The website of the Imagine Panaji Smart City Development Limited has a rather curious statement that most of the residents of the city would find at the very least hilarious, if not outrageous.
The statement is this: "A Smart City provides smart infrastructure and enhances the quality of life of its citizens". Given the trials and travails that the residents of Panjim are currently facing and have faced for the past months, this statement is laughable and so not true.
It makes one wonder what those who are tasked with the Smart City development do imagine? Do they believe that the quality of the life of Panjim residents has been enhanced?
When it rains, Panjim floods. That’s a no-brainer. It’s been happening for the past few monsoons, and it is the same areas that get flooded.
So, when undertaking works, why didn’t the Smart City team tackle the aspect of flooding first? It cannot hide behind the excuse that it was not aware of this.
The team could have easily listened to the residents of Panjim, who were constantly cautioning them about the possibility of flooded streets during the monsoon in Panjim. Why didn’t they?
So now there is flooding on the streets; asphalt rising and breaking, causing potholes, and myriad other problems for the residents of the city and those who visit it. Could all of this, or at least most of it, have been avoided?
The Smart City work is but an example of how the administration does not prioritise the works its undertakes. Anybody who knows the Goan monsoon and how it affects the city of Panjim would have been aware that this would have to be factored into the plans. In the current case,that was not done and when it was brought to their notice. It was ignored.
In February, on Carnival Saturday, as a few residents of Panjim attempted to raise awareness about the shoddy work that was being undertaken by the Smart City team, they were detained and later released. But, that what they had prognosticated has happened. So will any action be taken against those who have done this inferior work?
While the people are grumbling, the opposition is surprisingly quiet on this. When projects worth crores of rupees are undertaken, it is the duty of the opposition to act as a watchdog, to ensure that the delivery of the project meets the highest standards.
Enormous sums of money have been utilised for the Smart City works, but will nobody be accountable for the quality of work? Will no official be held responsible for the shoddy work done?
There is a dire need for accountability in the government. Unless officials and contractors know that they are going to be held accountable for the works, they will not improve.
Currently there are suggestions on social media that the entire team must be replaced with experts and engineers brought in instead of them. Now, that’s surprising.
Does it mean that engineers and experts were not on the team in the first place? Shouldn’t a project like the Smart City have experts planning and deciding?
This appears to be a major flaw in the Smart City planning and execution process. A project that involves crores of rupees and that has a special purpose vehicle created for its execution cannot have anybody other than experts on it, persons of integrity who know what they are doing.
As per the same website, the completed projects are mainly beautification works, with the vacuum sewer network and the Intelligent City Management System ongoing. These are works that would make a difference to the city, but these are also works that hardly appear to have been undertaken with a long-term perspective in mind.
A Smart City project should have been planned meticulously and with transparency, but this has most definitely not happened. For if it had, the current situation would not have prevailed. The intent may exist, but the execution is sorely lacking.
The inundation of the streets of Panjim is what the people see. Beneath this lies the fact that the planning and execution process needs to be thoroughly revamped.
Similarly, the mess created by the Smart City is one example of everything that is wrong with the system. It has to be corrected.
But, once the monsoon ends, how many of the residents of Panjim will remember the problems they had during those rainy days? It is the short public memory and reluctance to demand change that allows the system to remain unchanged.
Change can come only when the people demand it, not as a favour, but as a right. It would be nice to have, as promised on the Smart City website, an enhanced quality of life.