Sohail Khan | Apr 12, 2019 | 8 min read
By Sohail Khan
“Yahan bhi khoda, wahan bhi khoda, har jagah bas khoda hi khoda (They have dug up here, there, and everywhere).”
This is far from how a future Smart City should be described, but that’s how Rajesh Singhvi, advocate and CPI(M) leader, sketches Udaipur.
The city of lakes, a globally renowned tourist destination, is more a ‘city of potholes’ now, say residents, with almost every area and road dug up for “developmental works”.
Udaipur was one of the 20 cities chosen on June 25, 2015, to be developed into a Smart City under the central government’s Smart City Project, which was announced in 2014. The Udaipur Municipal Corporation (UMC) was allocated a budget of Rs 1,200 crore for a bouquet of works; aside from this, the Centre had even promised to build an international airport in the city, which is popularly known as the ‘Venice of the East’.
Cut to present: it’s been four long years, India is days away from the much-awaited 2019 Lok Sabha elections, but Udaipur appears a ramshackle mess — not the slightest bit close to the utopia its people were promised, and even stripped off its former glory.
The citizens made their anger towards the ruling BJP known when they voted Congress to power in the state in the December 2018 Vidhan Sabha elections. But they are not done and plan to take out more of their frustration on April 29, the first phase of voting in Rajasthan, when Udaipur and 12 other constituencies will exercise their franchise.
Reduced to dust
Citizens say they are fed up of the swirling dirt and dust, courtesy all the digging, broken roads, traffic congestion, and other problems.
Shopkeeper Durgesh Kathik says, “The administration’s excuse for all this work is that it’s part of making Udaipur a Smart City. So then, why can’t we see a single completed project even after four years? All roads, be it bylanes or arterial, have been dug up; those that haven’t been have potholes. This has worsened the traffic situation; covering just 1.5 km takes half an hour.”
Singhvi says, “The administration is claiming to do development work, but all it has done is dig up roads for laying sewer lines.”
Though Udaipur was included in the list in 2015, works started only by mid-2018. The BJP-ruled UMC invited tenders, and after a series of negotiations, L&T won the contract for Rs 537 crore for phase 1 works, under which 17 wards of the Walled City were listed for development.
Of the total budget, Rs 6 crore was kept for maintenance and revamp of heritage buildings, and Rs 151 crore allotted to lay underground cables and 24x7 water supply. UMC also assigned Rs 4.8 crore for the Smart Metering Process, Rs 2 crore for open-air gyms, Rs 13 crore for a Water Treatment Plant in Machla Magra area, and Rs 27.5 crore for the Reverse Cabling project.
A restaurant owner in Walled City, Chandra Bhan Singh, however, is miffed with overflowing sewers and wants to know “where is the development?” “In our area, the lanes are very narrow. On top of that, filth from the drains keeps on overflowing. Is this the city we want to invite tourists in?” he asks.
Singh alleges that no work has been done for the lakes under the Dewas project either. “How can we be the city of lakes if our lakes aren’t improved? They are in a sorry condition, and this will definitely affect tourism.”
No wonder then that Udaipur slipped to the 137th position in this year’s Swachh Survekshan (Cleanliness Survey), down from the 87th rank it had bagged last year as among the “most clean cities in the country”.
Sweta Sharma, an HR executive of a private company, says, “The Smart City Project is not being executed properly. So many foreign clients visit our company for business, and the pathetic condition of roads and traffic jams are creating a bad impression of our city in their minds.”
Aside from this, citizens have also been running scared of stray cattle, which, they allege, administration has done nothing about despite the menace growing in proportion.
Shakir Hussain (37), a private firm employee, says, “In residential colonies, stray dogs have made people’s lives miserable; meanwhile, stray cattle wandering on main roads has been the main cause of accidents.”
“There have been several incidents of stray dogs biting children. The little ones are so terrorised now that they have stopped playing in the locality or even riding their bicycles. We had complained to the local corporator as well as the civic administration. But nothing happened,” alleges Zuber Khan (36), an investment banker.
Activists, Oppn rip into administration…
The deteriorating situation has frustrated local activists and social workers, too; their continuous fight with the administration on citizens’ behalf for a semblance of improvement in their beloved city hasn’t borne fruit as yet.
Listing all the wrong ways in which the authorities are going about the Smart City Project, civic activist Hemendra Chandalia says, “Firstly, our city lacks a public transport system. Earlier, a few city buses were launched, but they are no longer functional. Secondly, the administration’s claims of round-the-clock water supply are bogus; in reality, we have only two sources of potable water. Also, it’s been 25 years now that water has been supplied to households for only two hours daily. The city doesn’t even have sufficient water to start a 24x7 supply. In fact, our lakes are drying up, and it’s rumoured that the city has water only for another 40-odd days.”
Chandalia also slams the private company roped in to build an overhead tank near Gulab Bagh. “It violated the ‘no construction activity near lakes’ rule and cut the hillock, polluting the environment. The way public and private authorities are going about to ensure a 24x7 water supply will end up having the opposite effect, with irreparable damage caused to vegetation and forests in the nearby range.”
Criticising the previous BJP state government, Leader of Opposition (Congress) in the UMC Mohsin Khan (34) says even the municipal corporation board, which has a majority of BJP councillors, has fooled the public in the name of development.
“Last year, a Congress government came to power. Led by CM Ashok Gehlot, it has started monitoring the administration’s work to ensure the mammoth budget is spent properly.”
…But authorities say they’re on top of their game
Udaipur Mayor Chandra Singh Kothari justifies, “The roads have not broken down; we have dug them up for laying cable and sewer lines. If we hadn’t, how would work progress? It is part of phase 1 works. I know people are unhappy with the condition of roads, but it is to ensure TV and phone cables and electricity in every house. So, I urge citizens to be patient, as all this work is for their benefit only.
“Under the Smart City Project, UMC has developed 34 open-air gyms and, to control pollution, introduced e-rickshaws, donating 18 of them. We also haven’t forgotten that we are a tourist destination — we have built a Mewar Darshan Dirgha (a gallery) with paintings on marble, as well as developed gardens around the Fateh Sagar lake, all to attract tourists.”
Kothari adds that maintenance of heritage buildings is on, solar panels have been installed on eight government buildings, including UMC, and digitisation is being furthered too.
Backing his mayor, MP Arjun Lal Meena assures, “Beautification and development of the city will be completed within the next three to four months. I know people are unhappy with the dug-up roads and related works, but it is a temporary issue.”
Former state home minister Gulab Chand Kataria still believes Udaipur is number one. “L&T is carrying out smooth and efficient work. If people are facing problems, it’s only for a few days. If you talk to residents of areas where work has been completed, they will tell you how satisfied they are.”
Not a ‘smart’ move?
I do go to find out if there indeed are “satisfied” citizens and come across a couple of them, who say inconvenience due to development works has been temporary and they are pleased with the ongoing “revamp”. But then I run into one who says any speeding up of project work in the last few months has been courtesy the new government.
Most locals are at their wits’ end and aren’t convinced this was a ‘smart’ move.
Singhvi says, “Sometimes I think that it would have been better if our city hadn’t been included in the Smart City list. One of the right ways to implement that project, to really make a Smart City, would have been to develop a separate (sister) city altogether, with residential quarters available for nominal rates and plenty of business opportunities for a level-playing field for people from all strata of society.
“But the way this Smart City Project is being implemented, I wouldn’t call it a model of development; it’s a model of destruction.”
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