When Urban Development Minister M Venkaiah Naidu unveils the last batch of Smart Cities on Friday, one city that will be conspicuous by its absence is the country’s financial capital.
Mumbai, whose Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is India’s richest urban local body with a budget of Rs 25,000 crore, has decided not to be part of the NDA government’s flagship mission.
The reason being that Shiv Sena-led BMC has reservations about the mission guidelines, which they perceive as weakening the hold of the municipal body on the mission. The Sena, the BJP’s junior alliance partner in the state and Centre, is opposed to handing over the implementation of the mission to a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) where the civic body will have very little stake. As per the Union government’s mission guidelines, the SPV would have equal equity shareholding of the municipal body, the state government and also those from the Centre as well as private firms.
Sources in the BMC administration said they felt that the Rs 100 crore offered annually by the Centre for five years is too little an amount for the corporation to give up its autonomy on development projects. Naidu, who was in Mumbai for a review of urban projects this month, was informed by BMC Commissioner Ajoy Mehta of Mumbai’ decision to withdraw from the mission.
An Urban Development Ministry spokesperson confirmed that this time they had not received any proposal from Mumbai. In the last round of competition, Mumbai had submitted a conditional proposal where it had chosen to put majority of its mission funding in the highrise-lined commercial business district of Lower Parel-Mahalaxmi.
While Mehta did not comment on the issue, BMC spokesperson Ram Dotonde said, “The BMC submitted its proposal to the state government during previous rounds of the Smart City competition. However, it had 14 conditions attached, which were mainly about how the BMC should have a major say in the Smart City proposals for Mumbai. The conditions were not acceptable to the government.”
“Mumbai is already a Smart City. If the Union government wants to make it better, they should know that we contribute Rs 2 lakh crore in revenue to them and they should give us more funding. Under no circumstance should the process involve weakening the powers of the corporation and the elected representatives,” said Sena spokesperson Sanjay Raut.
An editorial dated December 2015 in the party mouthpiece Saamana had criticised PM Narendra Modi’s Smart City mission, saying, “Under the pretext of Smart Cities, a corporate entity-like SPV is being established to manage Mumbai’s development. Maharashtra’s capital will be turned into a centrally governed colony.”
Naidu is set to release the names of the remaining 40 proposed Smart Cities on Friday. Since January 2016, names of 60 cities have been announced in three rounds of competition. Of these, New Town Kolkata withdrew after West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee decided she would create ‘Green Cities’ without the Centre’s mission funding. Mumbai will be the second city to withdraw from the mission on political grounds.