Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet smart cities mission is facing stiff resistance in Maharashtra, with representatives from across political parties, excluding the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), fearing that the scheme will result in Centre’s interference in the functioning of local bodies.
Of the 10 cities that the Union government had picked from Maharashtra to participate in the Centre’s smart cities scheme, the municipal corporations of at least two — Nashik and Navi Mumbai — have now formally rejected the proposal. Pune deferred it Wednesday, giving more time to dissenting corporators to mull over it.
The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leads the Pune and Navi Mumbai municipal corporations, while the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) is in charge of the Nashik corporation.
The main grouse of the dissenting corporators is the proposed formation of a special purpose vehicle (SPV), run by a full-time chief executive officer with representatives of the Union and state governments and the local bodies, for every city to implement its smart city plans.
“This is a strategy of the Union government to economically and politically control hundred cities in the country,” said NCP’s Netra Shirke, standing committee chairman at the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation.
Shirke said the corporation would have to finance the SPV, pay off loans for it, and still have little say in the implementation of smart city projects in Navi Mumbai.
“We will have to delegate all decision-making powers for the smart city to the SPV. This is unacceptable to us.
Transparency will also be compromised,” she said.
As per the Centre’s guidelines, the SPV is proposed to be a limited company with 50:50 equity shareholding of the urban local body and the state government, with the two stakeholders to determine the paid-up capital, commercial financing and other funding modalities.
“The entire concept of the SPV is against democracy. The local representatives who people democratically elect will have a negligible role in creating the smart city,” said a senior MNS corporator from Nashik who did not wish to be named.
Party chief Raj Thackeray too has slammed the scheme, calling it a “farce”. The Union government has finalized 98 cities to be developed under its smart cities mission.
It has set aside an initial funding of Rs 48,000 crore, promising Rs 500 crore over five years to 20 of the 98 cities that it will choose after a competitive process this month. Of the 98 cities, 10 were chosen from Maharashtra — Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Kalyan-Dombivli, Thane, Pune-Pimpri-Chinchwad, Nagpur, Amravati, Solapur and Nashik. Cities have to submit their plans to the Union government by December 15.
Pune Mayor Dattatraya Dhanakawade of the NCP said, “Our general body meeting deferred the proposal to January 4 because corporators said they wanted more time to study the SPV proposal in detail. Now, the administration will have to see how Pune can submit its proposal to the Centre by December 15 without a general body approval.” Another senior NCP corporator from Pune said representatives from the NCP and the MNS were verbally opposing the proposal, while members from the Shiv Sena, being a part of the ruling coalition, marked their protest by turning up in a small number.
However, in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), Shiv Sena corporators have been vocal about their objections. Kishori Pednekar, Shiv Sena corporator from Central Mumbai, said, “We have excellent engineering talent within the BMC.
They are familiar with Mumbai’s situation and work conditions. Why do we need another body? Besides, if projects get stalled, how is the BMC going to recover its funds?”
So far, the general bodies of smaller municipal corporations such as Amravati, Solapur and Thane have given their
assent to the respective smart city proposals.
The main grouse of some of these local bodies is not the SPV but the quantum of funding from the Union government, which they think is “too little”. A Congress corporator from Solapur, where the party has the maximum seats in the local body, said, “Some of us did feel that the corporation is spending a bit too much, but no one wants to be seen as an impediment to making our city a smart city, so we passed the proposal.”