File: Inundated Muzaffarpur City. Picture Credit: Saurav Kumar
Announcement of the project ‘smart cities’ was a crucial one by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) among its pre-poll promises in 2014. According to this promise, Bihar was supposed to have smart cities namely Patna, Biharsharif, Bhagalpur and Muzaffarpur. Muzaffarpur, known as the economic capital of North Bihar, has a very few elements that would comprise a ‘smart city’. Conditions of water supply, sanitation, drainage, roads and transport continue to remain abysmal.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had released a list 100 smart cities following a ‘City Challenge Competition’. The idea has possibly originated from the ‘Smarter Planet’ initiative by IBM in 2008 and from ‘Smart Cities in China’—with an aim to promote urbanisation with upgraded technology. Bihar’s Muzaffarpur had qualified to be part of the list, but has been surrounded by controversies and blame game between the Urban Development Ministry and Muzaffarpur Municipal Corporation officials.
A ‘smart city’ is an urban region that is highly advanced in terms of overall infrastructure, sustainable real estate, communications and market viability. It is a city where information technology is the principal infrastructure and the basis for providing essential services to residents.
But Muzaffarpur lacks even basic essential facilities. Across the city, heaps of waste is a common sight. The government bus stand has no drinking water or toilet facility. Waterlogging is a recurrent monsoon phenomenon.
The bus stand is devoid of any drinking water facility. As plastic garbage lies all around the place, commuters have to also endure a strong stench emanating from public urination. According to the sources in the Urban Development Ministry, the construction of a proper bus stand was to start in the month of December, but nothing has changed on the ground.
In six wards of the city, there are no sweepers—who were to be recruited by the Municipal Corporation. Even 100 metre away from the Municipal Corporation office, waste water with garbage can be seen flowing on the road that connects to the city railway station.
The fifth edition of the annual urban cleanliness survey, Swachh Survekshan, scheduled to commence from January 4 was launched by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs on December 31, 2019 and will culminate on January 31, 2020.
Under Swachh Survekshan 2020, cities will be ranked out of total 6,000 marks as opposed to 5,000 marks in Swachh Survekshan 2019. The data will be collected from five different sources—citizen feedback, direct observation, service level progress, certification for garbage and open defecation free (ODF), ODF plus and ODF plus plus cities, and the average score of Swachh Survekshan (SS) league 2020. In first and second quarter assessment i.e. Q1 and Q2, Muzaffarpur was ranked 179 among 353 cities.
Forty-one roads were to be been widened under the municipal corporation. The department had made a detailed survey to go ahead with the construction. All the roads falling under the corporation and the department will be linked to the national highways.
On the condition of anonymity, talking to NewsClick, an official from Muzaffarpur Municipal Corporation said that it was given the responsibility to connect 31 roads across all 49 municipal wards by constructing and widening them. The district administration was asked to make all the roads encroachment-free. The state government has struck a deal with Essel Vidyut Vitaran Private Limited to remove all electric poles, transformers and undertake underground cabling of electric power supply. The municipal corporation has made a similar agreement to light up the town with help of more than tens of thousands of LED lights. Essel has been a power distributor in Muzaffarpur city since 2013; its which includes network operation, maintenance and upgrading network capacity.
As per the claims of Urban Development Ministry, to counter the menace of waterlogging citywide, the state government also decided to set up three big sump houses in Bela, Khabra and Manika areas by acquiring land.
As per past reports, beautification of Amrapali auditorium, Jubba Sahni Park and construction of five bus stopovers were also part of the plan. However, Muzaffarpur Municipal Corporation officials are at loggerheads with the Urban Development Ministry. This was very much evident from urban development minister’s open outburst against the city administration a couple of months back. He had openly said that the progress of the ‘smart city’ was taking place at snail’s pace, owing to laxity. Execution of the plans under Smart City project could have been faster. To verify the details, NewsClick tried contacting state’s urban development minister, but there was no response.
As per the data available, the state government had envisaged investment of more than Rs 2,500 crore for redevelopment of Patna and more than Rs 1,500 crore for Muzaffarpur. While the cities will get Rs 1,000 crore grant from the government for development as smart cities, the rest of the expenditure will be managed from internal resources of the respective municipal corporations or private investors in public private partnership (PPP) model.
According to the documents released on the ‘Smart Cities’ website, the core infrastructure in a smart city would include: adequate water supply, assured electricity supply, sanitation, including solid waste management, efficient urban mobility and public transport, affordable housing, especially for the poor, robust IT connectivity and digitisation. But looking at development of North Bihar’s economic capital, the idea of ‘Smart City’ seems to be a farce.
Eyeing the Swachh Survekshan 2020 survey, Muzaffarpur corporation officials are seen to be active to show city’s growth and impress the government, but absence of basic facilities is no longer a hidden story. Ironically, the Smart City project in the home constituency of Bihar’s Urban Development Minister and BJP leader seems to be failing fail, as garbage remains scattered and waterlogging, water spillage continue to be realities of Bihar’s governance.