During Bihar Assembly session, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was often heard heralding the state’s turnaround story while slamming the Opposition. But under the nose of the ‘double engine’ government i.e. same party rule both at the Centre and state, ‘Smart Cities’ have become a subject of ignorance and corruption. Four cities, namely Patna, Bhagalpur, Muzaffarpur and Biharsharif were nominated by the Bihar government in phases for the smart city mission and post selection, they share many similarities, and not in a positive way.
Smart cities are engrossed with sights of waste heap, open defecation-drains, water-logging, frequent traffic jams over flyover, ill-maintained public transport, and debilitated public spaces. Except Patna, all three cities have been awaiting airport facilities since decades despite being important economic centres. The dream sold in name of smart cities is merely a hope wantonly betrayed.
Acknowledging pace, the quality and quantity of work completed in smart cities across the state is abysmally low and mismanaged. The state capital Patna with more than two million population gasps tremendously in terms of waste management. Imagining waste dump and collection site at the centre of the prime smart city of Bihar will not be shocking.
Buddha Marg waste dump and collection, Patna
Solid waste management is one of the most callously handled issue for the city. One of the largest dumping site of dry waste beside the Hindustan Times office is also a workplace to hundreds of rag pickers, irrespective of age and gender, who segregate solid waste.
The state’s erstwhile urban development minister Suresh Kumar Sharma announced the release of funds for four smart cities while development work in respective cities did not see much pace. The state received Rs 980 crores for Smart city mission -- Rs 380 crores for Patna, Rs 382 crores for Bhagalpur, Rs 312 crores for Muzaffarpur and Rs 110 crore for Biharsharif. Although with no dearth of funds, cities can be found neck deep in deprivation with no big leap in providing service to urban inhabitants. Starting from solid waste management to sewage treatment to traffic control and beautification of parks to maintenance of public spaces -- all remain untouched and unchanged.
Unfinished Adalatganj Pond, Patna
Patna’s Adalatganj pond at the heart of the city is waiting to get full-fledged functionality. Workers employed in its beautification claim post-to-pole shift in narratives of government officials when it comes to making it operational. The Rs 9.86 crore project is said to have rejuvenated pond set up, musical fountain, fun zone, food court, decorative railings, green-cover, and aeration fountain in middle of the pond, but hardly anything could be found on ground. The initial deadline of its completion was March 2020, which subsequently shifted to December 25, 2020 due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
Patna Municipal Corporation (PMC) standing committee member requesting anonymity said credibility of PMC and Urban Development Department (UDD) has plunged sharply and all attempts to whitewash corruption in name building smart city is visible.
In the name of public space construction and beautification under the smart city mission, the (Middle Income Group) MIG Park in Lohiya Nagar in Patna’s Kankarbagh lies truncated despite having the expenditure of Rs 31.55 lakh. The construction of the park has remained incomplete after long surpassing its completion deadline of July 2017. In midst of the smart city mission flailing, passing the buck of incompetency from District Urban Development Agency (DUDA) to Bihar Urban Development Agency (BUDA) became a new normal. A senior functionary of the media who resides in MIG colony, speaking on condition of anonymity, termed it as a brazen “loot in daylight” under the watch of the acclaimed officials of district administration and infrastructure agencies.
The Incomplete MIG Park Kankarbagh, Patna
The assigned structure of the park was not followed and a curve was constructed by the contractor possibly to show extra work. After written complaints to the office of the District Magistrate and Commissioner, the enquiry could not trace the wrongdoer while the public space with huge expenditure stood defunct with incomplete facilities. Till 2019, the park was an open field and only on yellow signboard it was called a park. Subsequently, the signboard with intricate details vanished into thin air. Prof Hari Kishore, a veteran citizen of the locality, had complained to the Urban Development Secretary, the District Magistrate and the Mayor detailing illegitimate encroachment and manhandling of public space but it has resulted in no action till date.
Littered Waste and Bhairwa Pond, Bhagalpur
Bihar’s Silk City ‘Bhagalpur’ was destined to become a smart city too, but ill fate struck it. ‘Bhagalpur Smart City’ -- the phrase surfaces often in public only when locals take a jibe at the government, its bureaucrats and agencies.
Roads of the city are no more than narrow lanes where half of their breadth is a dumping ground for waste. Despite being an important corridor of silk in the state, Bhagalpur lacks government focus in having advanced parameters of development. Last month, the state’s former industries minister Shyam Rajak expressed concern over the city being devoid of an airport despite being the silk corridor.
Bhagalpur Smart City Limited (BSCL) has held meetings many times to overhaul the city water body i.e. Bhairwa Pond near Tilka Manjhi Bhagalpur University (TMBU). The pond was scheduled to have boat ride, joggers’ pavement, high mast tower installed, light and fountain but none of the facilities exist. The dirty brick walled fence lies broken and breached with pond water exposed to nearby dumped solid waste. The smart city development, according to local councilors, got hindered due to a tussle between the Mayor of Bhagalpur Municipal Corporation and the Municipal Commissioner.
Despite being the largest water body within the city, it remains untouched for beautification, claimed Abhay Kumar in a conversation with NewsClick. Abhay is a technician at Weaver Service Centre (WSC). Likewise, the corruption during renovating the Sandis compound got exposed last year where new bricks laid down for pavement renovation broke in a week’s time. The Sandis compound contains a Doordarshan TV Centre, volleyball court and a small open stadium.
Muzaffarpur Smart City’s tryst with completion also remains unresolved despite being home to the former urban development minister of the state, Suresh Sharma, who also was an elected MLA of the city. Sharma, a veteran Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) leader, did not do much for his home town’s development. While holding UDD portfolio, the city’s all-round development could have been the best; instead, it is disputed and neck deep in troublesome challenges. Solid wastes littering along roads, chaotic traffic without signals, half renovated bus stands and encroachment of water bodies, perennial menace of waterlogging are among existing issues there.
Located on the Southern bank of the Burhi Gandak rive, the topography of the city is uneven. The ground level being lower to water levels of the river leads to waterlogging and inundation of the city during peak monsoon. The drainage system constructed in 1895 is unable to mitigate flood proneness; it is debilitated by encroachment and faces blockage on account of dumping of waste.
The biggest threats in recent years are encroachment of the city’s largest water body i.e. Sikandarpur Mann and poor condition of the Brahmpura lake. The Sikandarpur lake is facing its worst challenge as several residential colonies have come up in the last couple of years. The urban waste mismanagement and improperly maintained drains have made Muzaffarpur home to mosquitoes; as a result, the irritated residents have termed the city as ‘Machharpur’.
Open burning of wastes at margins of Sikandarpur Lake
Open burning of waste beside adjoining road to the Sikandarpur lake is a daily affair. Vehicles of the DM and SP often pass by the area while visualizing and witnessing the air pollution. Muzaffarpur in recent past has also made it to headlines for a downgraded air quality.
Muzaffarpur MLA Bijendra Choudhary (of the Indian National Congress), who defeated Suresh Sharma (of the Bhartiya Janta Party), claimed there was no major breakthrough development during Sharma’s tenure as urban development minister. Speaking to NewsClick, the MLA said the Municipal Corporation officials and UDD used to be at loggerheads, resulting in no coordinated effort to develop infrastructure. He said the government proposed to spend Rs 1580 crore in various projects such as developing bus stands, refurbishment of government buildings, roads, and drainage but all have turned out to be a hoax. Claims of the legislator matched the previous report of NewsClick on the city lacking basic essential facilities.
Biharsharif in CM Nitish’s home district also got entangled in corrupt deals when thesmart city issue came up. Hiranya Parbat, a tourist spot in Biharsharif, became a centre of siphoning the taxpayers’ hard earned money through various means. As per the local bodies audit report of 2016, the work valued at Rs 1.27 crore was not detailed in the Standard Bidding Document (SBD) that was meant to envisage all financial values of the work done under the contract. The Municipal Corporation of Biharsharif accepted to have made an excess payment of Rs 4.08 lakhs in the making of slabs.
Keeping apart irregularities, Biharsharif was tasked to have 595 CCTV cameras across the town, which seems to be a far dream. The pollution and weather sensors as part of the smart city mission still await implementation. As per social observers, the Nalanda district that has always been in special focus of the chief minister has also not benefited much in terms of advancements.
The terminology ‘Smart city’ in Bihar has become the source of urbanites expressing deep disenchantment as proposed facilities did not see the light of the day.