Urban deadline renewal mission
JnNURM had an ambitious objective to create economically productive, efficient, equitable and responsive cities. But its experience with Bangalore’s civic agencies has been one of delayed projects, diverted funds, cost overruns and substandard work.
It was always beyond doubt. Bangalore’s poor drainage infrastructure simply stood no chance against unprecedented rains of the kind witnessed this season. The severely water-logged roads took aeons to drain out, the Storm Water Drains (SWD) overflowed and the manholes stood dangerously exposed. But this worst case scenario could have been avoided had the civic agencies taken up the SWD remodelling project under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM) with all promptness!
Acutely clogged, widely encroached, the SWDs are anything but free-flowing. Cosmetic desilting had failed repeatedly to address the city’s perennial road-flooding problems. The drains cried for a remodelling based on scientific designs that ensured zero sewage flow into the SWDs. JnNURM promised precisely that way back in 2005. But after four years, the BBMP could implement only 40 per cent of the work and could not progress beyond that. The project was designed to remodel primary and secondary SWDs in the four valleys of Challaghatta, Hebbal, Koramangala valley and Vrishabhavathi.
The road projects being executed with JnNURM funding are no better. A classic example is the Underpass being built at the CNR Rao Circle near IISc. The deadly mix of slow work pace, faulty design, poor planning and coordination has put the project in a twister, and the traffic in a bizarre mess. An audit report released in June 2013 by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) was brutally critical in its analysis of the project. It couldn’t be otherwise, as the Detailed Project Report (DPR) was ready as early as 2007 and the original deadline had lapsed in 2012.
The Palike also pushed through infrastructure projects that were completely avoidable, under the JnNURM scheme. For instance, the Tagore Circle Underpass in Basavanagudi was deemed unnecessary at the location since the traffic was manageable. Despite widespread opposition and public protests, the project was executed. The initial project cost of Rs. 17.55 crore escalated to Rs. 19.36 crore.
But despite the slow pace of ongoing works and consquently, huge cost over-runs, the State Government has now proposed 61 new projects under JnNURM, 46 for Bangalore and 15 for Mysore city. The projects cover the entire spectrum from grade separators to public transport to yes, storm water drains! Estimated to cost Rs. 5,265.22 crore, the projects have already gone through the Karnataka Urban Infrastructure Development Finance Corporation (KUIDFC), the JnNURM monitoring agency, and now await the Centre’s nod.
While BBMP has submitted fresh proposals to remodel the SWDs, the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) has sought funds for installation of bulk flow meters to monitor water supply in and around the City. Also on the BWSSB agenda is a plan to repair the TK Halli reservoir, currently lying in a dilapidated state.
The Palike contends that the expansion of its jurisdictional areas had sparked huge infrastructural challenges. Its new proposals under JnNURM reflect these concerns. For sewarage diversion and flood mitigation to improve the environmental conditions surrounding the water bodies in Mahadevpura Zone, Dasarhalli Zone 1 and 2, and Yelahanka Zone-1, the Palike has sought Rs. 1,328.28 crore, of which the GoI share under JnNURM would be Rs. 464.90 crore. BBMP has also proposed several road infrastructure projects at a total estimated cost of Rs. 606.24 crore.
Stalled SWD remodelling
Yet, even with a fresh infusion of JnNURM funds, the BBMP would find it tough to restart its long-pending SWD remodelling project. A top Palike official admits the project has not moved since 2009. Whatever work was done between 2005 and 2009, has apparently gone down the drain. The huge increase in population, settlements and encroachments since 2009 has made a mockery of the already inadequate SWD infrastructure.
Unchecked inflow of sewage into the SWDs meant only for rain water has virtually become an insurmountable challenge.
The Palike has found it extremely tough to get contractors to do the remodelling job. “Bangalore city, after the addition of the new BBMP areas has 856 kms of SWD. Nobody wants to take up such a challenging task. No contractor is responding to our tenders. There are encroachments, abutting buildings, lack of space to take construction material... The problems are only growing,” explains the Palike official.
But reasons for non-implementation go far beyond the unavailability of contractors. The CAG report on Urban Local Bodies in Karnataka, had found several anomalies in the implementation of JnNURM. In one glaring instance, it was found that the funds released to pay SWD contractors were diverted to refurbish the office of a Palike chief engineer in Jayanagar!
The CAG had cited serious lapses in the non-implementation of mandatory and optional reforms both at the State and BBMP levels. While financial discipline was poor--diversion of funds for other works had proved that-- the report also found that statutory records and revolving funds were not maintained. In the SWD remodelling project, the CAG found that the contractors had derived undue benefits. This was achieved by executing items for which abnormally high rates were negotiated. The report noted that the rates were brought down after negotiations for items that were hardly implemented or not executed at all.
Of the 53 projects being executed in Bangalore under JnNURM, 17 are directly under BBMP. The CAG’s analysis of the progress of 10 projects under the Palike, implied a notional loss of Rs 149.59 crore. Shortcomings were also found in execution of housing projects for urban poor.
The Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) is another big beneficiary of the JnNURM funds. Under the scheme, Traffic and Transit Management Centres (TTMCs) were developed in Kengeri, Bannerghatta Road, Shantinagar, Koramangala, Banashankari, Yeshwanthpur, Domlur and Vijayanagar. However, the TTMCs have largely remained under-utilised. The eight-floor Koramangala TTMC, for instance, had no takers for a long time.
The commercial spaces, which were expected to generate revenue, were not rented out. Lack of an exclusive entrance was cited as one reason. To access more funds under JnNURM, BMTC has now submitted proposals for purchase of 2,150 buses for Bangalore, and construction of other transport infrastructure. BMTC was allocated about Rs. 500 crore to purchase 1,000 buses and to improve infrastructure facilities last year.
The Union Government had launched JnNURM on December 3, 2005, to encourage cities to initiate steps to bring about improvement in the existing services levels in a financially sustainable manner. The Mission comprised two sub-missions, the Urban Infrastructure & Governance (UIG) and the Basic Services to the Urban Poor (BSUP). The Mission’s primary objective was to create economically productive, efficient, equitable and responsive cities. Sixty-five cities were identified for the projects under JnNURM. Bangalore and Mysore were included from Karnataka.
The State Government had appointed Karnataka Urban Infrastructure Development & Finance Corporation (KUIDFC) as the State Level Nodal Agency (SLNA) for JnNURM to assist Urban Local Bodies (ULBs). SLNA had to place proposals to a State Level Steering Committee (SLSC) chaired by the Chief Minister for approval, manage grants, release funds to ULBs, maintain revolving fund and monitor the physical and financial progress.
Essentially, the SLNA was tasked with implementation of reforms as committed in the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) between the State and Centre.
For UIG projects, the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) -- in Bangalore’s case the BBMP, had to bear 50 per cent of the project cost, while the Centre’s share was 35 per cent. The State government had to contribute the remaining 15 per cent. The cost for BSUP projects had to be shared equally between the ULBs and the Centre.