refused to entertain his demand saying the selection of the 100 nominated cities was based on fair evaluation at the State level.
“But later the Minister (Naidu) thought it’s better to keep him (Nitish) quiet by letting Patna enter the competition, which doesn’t mean Patna will get a Smart City,” the ministry official added.