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Saturday, October 24, 2020

Over 2 years on, Panchkula awaits its smart bus queue shelters

The project, pegged to increase the city's connectivity with air-conditioned smart buses, was set to begin with the construction of two bus stops, in sectors 9 and 15, on pilot basis.

Written by Pallavi Singhal | Panchkula | Updated: September 27, 2020 12:49:19 am
smart bus, queue shelters, Panchkula news, Haryana news, Indian express newsAn incomplete bus shelter in Panchkula. (Photo: Jaipal Singh)

Despite the passage of more than two-and-a-half-year, Panchkula’s bus queue shelters, which were mowed down in early 2018 with promises to be renovated and transformed into world-class facilities within six months— complete with ATM machines, a security guard, mobile charging points, public information system and CCTV cameras— are yet to begin construction.

The project, pegged to increase the city’s connectivity with air-conditioned smart buses, was set to begin with the construction of two bus stops, in sectors 9 and 15, on pilot basis. However, the construction work of even the pilot units has not seen the light of day.

While the authorities had been quick to undertake demolition of all the bus queue shelters, they have failed to get the re-building project implemented— even as the delay has left the town’s mobility more impaired than ever.

The construction of bus shelters, supposed to be built with open sides to ensure safety of women, were to begin in April 2018 with the intent to inaugurate all of the 53 within six months.

The new design of the shelters had been prepared by a team led by Navdeep Asija, a road safety expert appointed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court. At the behest of the local police, which had stated that women were prone to ‘eve-teasing’ at these shelters, Asija’s team had formulated a concept aimed at ensuring visibility of passengers, especially women, waiting at the bus stop. CCTV cameras were to be positioned at the shelters in a manner that they capture both sides of a street, while provisions for a vendor to sell eatables or have a coffee vending machine were also to be inculcated in the project.

Each such structure, equipped with drinking water service at the rear side, would cost Rs 2.5 lakh. The space for advertisements were also kept in mind so it could generate revenue for the corporation to provide for the maintenance of the shelters.

In further announcements, it was said that the shelters would be equipped with panic buttons for women. These would be connected to the police control rooms, where an alert about the location of the woman would be sounded on being pressed.

No action, only threats

Despite the authorities threatening the contractors twice with cancellation of tenders, the work on bus queue shelters has been going on at the same pace.

MLA and Haryana Vidhaan Sabha Speaker, Gian Chand Gupta, had in December last year stated that the projects that have been delayed, including the bus shelters work, “have been asked to either get the work started with immediate effect or the MC has been directed to cancel their contracts and start putting out new tenders for the work.” They were also asked to put in writing a justifiable reason as to why the work had not been completed in time.

The same threat was made again by the MLA in July this year, when the district administration in a detailed press release stated that “MLA Gian Chand Gupta in a meeting with MC officials has asked for the cancellation of licenses of contractors whose work remains undone over the given time limits. Many shortcomings have been found in the progress reports of several development works. Gupta said it is the hard-earned money of the public which is spent in the development works, so those who delay these works without reason cannot be spared.”

Despite the two warnings and more than nine months on, the project’s contractors who had been served notices, have still not completed their work. The incomplete work of the bus stops has been a prime issue for the locals. The bus stops were demolished at a whopping cost of Rs 9.37 lakh to rebuild them under the draw of a ‘smart city project’, but they have remained ‘under construction’. The demolition cost had created an uproar within the MC body itself, where the then Mayor Upinder Kaur Ahluwalia and Congress councillors had raised questions over the huge expenditure incurred on the demolition and had questioned the MC for not using its own staff to demolish the structures and rather preferring to pay Rs 9.37 lakh to a private firm for the same.

Project as of now

On being asked about the progress of the bus queue shelters construction, an official of the Municipal Corporation said, “Of the 53 which were supposed to be built, six have been dropped and the rest are under construction. Almost 25 have also been completed. We should be able to get the rest done in the next two months.”

Further responding to The Indian Express, he stated that only “skeleton structures” of these 52 bus queue shelters had been tendered under the project at a cost of approximately Rs 2 crore. While provision for ATMs at these shelters have been given, the department is yet to get in touch with bankers for the same. The official further informed that no provisions for drinking water have been made. Even the addition of panic buttons among the other “smart” aspects of the bus queue shelter will have to be taken separately.

As for the delay, the official stated that a ban by the National Green Tribunal on the bus stops constructions for two months and the occurrence of the pandemic have been the main reasons for the delay.

Citizens speak

RP Malhotra, contender for Mayorial post in the upcoming MC elections: Old bus queue shelters were demolished to be replaced by new bus queue shelter equipped with ultramodern facilities. But looking at the pace and quality of the construction, people feel the old ones were far better. We could have better renovated the old ones. A lot of money could have been saved.

Ravindar Raval, former Mayor of Panchkula: The bus queue shelters were in good condition and suitable before Municipal Corporation Panchkula suo motu and without applying their mind took a decision to demolish the same and construct new ones in their place, reason best known to them. In my opinion this decision was taken by the then officials of the corporation under pressure of some lobby to give them monetary benefit. We opposed this decision of demolition/re-construction of bus queue shelters at its very outset, but nobody listened to us and went forward with their projects. I, hereby, demand that a vigilance inquiry be conducted in this regard and the guilty officials be brought to book.

Rakesh Aggarwal, member of a local NGO: Since the last two-and-a-half-year people of Panchkula have been waiting for the bus queue shelters’ construction. People, students, women and old age people were forced to wait for buses in open during summer and rainy seasons and in chilling winters. Much was publicised by the MC officials that they will provide state of the art bus queue shelters, but its seems like a joke has been played with the people of Panchkula. They first demolished all the 26 shelters, of which maximum were in good condition and others could be repaired, and then decided to waste more than Rs 2 crore for a similar reconstruction. No political leader of the city raised much voice or came forward to stop this wastage of public money. Now, the poor quality construction must be investigated by the vigilance. People have no faith left for internal investigation.

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