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PLAYING SHABBY POLITICS FOR SMART CITIES

MODI SARKAR PICKS NAMES TO TRUMP RIVALS

 

By Arun Srivastava

 

The politics of vengeance has been the key factor in the Modi government denying the smart cities to the eastern Indian states. Except Bhubaneswar, Odisha’s capital, no city from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand or Bengal has made it to the smart list. Last year, when the names of the cities for including in the list of the smart cities were being finalized Bihar government was given the impression that at least three of its cities – Bhagalpur, Biharsharif and Muzaffarpur – are among the 97 shortlisted and would be upgraded. But none made it to the first list of 20 released by the Union minister Venkaiah Naidu.

 

Reacting to it Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar compared the Centre to the fabled “andher nagri (City of lawlessness)” for ignoring Bihar while picking the first list of 20 smart cities.  Nitish was highly critical of the manner in which the cities were selected and observed that this has upset the regional balance. “It’s andher nagri… no propriety, no rules, nor any thought for regional balance”. Nitish said; “Whatever is happening is their (Centre’s) wish. There are no rules or laws for them. Creation of ‘smart cities’ was their idea. They had initiated the process of choosing such cities. And when the Bihar government sent its proposal, fulfilling all conditions imposed by the Centre, they reneged on their promise”.

 

Retribution has been the guiding principle of the Modi government and it is manifest in the wake of outright denial of the special package to Bihar. Though the package was agreed to by the UPA government and it was in search for the right occasion to make it public, the Modi government preferred to dump it. In fact even during the campaigning for the assembly election Narendra Modi had assured the people of delivering the package. But later he started playing with the words and resorting to arithmetical jugglery. Once the results were announced and the BJP lost the battle, the Modi government put the package on the backburner, ignoring the genuine needs and claims of Bihar.

 

The Bihar government had sent the Centre a proposal as per the required format. Earlier, the Central government had selected three cities in Bihar for the Smart City list but now they have ignored Bihar. After financial package this is the major denial to Bihar. Under the plan, the Centre will pump in Rs 50,802 crore into the cities over the next five years to refurbish basic amenities, the focus being also on improving information technology infrastructure to provide essential services to residents.

 

While the Modi government did not mention the reasons for denial it also preferred to remain tight-lipped whether the state would get the smart cities next time. The U-turn of the Modi government has indeed been baffling though it claimed that the selection process was carried out in a transparent manner and “no politics was involved” in it. Interestingly, out of the 20 cities nine are from BJP-ruled states and four from Congress-ruled ones.

 

The political circles link the denial of the smart cities to Bengal and UP to the ensuing assembly elections in these two states. Since the governments of both the states are hostile to the BJP and the Modi dispensation at the Centre, they were not offered the new cities. The Modi government did not intend to allow Mamata or Mulayam Singh to grab the offer for boosting their image. There is no denying the fact that both the state governments would prefer to exploit the offer to their electoral advantage. They argue that Jharkhand was denied the privilege only to shield the Modi government from public criticism and outcry. The Modi government would use the non-inclusion of any city in the list from Jharkhand to justify its action in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

 

There is yet another aspect of the denial to these states. The country will have the Lok Sabha elections in 2019. Using the smart cities fund the incumbent governments in these may succeed in consolidating their position and upstage the BJP and Modi sarkar. With the Bihar assembly election showing thumbs down to the BJP, the leadership is not in the mood to take any further risk. The think tank is of the view that the cities in these eastern states would be included in the second list and that would be released just ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. This would make the task easier for the leadership to stake the claim and reach out to the people with the agenda of development and growth.  Incidentally each smart city will be given Rs 100 crore every year for five years. This is quite a huge amount. The next two years will see the inclusion of 40 and 38 cities, respectively.

 

A ‘smart city’ is an urban region that is highly advanced in terms of overall infrastructure, sustainable real estate, communications and market viability. Of the 98 cities and towns that five years down will graduate into smart cities, 24 are capital cities, 24 are business and industrial centres, 18 are culture and tourism influenced areas, five are port cities and three are education and healthcare hubs.

 

Interestingly, Patna did not find a place due to poor marks in the prescribed criteria laid down by the Centre. The selection was done through ‘City Challenge Competition’. Initially, Bihar government had sent a proposal to the Centre to develop Patna, Gaya, Bhagalpur, Muzaffarpur and Darbhanga as smart cities. (IPA Service)