Prasad Shetty, April 2014
Discussions on large development projects and programmes have mostly been evaluatory in orientation concerned with either finding faults and recommending corrections or celebrating achievements and recommending up-scaling. However, these large projects/programmes make new ecologies, generate new discourses, produce new practices, and create large spin-offs. Compiled as notes, this work is written in nine sections that discuss different aspects of JNNURM (Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission), a large programme by the Government of India as it was implemented in the state of Maharashtra. As the notes are stitched together from different fragments of documentations and experiences, they constitute semi-fictional montages. All characters, names and organizations appearing in this work are fictitious and resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental. The montages may not produce easy meta-narratives to comprehend the programme. There is ample material by several people and institutions that help such comprehension. The purpose of this work is to narrate the urban experience through compilation of the ecologies, discourses, practices and spin-offs that JNNURM produced.
This work was completed with significant support from the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, Bangalore.
When Rajan Patil was asked to re-write the City Development Plan for Nanded in 2006, he did not realize that the next five years of his life were going to be spent in Nanded witnessing one of the largest and fastest changes that took place in any city of contemporary India. Rajan was an engineer from the Infrastructure Financing Services (IFS), an infrastructure finance and consultancy firm that was employed by the Nanded-Waghala Municipal Corporation to implement the projects that were being financed under the JNNURM.
In the seven years between 2005 and 2012, Nanded was at the centre of a series of coincidental events – In December 2005, it was chosen as one of the special cities for financing infrastructure under the ambitious Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban renewal Mission (JNNURM); in October 2008 it celebrated ‘Guru ta Gaddi’, the 300th anniversary of the Granth Saheb being declared as Guru by Guru Gobind Singhji; in December 2008, Ajit Patil, the political patron of the city became the Chief Minister of the Maharastra state; and for the entire period, the prime-minister and the deputy chairperson of the planning commission were both Sikhs. Each of these events, though not entirely unconnected from each other, compounded to form a powerful coincidence that changed the face of the city forever.
Nanded has been considered an important religious place for Sikhism since early 1800s, when Guru Gobind Singhji, the last living Guru of the Sikhs had pronounced the Granth Saheb, the Holy Book, as the perpetual Guru of Sikhs. Otherwise, it has been more of an ordinary district capital with regional administration, markets, institutions and other paraphernalia. With many highways passing through it, Nanded has also been an important highway town providing support and supplies for truckers.
JNNURM has been a flagship program of Government of India to improve urban infrastructure and governance in the cities of the country. In its first phase between 2005 and 2012 there have been broadly four components under it – first one concerned with improving Urban infrastructure and Governance (UIG) for large cities; second one related to Urban Infrastructure Development in Small and Medium Towns (UIDSMT); third one concerned with improving the Basic Services for Urban Poor (BSUP); and the fourth one called the Integrated Housing and Slum Development Program (IHSDP). While the infrastructure and governance related components were handled by the Ministry of Urban Development; the housing and urban poor related components were handled by Ministry of Housing and Poverty Alleviation.
Under the Urban Infrastructure and Governance component, 35 cities with more than one million people were chosen. Along with these 30 more cities were chosen as ‘special cities’ with lesser population. These were either state capitals with lesser population, cities with religious importance or cities with tourism importance. One such special city was chosen from each state. With a population of about 450 thousand (4.5 lakh) people, Nanded was chosen as a ‘special city’ from Maharashtra. The other cities from Maharashtra were urban agglomerates of Mumbai, Nagpur, Pune and Nashik.
Conceptually, the JNNURM process was fairly simple – each city had to develop a City Development Plan (CDP) which identified the set of infrastructure projects along with investment requirements. These projects were then prioritized and an investment strategy was to be developed. All of this had to be made with participation of the citizens. Such CDPs were to be sanctioned by the State Governments and approved by the National Government. The CDP was a fundamentally different approach and form to the conventional statutory plan (master-plan or development plan). While the statutory plan was largely a regulatory instrument which directed zoning and usage of lands along with controlling developments on them; the CDP was a strategic bundle of projects to be implemented as per the requirements, capacities and opportunities of the city. Though ‘public participation’ was stressed in preparation of CDPs, most cities got through this requirement by holding short ‘consultation workshops’ with some professional bodies and NGOs.
After approval of the CDPs, the cities had to enter into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the National Government and the State Government. In the MOA, the National Government promised to provide part financial assistance; the State Government promised another part of the funds and to undertake some state level reforms for improving governance; and the City Governments promised to put in the remaining funds, implement the projects within a certain time period and undertake large number of reforms related to administration, governance, finance, etc. The National Government had specified a format for MOA, where cities had to fill their ‘time-commitments’ towards implementing reforms. These commitments were to be filled in consultation with different stakeholders of the city. Commissioners of most Municipalities made sure that different City Government departments made commitments to achieve the required reforms.
Detailed Project Reports (DPR) were then prepared by cities for the prioritized projects and sent to the State Government for approval. The State Government would then provide its sanction along with promise to provide part grants and send such DPRs to the National Government for its approval. The National Government would then approve such DPRs for financial assistance and the funds would be released. So broadly, there were three actors – the City Government, the State Government and the National Government.
The financial assistance to different cities were different: for large cities with more than 4 million people, the National Government provided 35% of the required funds, the State Government gave 15% and the city had to mobilize the remaining 50%; in case of cities more than 1 million people but less than 4 million people, the National Government gave 50% of the funds, the State Government gave 20% and the cities were expected to mobilize remaining 30%; in case of the special cities however, the National Government provided 80% of the required funds, the State Government provided 10% and the city had to mobilize only 10%. Hence Nanded had to mobilize only 10% of the total fund requirement.
Rajan had to begin work with getting the City Development Plan (CDP) approved for JNNURM. The National Government had already sanctioned large amounts of money for Nanded. This was towards upgrading infrastructure for the ‘Guru ta Gaddi’ event. Several tourism and related infrastructure were to be developed very quickly in the city. Frontier Development Services, a consultant, was already employed by the Government of Maharashtra for developing the Guru ta Gaddi projects. The Nanded Municipal Corporation had asked Frontier to put together a City Development Plan quickly for the Government of India so that the next steps of JNNURM could be undertaken.
The City of Nanded had a yearly revenue of about 30 crore rupees in 2005 and that was barely enough to cover the existing expenditures. JNNURM required cities to put in their own contribution and Nanded had no money though it was only 10% of the required cost. At that point, Rajan’s firm, IFS offered to put in the balance requirements of funds on interest basis. The conditions included involvement of IFS in planning and monitoring the projects that will be funded under the JNNURM. The City Government was quite pleased – they not only got project financers, but also a consultant and a project management agency. For a city that was about to spend about ten times its current spending every year, this was an important step. The municipality on its own had no capacity to spend that kind of money at that speed.
Rajan jumped into this situation of high speed and large money. He was quick to beef up the CDP prepared by Frontier. He then had the task of getting this CDP approved. The process started with getting an approval from the State Level Nodal Agency. As Nanded was one of the first cities to apply for an approval, the planners of the Nodal Agency were also in a learning phase. They raised several planner-type questions, which Rajan was able to field quite well. After the approval from the Nodal Agency, the State Level Steering Committee had to provide its approval. This committee was a committee of politicians with representatives from the parliament as well as the state assembly. The Chief Minister chaired the committee. The Department of Urban Development coordinated with the various politicians and finally after a great difficulty managed to obtain a date suitable to all members of the committee. After the approval from the State Level Steering Committee, the CDP was sent to the National Government. There it had to be sanctioned by the Central Sanctioning Monitoring Committee, which was a group of bureaucrats and technocrats. But before such a sanction, the CDP had to be approved by one of the expert agencies that Government of India had appointed to vet such CDPs. These were institutions that ran planning courses. Rajan navigated through all these to finally get his CDP approved by the National Government after four months of coming to Nanded. He had already discovered that though conceptually, there were only three actors – the City, State and the National Governments; actually, each of these split themselves into many constituents of politicians, bureaucrats, technocrats, evaluators, academics, experts, consultants, contractors, monitors and middle-persons.
The next step was to get a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) signed between the National, State and City Governments, where the promises of providing funds and undertaking reforms were to be made. In JNNURM, every task had a tool-kit (a document explaining the process of implementing the task) with model document (empty formats that could be simply filled to make reports). There were tool-kits to make CDPs and DPRs, to report progress, to get funds, to get new projects, to appoint monitors, to monitor, to do almost everything. And all of this was available online. The entire machinery was structured to make the implementation simple at a very large scale. So there was also a tool-kit to make the MOA along with a model document, which made things really simple. All one had to do is to fill a long form and get it signed by the Municipal Commissioner of the city and the Secretary for Urban Development in the State.
Rajan started filling the long form by getting material from various departments of the Municipality and sat with the senior officials to put together a time-line for implementation of reforms. There were many reforms – setting up of E-Governance, moving the accounts from a single entry system to a double entry accrual based system; rationalization and enhancement of property taxes and user-charges, providing basic services for the urban poor, modifying the development control regulations to streamline approval processes, include measures for water harvesting and measures for recycling of waste water, earmarking funds and land for poor and administrative and structural reforms to improve municipal functioning and local governance. The MOA was finally made and signed by the Commissioner and submitted to the Government of India through Government of Maharashtra.
Simultaneously, Rajan had started mobilizing his staff towards preparing Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) for improving roads, water supply and sewerage in Nanded. By end of 2006, he had more than twenty five persons from IFS stationed in Nanded to develop the DPRs. The Municipality had provided IFS office space with its own premises. The toolkit for DPR preparation made things quite simple – everything depended upon the population projection. Once the future population was determined, some standard was applied and the shortage in infrastructure was calculated. Then depending upon the local conditions, the infrastructure was planned and detailed. Typically for water-supply projects and sewerage projects there would be the treatment plants (for water or sewerage) and pipeline networks (for distribution or collection). In case of roads, the earlier designs generally included carriageways and sidewalks. Later, there was insistence on cycle track, hawking zones and dedicated way for Bus Rapid Transport (BRT). Solid-waste and storm-water drainage projects also followed similar projection-standards-design formulae. In Nanded however, the solid waste project report was not made and the project report for storm-water drainage was made much later. Nanded also had another important project – Riverfront Improvement. This was developed particularly for the Guru ta Gaddi event.
The processes of getting the DPRs through State and National Government agencies followed and by February 2007, Nanded had ten projects worth 687 crore rupees sanctioned under JNNURM for development of roads, riverfront, water supply systems and sewerage disposal systems. In June 2009, it received 7.8 crore rupees to get 30 buses and by early 2013, it got another 194 crore rupees sanctioned for storm water drainage along with sewerage and water-supply for new extended areas. Totally about 900 crore rupees were sanctioned for Nanded only under the Urban Infrastructure and Governance component. There were similar amounts for the Guru ta Gaddi projects as well as for housing under Basic Services for Urban Poor component. All this money had to be spent very quickly – it was a mission after all.
While big funds and a fast pace was the strength of the mission, it was also its weakness. Cities like Nanded, which were suddenly pushed to spend ten times their capacity, had to depend completely on consultants for project development and management. Prices of material and labor increased. The quality of works also suffered. Moreover, the question of how the newly built assets would be managed by such small municipalities with very little capacity remained unanswered. At the same time, as the prices soared, the cost of projects went higher than the sanctioned amounts and since there was no provision for such additional amounts to be obtained from the national or the State Governments, the additional funds were to be raised by the Municipalities. In Nanded, the dependence on IFS increased. By mid 2007, Rajan’s team had increased to about 40 persons, who sat inside the Municipal office, ‘assisting’ the implementation of JNNURM.
Rajan had become the part of the Municipality. He would attend all meetings, answer questions of the evaluators, write progress reports, make presentations, and also regularly visit Mumbai and Delhi for follow-ups. On the other side, the officials from the State and the National Government also called upon Rajan for all details. While it looked like IFS was running the municipality, Rajan’s and his team’s attachment to the city increased. They believed that they were changing the city for its betterment and were proud of it. It was difficult to identify the consultants from the municipal officials when they came to represent Nanded in national and state meetings.
Once the implementation of the projects started, the effects of quickly making the DPRs were known. Many designs had to be changed. In case of the sewerage projects, the entire design consisting of three treatment plants was changed to a single treatment plant. In some cases, basic information like poor soil condition was not taken into account while estimating the costs. All this meant that projects got delayed, costs went further up. Even after all this, the team form IFS managed to get the next instalments from the National Government and complete its projects. But this team was there only for the mission – after the mission was over, the team would leave and then only the loan from IFS would remain – the difficult loan that had to be paid slowly over many years to come. Everyone in the Municipal office as well as from IFS knew of this relationship, but they all decided never to talk about this. During the mission period, they were all one.
The JNNURM projects had many monitors and evaluators from the National Government who would periodically visit the projects. As JNNURM progressed, there were many criticisms about the quality of works. Responding to this the Government of India added another layer of evaluators – The Independent Review and Monitoring Agency (IRMA). This agency was to be appointed by the State Level Nodal Agency. Of course there was a toolkit for making such an appointment. This tool-kit also recommended a set of ‘empanelled’ consultants for the job. Maharashtra was one of the first states to appoint IRMA and Nanded was one of the first cities to get its project reviewed by IRMA. The engineers of IRMA had to visit every project and report on various aspects. Their fee was indexed to the number of visits – more times they visit, more the fee. This fee was reimbursed by the National Government. The second and subsequent instalments for projects were not released unless issues raised by IRMA were cleared in the projects. Typically the entire payment was made through four equal instalments. Once 70% of the released amount was spent, the next instalment could be demanded. For release of last instalments however, the Government of India started insisting on the completion of reforms. When many cities and states protested stating that contractor payments were held – the government responded by holding 10% of the sanctioned amount and releasing the rest.
Initially, to encourage competitiveness amongst cities, the projects were considered on first-come-first-serve basis. Cities started lining up their projects and getting them approved. But in 2010, the National Government realized that while aggressive states and cities have been successful in getting many projects approved, other states and cities had much lesser projects sanctioned. The National Government then decided to insist on the distribution of the financial assistance to each of the states proportional to the population in their selected cities. Each state was then asked to prioritize the projects from across cities and send them. Though, Nanded was provided much more financial assistance than other cities as compared to its population, and though many other cities had lined up several projects; Government of Maharastra in 2010 decided to include projects from Nanded for the final list of approvals by Government of India. This may have had to do with the Chief Minister being from Nanded; but it is also a possibility, that the Nanded’s projects were chosen because they were financially most beneficial for the state and the city as the National Government had to allocate 80% of the funds and the state and the city only 10% each. Whatever the reason, Nanded got an additional set of projects sanctioned. Such was the influence of Nanded.
There was always a need for small supplies like diaries, small stationary, books, quick exhibitions, banners, models, etc. at the Mumbai Metropolitan Authority office. Usually there was never any time to go through an elaborate tendering process for small procurements. Another route available for such ‘petty purchases’, was through inviting three quotations and buying the goods and services from a bidder with the lowest quote.
At the Metropolitan office, whenever, there was such a requirement, everyone called Chadda. He had some five companies all doing a variety of things – printing, selling stationary, event management, etc. Whenever Chadda received such a call, he would be ready with three quotations from three of his companies signed by different people on different letter-heads. However, Chadda also ensured that only he would supply and no one else was called. He would personally meet most of the officers, send the gifts for Diwali, chat with them about life and maintain – in his words – ‘accha (good) relationships’.
His journey of becoming an infrastructure consultant started when he was called to get some quick surveys done of Mithi River, which flooded in 2005. The floods had caused havoc in Mumbai and there was an outrage against the government for loss of life and property. The Chief Minister aksed the MMA to give a report on the river within a fortnight. Chadda was putting up stalls for an interior design exhibition when he was summoned to get the surveys done. He had never done anything like this before, but figured out quickly that the Metropolitan Authority office wanted some numbers to prove that the illegitimate occupiers along the river were the cause of the floods. Chadda hired some surveyors and a couple of planners to do the job. A drawing was made and numbers were gathered within no time. Chadda had become an overnight star.
Slowly he started undertaking sub-contracts for different kinds of surveys – headcounts, number of houses, number of families in a locality, traffic counts, etc. Chadda was very quick at delivering results and everyone at the Metropolitan office wanted that. Along with sensing the value of primary data, he also figured out that it was quite simple to organize such data. All he needed was some social worker or a planner to make questionnaires and some literate people to go on field and fill them up.
The JNNURM changed everything for Chadda. The Government of India had launched a nation-wide mission called the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) to upgrade infrastructure in more than 60 cities. The Government’s strategy was to simply pump money into these cities. But to get the money, the cities required a clear plan with a set of priority projects and a detailed project report on each of these priority projects. The kitty of the Government was finite and cities were to compete with each other to get the money – whichever city could make good detailed project reports and manage to get them approved early enough by the national scrutiny agencies would get the money. The Government expected that this would push the cities to plan and build their capacities in planning projects. The cities on the contrary appointed consultants. Suddenly there was a large increase in the number of consultants in the country. Chadda had also joined the bandwagon. He hired some engineers and planners and started his own consultancy company. Since he had already done large number of surveys in the metropolitan region of Mumbai, he had an advantage over other consultants in the region.
The first project he got involved in was to make a detailed project report to develop a solid waste system for a small city near Mumbai. He quickly understood that such reports were quite standard and could be easily made with available data. The bigger problem was to get them approved through the various stages of approvals and city officials generally struggled very hard to get them approved at various stages. These had to be approved by the local municipal representatives, then by the State Level Nodal Agency, then by the parliamentary and state legislature representatives, then by the evaluation and scrutiny agencies set up by the National Government and finally the national level committee of senior bureaucrats. One had to navigate through tough political, technocratic and bureaucratic systems to get the projects approved.
Chadda understood the weakness of the city officials in getting the project approved and decided to build his niche by specialising in this task of obtaining approvals. It was not difficult to get approvals from the political representatives as they saw these projects as large contracts from where kickbacks can be earned through the contractors – and they were quite experienced in that. Getting bureaucratic approvals were also fairly easy: with lower level officials, petty gifts like I-Phones, silverware – usually a small silver idol of Ganesh, gold coins, winter wear for children, etc. worked. In case of mid-level officials, a foreign study tour or expensive gadgets for their children was usually the strategy. In one occasion, a trip to Bangkok for a State Government official and his family also worked. The higher level officials had to be paid in cash usually through a middleman. The most difficult was to get approvals from the technocrats – the sincere types. Generally, a good engineering or planning argument worked with these technocrats, but sometimes political or bureaucratic pressure had to be used. But Chadda went a step ahead: he would constantly meet all officers and politicians involved, chat with them, keep gifting them and maintain his ‘accha relationship’. This made them feel a little indebted towards him – and Chadda knew this very well. His strength was not in making good detailed project reports, but rather on getting these reports approved.
In JNNURM, consultants were required for everything – to prepare comprehensive development plans; to prepare the memorandum of agreement between the City, State and the National Governments; to prepare detailed project reports; to get the reports approved by various state and national level agencies; to prepare monthly and quarterly reports; to answer parliamentary and assembly questions; to make presentations; to make promotional materials; to make claim documents for instalments and reimbursements; to make tender documents; to monitor project implementation; to deal with inspection agencies; and many more. There was also a special allotment of funds for hiring consultants for various purposes.
Chadda was most useful to lubricate difficult processes. Different governments would use him to get their work through. While there were always officers demanding different kinds of bribes, there were also equal number of people who were adamant not to pay or receive any bribes and go through the ‘right’ procedures. Chadda was useful as he could manage both. Also, there were always times when petty requirements had to be fulfilled – a flight ticket to Delhi was the most annoying one – this would require special permission and in the context of hurried processes, there was never time to get approval for such flight tickets, which were exorbitantly priced at the last moment. At these times, Chadda would not only arrange for flight tickets, but also make pick-up and drop-off arrangements. This was his way to maintain ‘accha-relationship’. Moreover, there were always awkward times, when officers from Delhi and their family members had to be entertained when they visited cities. Here again, Chadda would arrange for everything – visits to temples, malls, cars with drivers, hotel arrangements, bar visits, and many more things as desired by the officers. During times when officers came for inspections, Chadda would set up special teams for hospitality. For cities and State Government agencies, Chadda was a boon – he was able to handle all these demanding situations.
Chadda started doing all kinds of project reports – water supply, sanitation, drainage, housing, transportation and even e-governance. He not only competes with international consultants for projects but even manages to get them. He is one of the twelve consultants empanelled by the National Government to advice it and take up projects across the country in the e-governance sector. Today, his office employs more than 30 engineers and 20 planners – mostly with post graduate degrees from US universities. He has also offered jobs to several MMA officers.
But with all this growth, Chadda still prints visiting cards, diaries and banners for the MMA office. Though these are now petty works for him; this is his way of maintaining ‘accha relationships’. He has deputed Raju, his old-time lieutenant for these jobs. Raju on the other hand is not sophisticated and tries to cut corners and sometimes make money from the bribes, gifts and favours that he has to carry out. Chadda’s industry of bribes had started getting contaminated by internal corruption.
Sometime in September 2000, Ramesh Rathod received a phone call from an Under Secretary in the Government of Maharashtra asking Rathod about his business. The Under Secretary said that the government was in the process of issuing an order to large municipalities in the state to undertake water audits in their cities and wanted to empanel a group of consultants who could provide their expertise for this purpose. He wanted the details of Rathod’s company for including it in the list of empanelled consultants. The government was of the opinion that cities produce substantial amount of water for their population, but a large quantity of this water is either stolen or wasted through leaks. This was called ‘unaccounted for water’ (UFW). The government wanted the consultants to do three things – calculate the quantity of unaccounted water; identify the specific reasons for it being unaccounted; and make suggestions to decrease the quantity of such water.
At that time Rathod’s company was in the business of doing energy and water audits for large industries around Nagpur. He helped industries to consume less energy by identifying energy loss points in their systems and suggesting efficient methods for energy usage. He was also a follower of the ‘zero discharge’ concept, where industries would not let any material out of their premises (without making some money on it). Industries saw this not only as an effective way to decrease their losses and improve revenues, but also as an opportunity for displaying their environmental concerns. Rathod on the other hand believed that concerns of environmental improvement and profit making are not exclusive opposites – they work best when made to complement each other.
The order was published by the State Government later that month and Rathod’s company was included in the list of ‘empanelled consultants’. While the order directed the Municipal Corporations to undertake water audits, it also stated that the State Government would provide 75% of the funds needed by Municipal Corporations to undertake such audits.
Earlier in 1997, the Municipal Commissioner of Nagpur, Sumanth Arya had realized that a substantial part of the municipal revenue was being periodically paid to a State Government agency, Maharastra Jeevan Pradhikaran (MJP) for regular augmentation of water supply system in the city. The Municipal Corporation was completely dependent upon MJP, which had a monopoly in providing such services. Arya decided that he would build capacity of his staff to undertake implementation of water supply projects. He sent his water engineer, Umesh Kaware to Japan for training and also involved an infrastructure consultant, Shresta Consultancy Services (SCS) to develop a long-term master plan for water supply in Nagpur. After a quick study, SCS identified that a lot of water was getting wasted in leakages. They also estimated the water requirements for the future and developed a water supply master-plan for Nagpur. Kaware and his staff were actively involved in the study as well as in the preparation of the master-plan. But Arya was transferred in mid 1998 and the water project came to a halt, until Satyavrat Tripathi took over as the Municipal Commissioner of Nagpur in 2002.
In January, 2003, Ramesh Rathod received another government call – this was from the Nagpur Municipal Commissioner’s office. Satyavrat Tripathi, the Municipal Commissioner wanted to meet Rathod. Being a tech savvy engineer himself, Tripathi had immense faith on new technologies, engineering solutions and efficient management. He believed that an effective implementation of these would address urban problems. He decided to continue Arya’s work and implement the State Government’s order on water audit. He asked Rathod to develop a project for Nagpur.
Rathod did some preliminary investigations and within a month, he was able to claim that out of the total water that was being distributed, about 70% was unaccounted for. Nobody believed in Rathod’s claim. The municipal engineers, bureaucrats and politicians were shocked and refused to accept this. Rathod then presented his evidence – municipal revenue records. The Municipal Corporation would buy raw water from the Irrigation Department, treat it and then supply it to the citizens. Rathod compared data from two places – the invoices of the Irrigation department where the amount of water bought by the Municipal Corporation was recorded; and the bills of the consumers, which showed the amount of water that was being finally provided to the citizens. The difference between the amount of water bought from the irrigation department and the amount of water finally paid by the consumers was about 70%. Rathod had not done any surveys or created any new data, but had proved his point using the data from the Municipal Corporation itself. The question on everyone’s mind was, ‘Where did so much water go?’
The Municipal Corporation wanted Rathod to answer this question. As the State Government’s list of empanelled consultants included Rathod’s name and as Rathod was based in Nagpur, it was not difficult for Tripathi to quickly appoint Rathod to undertake a full-fledged water audit. This was first important decision taken by the Nagpur Municipal Corporation in the water sector.
Rathod proceeded with a detailed study. He started at the source. He found out that the irrigation Department, which was supplying raw water to the Municipal Corporation did not use meters to measure the amount of water supplied. The amount of water was calculated based on the ‘pumping capacity’ of the pumps and the ‘number of pumping hours’. The corporation was billed on this amount of water. Rathod asked the Municipal Corporation to install meters at the source and spent Rupees 40 lakhs on it. The meters showed that the amount of water that was being billed by the irrigation department was about 10% more than the water actually provided. Rupees two crores were saved at the source itself.
Rathod then decided to look at the remaining water system. He planned to undertake the study at two levels – first, at the bulk level, which included the water distribution system from the irrigation department’s dam to the treatment plants and from the treatment plants to the various reservoirs. The second level was at the neighborhood level, which included the water distribution system from the reservoirs to each household. His key idea was to meter the water distribution system at various points to identify the places were losses were taking place. Rathod, along with Kaware, the water engineer, started preparing detailed project reports for undertaking water and energy audits along with leak detection at the entire bulk level and at one of the neighbourhoods as a pilot zone.
While these projects were in the process of being prepared, the National Government launched the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) in December, 2005. Under the JNNURM, the National Government was to provide large amounts of funds to various cities in the country to improve basic infrastructure like water-supply, sewerage, solid-waste management, storm water drainage and transportation. The mission was designed for cities to be competitive in getting funds from the National Government. The cities had to prepare a plan, identify important projects, prioritize them, prepare detailed project reports for prioritized projects and send such reports to the National Government for approval. After approval, the National Government provided funds for the project. As Nagpur was engaged with its water projects since 1997, it was way ahead of other cities in sending projects and obtaining funds from the National Government. Within four months of the announcement of JNNURM, Nagpur was able to get four water projects approved worth Rupees 91 crores.
All the bulk distribution points were metered. At the pilot zone, every source and point of final use were metered. The difference in water confirmed exact points where leakages were taking place. These leakages were then repaired. The pilot zone also had a slum within it. Nagpur Municipal Corporation developed a slum policy, where it decided to provide water to every house through a house connection irrespective of the tenure status. This was the Municipal Corporation’s second important decision in the water sector. The slum policy was based on a clear principal – providing water does not mean recognizing tenure. The Municipal Corporation’s third important decision was to meter every house connection at its own cost. Clarity was sought on where the water was going.
Once there was clarity on amount of water consumed by each household, the municipality knew how much to charge them. The Municipal Corporation decided to charge everyone based on consumption and this was the fourth important decision. But charging the poor was a politically difficult decision. To bring about equity, the Municipality devised a telescopic tariff system – the lesser the consumption of water, the lesser the rate at which water would be charged. This was based on the assumption that the poor consume lesser water and hence would be charged less. The idea of ‘unaccounted for water’ (UFW) was now replaced with the concept of ‘non revenue water’ (NRW). Everything was measured not in ‘litres’ saved, but ‘rupees’ lost. At the end of the pilot zone project, the non revenue water was brought down from 57% to 28% in pilot zone.
Simultaneously, several projects were planned and got approved to improve bulk infrastructure. By December, 2006 Nagpur had managed to get 9 projects worth Rupees 565 crores approved. Out of this 70% funds came from National and State Governments, the remaining 30% had to be mobilized by the Municipal Corporation. There was also an increase in project costs of about 10% on account of inflation etc. This was typically called ‘additional cost’ amongst people working for the JNNURM. As there was no provision to get the additional costs from Government of India, the Municipal Corporations had to bear it. All this investment was particularly difficult for Nagpur Municipal Corporation. To deal with this Rathod designed a public-private-partnership (PPP) model where investment was to be mobilized through the private sector.
Rathod’s PPP model was simple – the private party was to undertake the project, put the infrastructure in place, make the necessary investments beyond what is received from the national and State Government, and operate the project for some period to recover the costs and earn profits. The Municipal Corporation was to make two kinds of payments to the private party – first, a deferred easy payment (at an interest of about 8%) for the investments made by the private party to put in the infrastructure; and second, for operation and maintenance of the project. Since the payment to the private parties was based on quantity and quality of water, it was expected that the private party would keep the system well maintained. The user-charges from citizens were to be collected by the Municipal Corporation and hence the Municipal Corporation would be responsible and answerable to its citizens. On the other hand, the client of the private party was the Municipal Corporation and not the citizens. After steamy discussions and many months of persuasion, the Municipal Corporation accepted to implement the projects under the PPP model and this was the fifth important decision that it took. As there were many projects, many private parties were involved.
With the success of the pilot zone, Rathod and the Nagpur Municipal Corporation planned to undertake a city-wide expansion of the project, which included detection of leaks, repair of leaks, augmentation of the distribution system, providing house connections and metering all connections. At this time, Rathod popularized another concept – ‘24X7’ (twenty four by seven). Usually, Municipal Corporations provided water supply for a few hours during the day. During these hours, citizens filled up their tanks and used the water from their tanks throughout the day. This would happen individually or collectively. Rathod spoke about water being provided by the Municipal Corporation throughout the day – or keeping all the pipelines completely filled with water throughout the day. Rathod made the health argument – he contended that if pipes are filled and emptied periodically, then air pressure inside the pipes differs from the outside. This produces pressure damages at joints and surfaces of pipes making them susceptible to external contamination and creating a health hazard.
Rathod’s critics pointed out that by keeping water in the pipes 24X7, the loss of water would be higher as people may waste it or in case of a leak, there would be continuous flow. Rathod argued that as all connections were metered and as tariff systems were telescopic, people would not waste water. He expected that elaborate metering and telescoping tariffs would bring about a behavioural change in people where they would self-regulate consumption as they would have to pay more in case of wastage.
Nagpur went ahead with the proposal of 24X7 water supply for the city. 24X7 became a catch word for other Municipal Corporations, bureaucrats, technocrats and politicians and they all started demanding 24X7 from their consultants. Government of India also followed the bandwagon and further popularized the term. The Government of India approved Rupees 388 crores for Nagpur’s 24X7 water supply under JNNURM. The project cost escalated to about Rupees 450 crores when it was awarded. With this project, Rathod devised another large PPP mechanism – one that would absorb all earlier PPP arrangements.
Under this new PPP arrangement, a ‘special purpose company’ was planned to manage the entire water supply system in Nagpur. The company was called ‘Orange City water’ (OWC). The sole purpose of this company was to provide water to Nagpur and it was not allowed to do anything else. All earlier PPP contracts were to be merged with OWC. OWC was owned by two private companies – Veolia Water India and Vishwaraj Environment Limited. An officer from the Municipal Corporation was also a part of the Board of Directors. The Municipal Corporation established a water company ‘Nagpur Environment Services Limited’ to manage OWC. The role of OWC was to develop the water infrastructure, and operate the infrastructure for 25 years. For this OWC charged the Municipal Corporation in two components – first as a repayment for its investment, and second as charges for operation and maintenance. In this PPP arrangement, OWC also independently collected water charges and gave the collected money to the Municipal Corporation. The payment for operating and managing the infrastructure was not connected to collection of water charges. While this ensured that payment to OWC was continued, the revenue of the Municipal Corporation was not confirmed.
Rathod also conceptualized an online dynamic water monitoring system – nagpurwater.com. Here everything about water – all readings of meters, flow velocities, etc. were recorded and published directly from the source. This was also done through a PPP, where the municipality paid for setting up the system as well as the operation and maintenance charges.
The city-wide 24X7 project was planned in a manner in which Nagpur Municipal Corporation would not spend much. While 70% of capital expenditure was expected to come from JNNURM, 30% was to be mobilized from OWC, a consortium of two private companies. The collection of user charges was expected to pay off the operation and maintenance costs to be paid to OWC. Rathod believed that operation and maintenance costs to be paid to the operator would be high in the initial years, but as the project would grow and all connections would be metered, the collection of user charges would improve and the necessary costs would be met. Meanwhile, a minimum of Rupees 72 crores was being paid to OWC every year as operation and maintenance costs.
While the performance of Nagpur’s PPP model is yet to be evaluated, Rathod believes that the project is essentially a demand side management, where checking of pipes, repairing, metering and charging appropriately are the main aspects. He thinks that once the system is stabilized, it would perform efficiently. Nagpur’s 24X7 water supply project and the PPP models have become extremely popular. While cities like Ahmedabad and Delhi have appointed Rathod as their consultants to privatize water supply, the PPP model of Nagpur has come under some internal criticism. The municipal engineers, who gave their complete support earlier have started feeling unseated as they have nothing much to do. They have started raising questions about the PPP arrangements. They feel that OWC would delay investments on the project as it was anyways entitled to get a minimum of Rupees 72 crores every year. They also show worry about the management of the super PPP model that has been put in place, where the private operator is entrusted with everything – they think that the project is consultant driven and the Municipal Corporation does not have the necessary capacity for such management after the PPP term expires and the consultant leaves.
On the other hand, Rathod and Kaware not only experimented with making water supply systems efficient, but also decided to make money from waste water. They decided to sell it. They proposed a project under JNNURM to recycle and reuse waste water. The National Government approved this project for Rupees 130 crores. The project included developing a sewerage treatment plant to treat 130 million litres of sewerage per day. The treated water would be then sold to Mahajenco, an electricity company, which needed a lot of water to cool its power plants. Usually, such power companies bought water from the Irrigation Department at a very high price. In this case, Mahajenco would be using recycled water. The project was structured in such way that Mahajenco would develop the project, bear the investment required beyond what was to be provided by the National and State Governments, produce recycled water, and pay the Municipal Corporation Rupees 15 crores per year for using the water. A 10% increase in this amount is also planned after every three years. The Municipal Corporation on the other hand would not spend a penny but only earn form this project.
Rathod and Kaware seem to be completely kicked about their enterprise of selling water. They are now planning a larger project that would produce 200 million litres of recycled water every day. They want to sell this water to nearby industries and have devised an elaborate PPP for it.
While attending an annual JNNURM meeting in Delhi, Chandrashekar, the Town Planner of Dadra Nagar Haveli Union Territory had heard that in Pune, architects had to submit soft copies of building plans to the Municipal Corporation instead of hard copies for obtaining approvals for building construction. The Pune Municipal Corporation had a computer programme that could scrutinize the plans in minutes; identify problems; and also provide a scrutiny report. Moreover, since a computer was doing the scrutiny, human subjectivity and hence any kind of corruption related to it was out of question. Chandrashekar was very impressed with the idea and as soon as he returned to Dadra Nagar Haveli, he got in touch with the concerned engineer in Pune who had initiated and implemented the programme. It was called Auto DCR.
The engineer from Pune also told Chandrashekar that under ‘JNNURM E-Governance Reform’ it was necessary to implement ‘Auto DCR’ to accomplish ‘e-governance’ in the ‘building plan approval’. Though Chandrashekar was aware of e-governance reform under JNNURM, he did not know the specifics that needed to be done. After hearing about Auto DCR, he felt that there was something he could start with respect to achieving the E-Governance reform. He immediately contacted people from SoftTech Private Limited, the company that had created Auto DCR for Pune Municipal Corporation and asked them to come and make a presentation to the Dadra Nagar Haveli Administration.
JNNURM, the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission, was started by the Government of India in December 2005. Under this, National and State Governments gave large amounts of funds to City Governments to improve infrastructure in their respective cities. However, to get these funds, the City Governments had to undertake a large number of reforms in management, administration, governance, policy, service delivery, etc. ‘E-Governance’ was the first reform in the long list of reforms to be undertaken.
To implement JNNURM projects in cities, the City Governments had to enter into a Memorandum of Agreement with State and National Government where the City Government promised to undertake the reforms. Details of all reforms were mentioned in such Memorandums. For implementation of e-governance reform, several steps were mentioned. These included undertaking an assessment of existing condition of automation in cities, preparing an e-governance plan, reengineering municipal processes towards adopting e-governance and managing twelve services using e-systems. These included management of property tax, financial accounting, user charges, birth and death registrations, citizen’s grievances, personnel administration, procurements, project monitoring, building plan approval, health programmes, licenses, and solid waste.
While some tech savvy commissioners and engineers from big cities, plunged into implementing ‘e-governance’, most others struggled with understanding the scope of work involved and the various jargons that were floating around. For some smaller cities, implementation of e-governance did not mean anything more than buying a few computers. Municipal officers looked at e-governance as another project, which involved procurement of hard ware and software. As all procurements in municipalities was done through a tendering process, municipal officers of most cities started looking for consultants who could prepare ‘e-governance tenders’. While every software company tried to be a consultant, regular engineering consultants got a few software professionals to update themselves for the e-governance programme. Everyone started interpreting the reform details mentioned in the Memorandum of Agreements in their own ways. Most consultants saw it as a software development project. Tenders were floated and companies were appointed to undertake different parts of the e-governance reforms. Software firms started developing a variety of software for different municipalities.
SoftTech Private Limited, a software company based in Pune approached the Pune Municipal Corporation with an idea of developing software to manage building plan approvals. The idea was to develop software that could read computer drawings. For this the drawings had to be made in a certain manner. SoftTech discovered that most architects made their drawings using a drawing programme called AutoCAD. SoftTech negotiated with the creators of AutoCAD and developed a plug-in to AutoCAD. This plug-in was called PreDCR and it incorporated all the development control regulations of Pune. Architects had to download PreDCR from SoftTech’s website and recreate their drawings according to specified formats and then submit this drawing to the Municipal Corporation. The drawing was then opened in AutoDCR, which reviewed the drawing as per the regulations and produced a scrutiny report.
AutoDCR was an immediate success. It was seen as a programme that reduced scrutiny time and corruption. The programme became extremely popular and many cities got their own PreDCRs made as per their development control regulations. SoftTech’s business not only increased, but its sustenance was also ensured as the PreDCR had to be changed every time there was an amendment to the development control regulations. And the amendments took place every now and then. The creators of AutoCAD were also happy as architects required to submit drawings made in their software if they wanted a quick and bribe-free approval. The programme became so popular that it got the JNNURM ‘best-practice’ award. Implementation of e-governance reform in building plan approvals meant appointing SoftTech and installing AutoDCR. Chandrashekhar also got PreDCR developed for Dadra Nagar Haveli and got AutoDCR installed in his department.
Several software companies developed many kinds of programmes for different municipalities – software for accounting, property tax calculation, registration of birth and deaths, issuing licenses, tracking solid waste trucks, keeping health records, etc. One city developed a programme for making an inventory of all slum-dwellers; another city developed a project monitoring system where information on project progress was transmitted to municipal engineers via SMS; and yet another city developed an online water-management system. Many cities started making geographic information systems to put together information on property and improve property tax collection. However, most of these efforts remained incomplete as it was impossible to map complicated property claims in cities. Cities started spending a lot of funds on new kinds of programmes. While some of these programmes were successful most of them became white elephants sitting in some municipal computer and not being used – they were either too complicated, or not useful. Money was spent in abundance as there was no District Schedule of Rates available for software as it was available for civil engineering works. Many software companies charged cities heavily for maintaining the software systems and managing data. Many smaller municipalities were unable to do anything as they could not afford either consultants or software companies. E-governance was evolving as a sector in awkward ways. Taking stock of this situation, in May 2008, the National Government announced special grants for implementation of e-governance in cities under JNNURM and prepared guidelines for implementation. The grants were announced as a part of the National Mission Mode Programme (NMMP) for E-Governance.
Earlier, in 2003, the Government of India had proposed a ‘National E-Governance Plan’, which had several mission mode programmes to be implemented across sectors, ministries and departments. Implementation of e-governance in municipalities was one of these mission mode programmes. The United States aid agency, USAID was involved in making the national e-governance plan as well as preparing the mission mode programme. This was a part of the Indo-USAID Financial Institutions Reforms and Expansion (FIRE) Project. USAID appointed P. Coopers & Co. (PCC), a development consultant to prepare the mission mode programme for implementing e-governance in municipalities. This was done for the Ministry of Urban Development of the Government of India. USAID and PCC prepared a detailed document for NMMP and submitted it to the government of India in September, 2005, three months before the launch of JNNURM. The details of E-Governance reforms mentioned in the Memorandum of Agreement were articulated based on this document. This document also became the base document for setting guidelines for the special e-governance grants that were announced in 2008 under JNNURM.
To obtain the special e-governance grants, each municipality had to prepare a detailed project report (DPRs) for implementation of e-governance in the city and submit it to the National Government for approval through the State Government. This was a similar process to the process of obtaining grants for other infrastructure projects and cities were experts in quickly appointing consultants for preparing DPRs. Moreover, most cities had started to do something on e-governance. Within six months of the announcement of special grants for e-governance, eight cities of Maharashtra submitted their e-governance DPRs to the State Government. The next problem was evaluation of the DPRs. These were not like the usual water-supply and sewerage DPRs, which the State Government engineers could quickly crunch and give a scrutiny report. Each of these DPRs were prepared by different consultants, who were preparing such DPRs for the first time and moreover, nobody in the State Government had any idea on how an e-governance DPR looked like. There was no capacity in the State Government to evaluate DPRs that discussed computer architecture and software. However, in the competitive environment of JNNURM, there was always a pressure on forwarding the DPRs to the National Government as soon as possible. Since everyone was new, the officers at the state level quickly forwarded four out of the eight DPRs to the National Government without spending much time on them. On the remaining four some queries were raised and returned to the municipalities for clarification.
The situation was not very different at the national level. There was no chance that the engineers from the Public Works Department or teachers from planning schools would be able to scrutinize the e-governance DPRs. After much deliberation and looking around, the National Government approached the Ogranisation for Smart Governance (OSG), a Hyderabad based public-private partnership company for the purpose of evaluating the e-governance DPRs. OSG reviewed the DPRs and recommended all four DPRs of Maharashtra to the Government of India for approval. Rupees 43 crores were approved by the Government of India for implementation of e-governance in the four cities of Maharashtra – Nagpur, Navi Mumbai, Ulhasnagar and Pimpri Chinchwad.
After the first phase of approving e-governance DPRs, nobody was sure about the approaches that were used by the different consultants or the success of any specific approach against the other. They were all in some sort of experimental stages. OSG recommended putting together a toolkit for preparation of e-governance DPRs so that there could be some basis for evaluating them. The Government of India agreed and asked OSG to prepare such a toolkit. OSG roped in PKMG, an international development consultant for the purpose and the toolkit was prepared. In June 2009, the toolkit was circulated across the country. The toolkit focused on making the e-governance reform workable in the city – it insisted on aspects like outcome planning, capacity building, monitoring and evaluation, which were beyond software creation.
In August, 2009, the Ministry of Urban Development of Government of India organized a workshop for all the state level and city level officers in charge of e-governance. The purpose was to explain the nitty-gritty of the new toolkit. The Department of Technology (DIT) was also invited for the workshop. After listening to OSG and PKMG, the DIT officers raised two issues. The first was regarding the problem of different approaches and software used in various cities. People from DIT observed that such a situation would not allow creation of coherent, useful data at the state level. The second problem was the absence of state level infrastructure and state’s role in e-governance. Subsequently on September 2009, another meeting was held between officers of the Ministry of Urban Development and Department of Technology and it was decided that State Governments needs to set up state level infrastructure and have a common approach across the state with common software. This would not only be cheaper to procure, but this would also produce data in similar formats, which could be then compiled together. The only problem was that many municipalities had already spent large amounts of funds in setting up some form of an e-governance system. It was then decided that large Municipal Corporations would be allowed to have a standalone system as many of them had already spent crores of rupees to put such systems in place.
While implementation of e-governance was evolving at the national level, Government of Maharashtra announced its own e-governance programme. In Maharashtra, Kalyan Dombivali had already implemented a simple but successful model of e-governance. The Government of Maharashtra appointed P.Coopers&Co. to replicate this model in other cities. For this purpose, the government promised to provide funds between Rupees 30 lakhs to Rupees 85 lakhs to small municipalities which were not included under JNNURM.
When the State Level Nodal Officers went to inspect a bridge that was reported to be 40% built, they were surprised to see that the bridge was not there at all. The bridge was being built under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) by the Mumbai Metropolitan Authority.
In recent years, the Metropolitan Authority had gained a reputation for building transport infrastructure in the city of Mumbai. It functioned as a parastatal body and reported to the Department of Urban Development of Government of Maharashtra. As per the Metropolitan Authority Act, the head of Metropolitan Authority was the minister for urban development. But for the past twenty years, the various Chief Ministers of Maharashtra kept the urban development portfolios with themselves. Hence the Metropolitan Authority was also headed by the Chief Minister. It had made a lot of money by selling state property that was allotted to it during the 1970s. With the Chief Minister as its head, lots of money at its disposal and not many real responsibilities, the Mumbai Metropolitan Authority was a confident and aggressive organization. On the other hand, for the State Government and the Chief Minister, the Authority was not only a milking cow, but also a way of keeping a foothold in Mumbai – the financial capital of the country.
The Metropolitan Authority had planned two long bridges in Mumbai and had obtained approvals from the National and State Governments to build it under JNNURM. One of them was called the ‘Sahar elevated corridor’, which went over the Sahar Road connecting the Mumbai airport with the national highway. The cost estimated by for building this bridge was 155 crores out of which 50% of the funds were to come from the state and the National Government. The remaining 50% of the funds were to be mobilized by the Metropolitan Authority. The bridge building contract was however awarded for Rupees 287 crores. It was not very clear, as to why so much money was being spent on this bridge to make airport connections quicker, especially when there was a full-fledged plan to build a new airport somewhere else.
The Mumbai Airport was privatized in 2006. A new company was formed to run it. This company was jointly owned by the Airport Authority of India (with 26% shares) and the private agency called VEEKAY (with 74% of shares). Mumbai Airport had a lot of land and VEEKAY had big plans for this land. When VEEKAY heard about the bridge connecting the airport was being built by the Metropolitan Authority with funds from the National and State Governments, it immediately decided to convince the Metropolitan Authority to redesign the bridge. VEEKAY’s argument was that the traffic in Mumbai airport would grow and therefore instead of a 4-lane bridge, a 6-lane bridge should be built. And since there was no space on the Sahar Road to build the bridge, the alignment could be changed. VEEKAY offered land to realign this bridge within the Mumbai Airport. Moreover, VEEKAY also agreed to bear the increased cost of the bridge beyond what was planned for. The engineers and bosses of the Metropolitan Authority were easily convinced and almost immediately the plans were remade, a contractor was appointed and work started. The reason for the bridge being not found by the inspecting State Nodal Officers was because it was built somewhere else.
The only problem was in all this hurry, no approval was sought – either from the State Government, or the National Government or the Municipal Corporation of Mumbai – the planning authority for all development in Mumbai. There was also no clarity as to who will own the road above the bridge and the space below the bridge. But VEEKAY was extremely happy with the speed and ease of work with the Metropolitan Authority. In May 2009, the State Government appointed the Mumbai Metropolitan Authority as the ‘Special Planning Authority’ for airport lands, which meant approvals for all development in the airport land would be provided by the Metropolitan Authority and not the Municipal Corporation of Mumbai.
Bridges and roads dominated the transportation projects across cities. Some consultants developed Bus Rapid Transport Systems (BRTS) for cities. A BRTS is a method of allocating dedicated road space to public buses such that buses do not get stuck in traffic. Generally, this allocated space is in the centre of the road demarcated with some kind of a separation – either a divider or even a white line. But consultants did not stop as having dedicated space for buses. They extended the concept of having dedicated excusive space for everything – for private vehicles, for two wheelers, for parking of cars, for cyclists, for pedestrians and for hawkers. Then there were also special signage and signalling systems required. The usual Indian messy street with everything mixed into one another was to have separate corridors for different kinds of users. But there was one problem – there was not so much space to do this on old roads. As a compromise on old streets, the consultants just made bus corridors, vehicular carriage ways and pedestrian sidewalks. Substantial amount of road widening was required even for this compromised arrangement, which was not easy. Pune in Maharashtra was the first city to have a BRTS project under JNNURM.
But where there were lands, lavish roads were made. In one city, elaborate roads were made with cycling tracks, hawking zones and pedestrian pathways on lands, where there was nothing as far as the eye could see. Later it was learnt that the adjoining lands belonged to a powerful politician who was waiting for the infrastructure to come. In another city, broad sidewalks and cycle tracks were made on roads going to the airport. The National Government was also sold to the idea of having BRTS and exclusive road spaces for different users. It started pushing cities towards developing them. It was no longer interested in simple road widening and bridges. The cities responded with making ad hoc BRTS projects. The National Government then started insisting on cities making a ‘Comprehensive Transportation Plan’ (CTP). This plan was required to get any further transportation project approved. With every new requirement from the National Government, the consultants got business. Even in this case, suddenly, many consultants started making the CTP. This produced a sudden demand for transportation planners who could make CTPs.
In January 2009, the Government of India announced a ‘stimulus package’, under which states were to be provided funds through JNNURM to purchase buses. This was a onetime measure and the announcement also stated that the funds would be provided up to the end of June 2009. As in all other projects under JNNURM, a detailed project report had to be prepared. Along with estimation and specifications of buses required for the city, this report had to also include details of operation and maintenance. Moreover, to get the funds for buses, a new set of reforms had to be undertaken. These included setting up of Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority, urban transportation fund, parking policy, advertisement policy, fare policy, training and capacity building programmes, etc.
Transportation consultants were quick to respond and within a month, all 13 cities of Maharashtra which were included under JNNURM produced a detailed project report for getting buses. Most of the contents in the project report, primarily about operation, maintenance and reforms were common and largely copy-pasted. The only aspect that was different was the computation of buses required. Even that was done through a quick and easy method. There were standards available for number of buses required for certain number of people. Hence, based on the population of the city, the number of buses was calculated. From this the number of buses that were already available with the city, in good running form, was deducted. And then one had the magic number of the buses required. This was the only number that the National Government was interested in. All other things written in the detailed project report did nothing except adding thickness to the report. And the consultants were sharp enough to know this. On an average, the consultants got paid Rs. 25 lakhs for each of these reports. Of course, their unwritten mandate also included getting the report approved from the approval agencies of the National Government as well as the National Government itself. By August 2009, more than 2500 bus purchases were approved under JNNURM for ten cities of Maharashtra with a project cost of about Rupees 65 crores, out of which Rupees 38 crores was to come from the national and State Governments. The remaining funds were to be mobilized by the City Governments. The stimulus package from the Government of India also made State and City Governments pay money to bus companies. They were suddenly flooded with orders from across the country that affected delivery deadlines which eventually got extended. As there were just two Indian companies that made buses, TATA and Ashok Leyland, it seemed like the stimulus package was made for them until other international companies like Volvo, Mercedes and Marcopolo came into the picture. But these companies produced air-conditioned vehicles which were largely ordered by big cities. An Indian company also got into the race of selling Air-conditioned buses, but these were Chinese made and only sold by the Indian company.
Many cities struggled with post procurement operations – either there was nobody to run the buses, or there was no place to keep them. Many cities developed bus companies. Private partnerships were experimented with. Routes, fares and operation models were discussed with great interest in many cities. Like many other new situations in JNNURM, even this one gave birth to many consultants. Mumbai’s famous BEST bus service had also ordered 1000 buses to augment its fleet. Out of these, 200 were luxury air conditioned buses. However, when the buses came, there were neither routes ready for them to run on, nor were there depots to keep them. Most of these buses were then rented to different airline companies to ferry their passengers within Mumbai airport. The stimulus packages had really stimulated all kinds of economies of production, crony capitalism, renting, etc. Of course it also made an impact on the public transportation system.
Varghese believed that if he pushed Municipalities into a competing with each other, then such a competitive environment would bring out the best in them. Varghese was the Secretary to the Government of Maharashtra in charge of Urban Development and Municipalities and also in charge of implementing JNNURM (Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission) in Maharashtra.
JNNURM itself created a competitive environment where cities competed with each other for obtaining funds from the National Government for infrastructure projects. Cities were in a race to prepare plans and detailed project reports; get them approved by their respective State Governments; and also get them evaluated by National Government agencies. There was also stiff competition to get the evaluated projects into the meeting agendas of the Central Steering and Monitoring Committee (CSMC), which was the final body to sanction funds. The speed of JNNURM was felt everywhere – in the National Government agencies, which were flooded by projects from all over the country; in the State Government where Secretaries like Varghese pushed the municipalities to send new projects – as it meant getting money for the state; in the municipalities where Commissioners were after the lives of city engineers to get project reports made; and also in the offices of consultants who worked very hard to keep up with the pace. After all, this was a ‘mission’ to renew the cities of the country.
By end of 2010, in the fifth year of the mission, Maharashtra had 91 sanctioned projects worth more than 12,000 crores. The consultants played a large role in not only making plans and project reports, but also getting the projects approved at various stages of approvals. Many a times, it was difficult to identify a consultant from a municipal officer – the consultant would answer all queries, prepare presentations, and also present the projects. It was as if JNNURM had fused engineers across private and public realms.
Once the projects were sanctioned by the CSMC, which was located within the Ministry of Urban Development of the National Government, a note was sent to the Finance Ministry to release the payment. The Finance Ministry would then release the funds to the finance departments of the various State Governments. Though the money was sent to the state, it was never immediately disbursed to the cities until State Government’s urban development department requested it through a Government Order. But the problem was that there was never a direct communication between Ministry of Urban Development of the National Government and the State Government’s Urban Development Department. In Maharashtra, after the minutes of the CSMC meeting (in which the projects that got sanctioned were mentioned) were put on their website, the State Level Nodal Office would look for Finance Ministry Orders (that mentioned sanctioned money to the state). Once such documents were found, a copy of both these – the minutes and the orders were sent to the State Government’s Urban Development Department, which in turn used these documents to issue an order to release of payments to the cities. Here, the State Governments would also add their shares. Based on this order, the finance department of the State Governments released funds to the State Level Nodal Agency (or sometimes to the District Collector), which was in turn expected to release funds to the various Cities.
Errors were unavoidable in this long winding route that the funds took to arrive from the National Government to the cities and invariably, there were mistakes made in the documents. In many instances there were mistakes of a few crores made, which were later corrected. In one instance, Rupees hundred crores were released to Pune Municipal Corporation, when the National Government had sanctioned only one crore. The error was spotted by Hanoor, an officer with the State Level Nodal Agency (SLNA). She had newly joined the SLNA and was trying to set up an information system that could hold all data in a dynamic manner. She was checking through the National Government orders and found that the National Government had approved Rs. 100 crores for a project as the first instalment. This was a mistake and within a week, the National Government had issued a revised order approving Rs. 1 crore instead of 100. As State Government officials were always on their toes to maintain the speed of JNNURM, the first order was implemented as soon as it was issued. However, no one took note of the amended order. When Hanoor found the error, she immediately informed the State Government and the Municipal Commissioner was asked to return the money. He promptly sent a reply that a large part of the released funds were already spent. It took a long time to reconcile this. On the other hand, when Municipalities were careful, others refused to acknowledge the errors. Three crores were released twice to Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai. When the municipal officials brought it to the notice of State Government officials, they simply shut them up saying that the State Government cannot make such mistakes. The reconciliation of this money happened after four years.
Getting correct information from National Government had become a necessity after such instances. To deal with this, Hanoor decided to visit Delhi to establish a direct relationship with the National Government officials. She met Balkrishna in Delhi who was in charge of keeping JNNURM records for the National Government. He was extremely efficient and operated as an archive and a search engine to the government for JNNURM projects. Hanoor, herself being obsessed with data management became friends with him immediately. She established a close link with the National Government through him. She also made sure that whenever Balkrishna or any other persons from the National Government visited Maharashtra, they were taken good care of. Often a car and some accommodation were arranged for such leisure visits of National Government officials. All this not only ensured quick and direct access to important documents, but also proved to be useful during several other dealings with National Government agencies.
The Government of India monitored the projects through QPRs (Quarterly Progress Reports) that had to be submitted by each of the municipalities through their respective State Governments. The QPRs had two distinct sections – report on reforms and report on projects. The section on projects was largely about the incoming and outgoing funds along with sketchy details on project progress.
Along with the QPRs, Varghese set up another reporting system for Maharashtra. It was only for projects and was called the MPR (Monthly Progress Report), where every project got a report card. Each project was divided into small components and every component was given monthly targets. If the target was achieved, then the component would get full marks, if it wasn’t achieved, the component would get zero marks. Sum of all marks so obtained established the marks for the project. Sum of all marks in percentages for all projects in a city became the mark of the city. Every city was graded based on such marks. Varghese ensured that the grades for every city were published in a newspaper every month. This put immense pressure on Commissioners of the municipalities as they were pulled up by their political bosses if the city’s grades were low. Cities like Pune, which perpetually obtained lower grades, started making petitions to Varghese to revise their monthly targets. Varghese also took monthly reviews of every project based on the report card where engineers were called to explain delays. Facing the Secretary to the government was not easy for municipal officers and they largely ensured that targets were met.
The speed of projects was maintained and the projects progressed well in the early stages of JNNURM in Maharashtra. Varghese also asked the State Level Nodal officers to go to each city to inspect projects. The reports from such inspections were also discussed in detail. The speed of implementation had affected the quality of works. Moreover, as quantum of works all around the country was high, material and labour costs sky-rocketed. This had implication on awarded costs of the project, which was invariably higher than the estimated and the sanctioned costs. This additional cost had to be borne by the Municipality.
By 2008, many of the projects were ready for claiming second instalments. Such claims were prepared by the Municipality using a preset format issued by the Government of India. The initial sets of claims were approved without many problems. However, when the later sets went, Government of India started asking questions regarding the reforms. As Varghese was focused on implementation of projects, reforms were largely neglected initially. Then the Government of India started holding up instalments against default in implementation of reforms. Varghese decided to move his attention to reforms and asked the State Level Nodal Agency (SLNA) to develop a framework to monitor reforms. There were about 17 reforms with many complicated sub-components that had to be implemented by the state and the City Governments. Hanoor put together a monitoring framework where every sub-component was reduced to a specific action. She developed a format, where on completion of such an action; the box corresponding to the action was ticked as completed. Every reform had several such actions and completion of each action gave one mark to the municipality. Monitoring of reforms was converted into ticking the boxes – marking the reform based on the ticks and then grading the municipality based on the marks obtained for each reform. These grades were also announced in the newspapers. The Municipalities started showing some seriousness towards the reforms and implementing them. The State Government also had to enact some laws towards implementation of some reforms. Varghese initiated these laws. All this started reflecting in the claim documents and soon the Government of India started releasing the instalments.
The projects of JNNURM were under everyone’s gaze. The Government of India started receiving complaints about quality of works that were getting implemented. The government responded by issuing an order to appoint an Independent Review and Monitoring Agency (IRMA) for every state. To be absolutely fair, the government decided that the IRMA will be a non-government agency. The government also prepared a toolkit to appoint such an agency. The payment of IRMA was based on number of site visits undertaken to inspect the project. More the number of sites visits, more the payment. The National Government soon started insisting on IRMA reports for approval of instalments, which were sanctioned only if there were no adverse remarks from IRMA. However, if there were adverse remarks, the National Government asked for corrections and compliance of suggestions made by IRMA. This put the IRMA in an extremely critical position. While strong Municipal Commissioners made sure that IRMA did not write anything adverse, others struggled to get out of the IRMA remarks and suggestions. At one time in 2010, there were so many adverse remarks that instalments were not released for any of the projects. When this happened, Tripathi, the successor of Varghese, had to summon the members of IRMA and given them a piece of him mind. They then promptly resubmitted all their reports.
The National Government would also send different agencies to monitor projects and reforms. The agencies would visit different cities and also Mumbai where they would meet State Government and SLNA officials. While technical discussions and inspections were held during the days, the evenings and nights had to be made comfortable for the visitors. Hanoor was in charge of arrangements when such delegations arrived. Though she was an information manager, she was a novice in managing such delegations. Often she would call upon seasoned municipal officers to handle the situation, which they would gladly do. Moreover, the Municipalities had far more access to good private facilities like hotels etc. than the SLNA.
After Tripathi took over as Secretary for Urban Development, there was even more stress on aggressive follow-up – but only with the National Government to get funds. Varghese’s MPRs, which kept a check on projects, were discontinued. Tripathi always asked for specific information in specific formats like – list of projects where the second instalment claims were pending with Government of India, list of projects for which Government of Maharashtra had not released its share of funds; list of cities that have not submitted their QPRs; list of projects where funds were released, but projects were yet to start; list of projects which were supposed to be completed by December 2009; list of projects which were approved by the National Government, but had not received any funds; list of projects that could claim their next instalments, but have yet not claimed; and so on. Hanoor had already built a robust information system that kept track of all projects – their approval dates, expected completion dates, financial aspects; technical aspects; the claims made; etc. But Tripathi required specific information that had to be derived from a large information system.
Hanoor was a systems person – she believed that irrespective of efficiency of people, a good system would produce efficiency. She made frameworks and formats for everything – appraisal reports, recommendations, project forwarding documents, claims, replies to various people, inspection reports, etc. Every time Tripathi asked for a specific piece of information in specific format, Hanoor would create a separate framework whereby if such information is asked any time in the future she would have an instant report. But the Secretary’s demands were never the same; and were endless.
As JNNURM progressed, it started becoming a key issue for discussions in all forums – the bureaucrats asked for clarifications, the technocrats raised doubts, the academics made their speculations, the civil society groups complained, and the politicians asked questions. Hanoor spent most of her time in answering questions that came from the State and the Central Secretariats, the Parliament, the Legislative Assembly, from Municipal Councillors and through Right to Information Act. Every time a new kind of question was asked, the information system was tweaked to generate a new figure. The favourite question was: ‘how much of the work is complete?” There was no way to establish that a project was complete by a certain percentage. But Hanoor generated some formulae in the information system to produce ‘physical progress’ of a project in percentage. The ‘physical progress’ figure was one of the most widely used – and there was no way to contest its authenticity. It was always fun to make different types of speculations using the information system – for example speculation about: expected date when a project would claim its next instalment; the date when a project would get completed; fund requirements from the State Government in the next financial year; etc. Hanoor had become so used to generating reports and figures that later it became her trip – she would take up difficult questions as a challenge and would get a kick out of answering them. Her answers were then used to raise more questions.
One of the last things that Ramanand Dube did before retiring as one of the senior Secretaries to the Government of Maharashtra was to push for the repeal of the Urban Land Ceiling and Regulation Act (ULCRA) of 1976. As this repeal was a part of the reforms that was to be undertaken under the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), it was rather easy to do it. For some time now, property and land experts had branded the ULCRA as a draconian law responsible for high land prices in cities of Maharashtra – especially in Mumbai. The ULCRA limited the amount of land that could be owned by an individual in a city. The state took over lands from individuals beyond this limit. As there was less land with individuals, the supply of land into the free market got restricted. Such restriction of supply increased the demand as well as the price.
However, exemptions were provided to land owners who ran industries on their land. Their lands were not taken away and they continued to run industries on the lands until the 1990s when the industrial economy started showing decline in Mumbai. While industries were shutting down; malls, offices and luxury apartments were proliferating in the city. Private land owners who had large pieces of lands and who had received exemptions under the ULCRA to run their industries were scared that their lands will attract the provisions of ULCRA if they stopped running industries and developed their lands into malls and luxury apartments.
In November 2007, the Maharashtra Government repealed the ULCRA. It has been six years since the repeal, but there has been no indication of decrease in property prices. On the other hand, industrial lands have started undergoing transformations. It seemed as if the ULCRA was repealed to facilitate such transformations.
Reforms in land and property were a major part of the JNNURM reforms. Along with repeal of ULCRA, there were five other reforms that were concerned with land and property. These included reforms in rent control act; rationalization of stamp duty; simplification of process for conversion from agricultural lands to non-agricultural lands; computerization of property and land registration; and introduction of property title guarantee system. All land reforms sought to make land and property titles clear and simple to trade.
Like ULCRA, the Bombay Rent Control Act of 1947, also had a bad name in Mumbai. After partition of India in 1947, large number of people who were displaced from Pakistan came into big cities of India and created immense demands on housing. The landlords took advantage of the situation and increased the rents. Those who refused to pay were forcefully evicted. The Rent Control Act not only controlled rents, but also prohibited eviction of tenants. As there was not much profit to be made from rented premises the landlords lost interest in maintaining them and the premises dilapidated. Moreover as eviction was prohibited, landlords could not perform any transactions on their property. The tenants also could not perform transactions without permission from the landlords. The only thing that happened was that tenants further rented the premises and claims multiplied on the properties. The Maharashtra Government tried to amend the Act several times and in 2000, it also enacted a revised Act. But the new amendments were challenged before the Supreme Court. As the decision of the Court has been pending, the Maharashtra Government wrote to the Government of India that it cannot implement the rent control reforms.
With regards to other land related reforms, the Maharashtra Government reported that rationalization of stamp duty and simplification of process for conversion from agricultural lands to non-agricultural lands were already accomplished before the launch of JNNURM. It also reported that all property records have been also computerized before the launch of JNNURM and such information is available on websites of the revenue collectors for many districts. The trickiest reform was about introduction of property title guarantee system. This reform required the State Government to not only create a register of clear titles for all properties, but also issue ‘title certificates’ to the owners of the property, where the state stands guarantee for the titles. This meant that in case of any kind of dispute that emerged later the state would be liable for the claims. As tenure was complicated over urban property, unforeseen claims were always expected from various kinds of people – inheritors, tenants, sub-tenants, buyers without registered deeds, occupiers, etc. In many cases, the state was unable to even protect its own property from claims. The Secretary for Urban Development, Varghese worked as the land settlement commissioner for the state earlier and was completely aware of the complications regarding establishing rightful owners of property. He wrote to the National Government that Maharashtra will be unable to undertake this reform.
The State Governments were also expected to undertake reforms towards decentralization of planning and implementation functions along with ensuring local participation in all decision making processes and making all other government processes transparent to the people. Towards this there were four reforms – Implementation of the 74th amendment; integration of city planning and delivery functions; enacting of community participation law; and enacting of the public disclosure law. In Maharashtra, the city planning and delivery functions were already devolved where large municipalities were responsible to make their own plans and deliver basic functions like water supply, sewerage collection, solid waste collection etc. In case of smaller municipalities, some functions continued to be delivered through State Government agencies – especially water supply. The State Government also enacted the Public Disclosure Law and the Community Participation Law with some speed – in December 2007 and September 2009 respectively. After this, most Municipal Corporations started putting their budget documents and statement of accounts on their websites. Also, in most cities ward committee were formed consisting of local councillors and some NGOs. Though, the impacts of the disclosures and ward committees are still to be assessed, the State Government started reporting that the related reforms were complete.
In early 2008, Nirmal Satam, a Member of the Legislative Assembly from Kalyan, started networking with the councillors of the towns and heads of the villages around Kalyan. He had started preparing for the MPC (Metropolitan Planning Committee) elections. One of the constituents of the JNNURM reform related to implementation of the 74th amendment was to constitute a Metropolitan Planning Committee (MPC) at the Metropolitan Level. As per the reform, the MPC had to be an elected body – elected from amongst and by the local representatives – including councillors, assembly members and parliament members. The main role of the MPC was to prepare the metropolitan regional plan.
In Maharashtra, the Mumbai Metropolitan Authority was established in 1974 by the State Government with an intention of bringing about planned development around Mumbai – in its metropolitan region. The Metropolitan Authority made a plan to establish economic centres across the region to decongest Mumbai. This was the first regional plan of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region. After the plan was made, The Metropolitan Authority was given some lands by the State Government to develop alternative economic centre. Over the next years, the Metropolitan Authority concentrated largely on these lands. In Bandra, the Metropolitan Authority developed an alternative business centre – the Bandra Kurla Complex. Plots were developed on this land to be leased on long leases to businesses and a lot of money was made. Leveraging this money, the Metropolitan Authority also managed to obtain a loan from the World Bank to improve transportation and other infrastructure system in Mumbai. It then started developing new roads, building bridges, resettling people affected while developing these roads, etc. By mid 2000s, it had also initiated projects to build skywalks connecting railways stations to main roads, develop public toilets, build a mono rail and a metro rail and also develop rental housing. It also provided loans to the Municipalities in the region to undertake infrastructure works. The Metropolitan Authority had become one of the most powerful organisations in Maharashtra – with a lot of money and with little responsibility or direct accountability. The main role of the Metropolitan Authority however, continued to be preparation of the metropolitan regional plan. As per law, the Authority was to be governed by a group of people appointed by the State Government including the ministers of urban development and housing, some important bureaucrats, and a few local representatives. In many ways, the Metropolitan Authority was an agency to keep the State Government’s foot in Mumbai, which was otherwise controlled by the richest and the largest municipalities in the country – the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai.
When the idea of having a Metropolitan Planning Committee (MPC) for Mumbai Metropolitan Region started gathering steam; confusion spread about the role and control of the Metropolitan Authority. It was believed that MPC will become the body to control the Metropolitan Authority and elected representatives like Nirmal Satam wanted to be in the MPC. So when the MPC elections were announced in 2008, they spent huge amounts towards buying votes from other elected representatives. In June 2008, the MPC was formed and Satam was one of the members elected to it. He immediately visited the Metropolitan Authority office to know about his involvements, but was shocked to learn that MPC had nothing to do with the Metropolitan Authority, which remained a State Government agency. The role of the MPC was simply to approve the regional plan. Satam had lost his money and hope to control the Metropolitan Authority.
As there was nothing much to control, nobody was interested in the MPC. While, the cities continued to operate on their own, the Mumbai Metropolitan Authority also continued to operate under the State Government. In Mumbai Metropolitan Region, other than the Metropolitan Authority imagining an arbitrary region based on some jurisdictional boundaries, no one else had any unified idea about the region. People of Vasai-Virar in the northern part of the region had very little to do with people from Alibaug, the southern part and people from Gorai-Manori in the west had very little to do with people from Karjat-Khopoli in the east. All of them nevertheless had something to do with Mumbai, which was in the centre. The relationship with Mumbai was purely economical – people came to work in Mumbai. Other than this one directional relationship, the region as a whole did not have any other economical, cultural or political identity of its own, which tied it together. In the absence of this identity, no government was possible other than to control land and money, which the State Government wanted to keep under it. Regional level government that was conceived in the 74th Amendment to the constitution had failed.
The Municipalities who were beneficiaries of JNNURM also had to undertake a series of reforms. These reforms could be broadly classified into three sets – the first set was targeted towards improving their efficiency and hence revenue; the second set was targeted towards environmental conservation; and the third set was targeted towards improving living conditions for the poor.
Amongst the reforms targeted towards improving efficiency and revenue of the municipalities were – setting up e-governance systems for service delivery; changing over from single entry cash-based accounting system to double entry accrual based accounting system; streamlining of building permission approval process; improving property taxes and user-charges for service delivery; administrative and structural reforms towards streamlining staff of the municipalities; and specific reforms for encouraging public-private-partnerships.
Though there were elaborate primers with detailed step-by-step instructions towards carrying out each of the reforms, these were implemented in different ways in different municipalities. In the case of e-governance and municipal accounting reforms, implementation was fairly simple – the municipalities had to hire someone to develop / install software and train the staff for using the software. These reforms got implemented quite quickly in most municipalities. There were however, sub-components in each of the reforms that took substantial time. For example, there was a sub-component of preparation of ‘outcome budgets’. The officers of the municipalities had never worked out such budgets. Like in other cases, here again, the consultants worked out the outcome budgets under the ‘supervision’ of municipal officers. On the other hand, the reforms related to building approval process required the cities to undertake a massive consultation amongst the stakeholders and streamline the process towards bringing down the approval time. Many municipalities reported that they had installed software by which building approval is carried out by a computer and it happens within minutes. Government of India was always happy and looked forward for such quick solutions that could be replicated across the country.
In the case of administrative and structural reforms, where the implicit focus of the reform was towards decreasing municipal staff, many of the Maharashtra municipalities reported that were understaffed and required more personnel. The Government of India did not know how to respond to this and as a result, the administrative and structural reforms were never taken seriously during the monitoring of reforms.
The toughest amongst the efficiency and revenue improvement reforms were the reforms related to user charges and property taxes. The municipalities had to declare their current collection of charges and taxes (which in most municipalities were less than 50%) and take steps towards increasing the collection. The reforms related to user-charges were about numbers and percentages. Under this reform, the municipalities were supposed to collect 85% of money spent in operation and maintenance of infrastructure for water supply, sewerage collection, solid waste disposal and transportation. While the municipalities of Maharashtra had some idea about the money spent on water supply and transportation; charges related to sewerage collection and solid waste were not separately collected but were usually a part of property tax. The aim of the reform was also towards making municipalities calculate specific sectoral expenditures.
In the case of property tax reforms the municipality had to do many things – develop a complete map-based database of all properties; assess these properties; raise demands as per the assessment; and finally collect tax. Many cities struggled to develop a database. In Ulhasnagar, where more than sixty percent properties were illegally developed, no one knew whether to record them or no and what such recording would mean. Many cities sought to set up a geographic information system of properties, which was a requirement as per the Government of India guidelines. While a geo-referenced map was quickly put together plots and buildings, establishment of ‘properties’ within such plots and buildings were a problem. Ground surveys had to be undertaken to establish number of properties. With Indian cities having highly complicated claims over lands and built properties, this task was always going to be difficult. The surveys were generally outsourced by different municipalities. When the survey teams went on the field, several kinds of claims were made, which were related to informal subdivisions, informal occupation, multiple inheritances, informal additions, historical sub-tenancies, customary rights, etc. No one knew how to reconcile all of this. When the National Government started insisting on the completion of property recording for release of fund instalments, some numbers were produced by the consultants, which were forwarded by the municipalities. This number was the number of properties in that particular city and there was no way to check back on it. Once this number was established, then some formula was applied to assess the properties. Some municipalities and their consultants set up elaborate formulae based on location, age of the property, type of construction, use of the property, etc. There were always some anomalies – for example, it was difficult to establish whether a rented house was a commercial property or a residential – for the owner it was a commercial asset and for the tenant, it was residential! Once properties were assessed, then demand notes were sent to the owners. Some municipalities also started incentive programmes to make people get some ‘5% discount on clearing arrears’, no penalty on clearing arrears within a month’, ‘1% discount on early bird payments’, etc. By 2010, many municipalities reported about 75% collection of property tax.
There were two reforms related to environmental conservation – introduction of building byelaws for rain water harvesting and water conservation; and introduction of byelaws for reuse and recycling of waste water. In March 2005 itself, the Government of Maharashtra had given directives to the Municipal Corporations across the state to modify their building byelaws to incorporate water harvesting in all new buildings. As a result, a new set of consultants came into existence – the ones that designed and implemented water-harvesting systems. The Municipal Corporations started accepting certificates from such consultants stating that water-harvesting systems have been implemented. Nowadays it is a practice to buy such certificates and attach them to approval applications. In some cases consultants also certify that ‘underground water quality has been found poor and hence water harvesting was not undertaken’.
The reforms related to recycling of waste water took an interesting turn. Though the State Government was eager to enact a law like water harvesting, it did not know exactly how this had to be done. In the case of water harvesting, the system was very simple – all rain water collected from the roofs and from the open lands within the plot had to be channelized into pits with deep pipes, which would recharge the water table. But in the case of recycling waste water and further reusing such water, the technologies were not settled and clear. In 2008, the Government of India issued model guidelines for implementation of the reform. Consequently many cities modified their building byelaws incorporating the reform. In all cases, the byelaw specified that projects of large size (beyond a certain square feet built up area or beyond a certain number of houses) should recycle and reuse its waste water. In some cases, certain techniques were also specified. Like in water harvesting, even in this case, the reform brought into existence several new consultants, who designed and installed new piping systems and small sewerage treatment plants. As these plants require high maintenance, many of the housing projects have abandoned the treatment plants and have connected their sewers to main sewers of the city.
Three reforms related to improving the living conditions of the poor – earmarking of municipal funds for services for urban poor; earmarking of land for housing for people from the economically weaker sections and lower income groups; and providing basic services for the urban poor. While some municipalities diligently earmarked funds for the poor, others argued that the municipal health and education services were largely being used by only the poor and hence there was already an allotment of funds. The State and the National Governments agreed to these arguments. In the case of earmarking lands for the poor, the Government of Maharashtra issued an order in July 2008, directing all Municipal Corporations and Councils to modify their development control regulations to earmark 10% of lands / tenements for people from economically weaker sections or lower income groups and another 10% for people from middle income groups. This was to be done through making smaller plots of lands or smaller tenements. While there was no mechanism put in place to ensure that such smaller plots of lands and smaller tenements would be used by the poor, the municipalities also dragged their feet in implementing the order. However, for the purpose of reporting on the reform to the Government of India, the State Government order was sufficient. The Government of India was happy to release subsequent installments for projects simply on the basis of such orders.
Providing basic services for urban poor had a long list of components that had to be implemented. These included mapping of all slums in the city, assessing their infrastructure condition, establishing benchmarks for service provisions, and providing services as per the benchmarks. The services included providing of water-taps, toilet seats, drain lines, street paving, street lighting, health facilities and educational facilities. In Maharashtra, most slums have been historically provided services by various agencies of the state and local governments. Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai has a robust network to provide services to the slum dwellers. However, the services were not quantified according to the JNNURM reform requirements. To complete the reporting formalities, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai stated that slums are in the process of getting redeveloped and such redevelopments will ensure provision of all services. The Government of India was happy with even this position of the Municipal Corporation.
Hema Dudhwala’s favorite story to start any discussion on housing was her experience of talking about her maid’s child. The child had come to her one day and said that some people called thier neighborhood a zhopadpatti (slum). The child had then asked Hema as to why were these people calling her house and her neighborhood a slum – was it really a slum? These questions had churned Hema’s heart and she had decided to get a good house for every slum-dweller. Hema was an urban development consultant and ran a consultancy firm called AAPIL in Surat.
The next task was to prepare a strategy to address the housing problem. She believed that if there was clear data about everything about every slum dweller then this would be a good base on which an effective strategy could be developed. She felt that this data should be dynamic and should be able to keep records of slum dwellers through their life. This would not only help understand the lifetime changes, but would also help target subsidies better. For example, she believed that if a slum-dweller had already been a beneficiary and had got a house from the government, then the same slum dweller would not be able to get another house if everything about the slum dweller was tracked. Such tracking would also ensure that the slum dweller would not sell the house or ‘misuse’ it in any manner. Hema was convinced that any housing strategy will have to rest on a mammoth database that would track everything people did throughout their life. Her consultancy firm started developing a software platform to set up such a database.
This platform was called Slum Permanent Record System. The acronym SPRS meant ‘touch’ in many Indian languages. Hema thought of this as an apt name for the platform – it would not only touch millions of lives, but also would be based on ‘touch’– the system was planned with biometric features, where the human body became the identity card. Fingerprints and eye-scans were used to generate a number. This number was unique across the entire world as fingerprints and eye-scans would produce unique identities. Hence SPRS was imagined as a universal system, which could hold data on every slum dweller in the world. And because it was universal, it also had the power to unite all slum dwellers of the world. Hema’s platform was getting ready and she wanted to deploy it. The first opportunity came through the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) in Nanded.
Under JNNURM, large cities were eligible to get funds from National and State Governments to provide services and build houses for the poor. The cities had to prepare a detailed plan and detailed project report to get the funds. Such plans and report would be then approved by the Government of India and funds would be sanctioned. Even though Nanded was not very large as compared to many other cities in Maharashtra; it was selected to be one of the beneficiary cities because of its religious importance. JNNURM was announced in December 2005 and in October, 2008, Nanded was to celebrate the ‘Guru ta Gaddi’ event, which marked the 300th anniversary of the Granth Saheb being declared as an eternal Guru by Guru Gobind Singhji. Lakhs of people were expected to visit Nanded for the event and the National Government as well as the State Government wanted to not only prepare Nanded for the event, but also use the opportunity of the event to build housing and infrastructure in the city. Moreover, Nanded has been politically significant and was a seat to extremely influential leaders. While the older parts of the city consisted of organically developed dense parts, the newer southern parts consists largely of agrarian landscapes along with large housing colonies developed by several housing and industrial development agencies in the mid 70s and the 80s. In 2011, the city recorded a population of 5.5 lakh people.
Like all other cities, Nanded also started preparing plans and detailed reports to get JNNURM funds and appointed Hema Dudhwala’s AAPIL Private Limited as their consultants for preparation of detailed project reports for housing.
In Nanded, the housing demand is created by several groups – The first included, the old-city residents whose houses were either completely or partially demolished for road widening for Guru ta Gaddi event. The second group included people living in sub-standard housing. Though people in this group had some form of tenure over the lands they occupy, their housing condition was described by the city municipality as ‘slum-like’. The third group included people encroaching on government as well as private lands. As per the recent housing policy published by the Municipal Corporation, 1.56 lakh people live in slums – either with or without tenural security. The fourth group of people was those who required housing on account of moving newly into the city or on account of existing houses proving small for growing families.
Since the nineteen eighties, there has been no serious effort by the government to look into the housing question. Housing delivery on the other hand was largely being organized by the private sector. In the past, land owners with lands sub-divided their properties and sold smaller plots to individual families, who then built their houses. The land tenure for such occupancy was regularized under the recent Gunthewari Act. However, as the land sub-division was irregular and house building activities was piece-meal and haphazard, such areas became slum-like in condition. The Municipal Corporation has been carrying out slum up-gradation by providing basic infrastructure like open drains, pathways, underground drainage lines, water supply lines and street lights depending upon the funds available every year.
The case of people affected by road-widening was very clear. Houses of 122 families were affected and all of them had to be resettled. The widening of roads was done in the core area of the city, which was inhabited by the Sikh community. Widening was undertaken primarily of the roads that led to the Gurudwara, where pilgrims were to accumulate for the Guru ta Gaddi event. Local politicians, municipal officials and Gurudwara Board members negotiated with the project affected families and convinced them to shift. As the whole project was to benefit the Gurudwara the Gurudwara Board provided land for the resettlement of the affected families close to the place from where they had been evicted. The master-plan and the detailed plans were prepared by the consultants in consultation with the affected families. Resettlement house sizes varied from 256 sq ft to 600 sqft depending on the sizes of houses occupied by the families before eviction. The houses were well planned and built. The National Government provided funds for the resettlement project, which was executed by the Municipal Corporation. These were special funds given for Guru ta Gaddi event. The affected families did not have to pay anything for the new houses. In the case of commercial units being displaced, the affected party was given monetary compensation or land or shops were made available on rent or combination of all three in different proportions were made available. As the numbers of commercial units were less, the Municipal Corporation could enter into a case-by-case negotiation with each of the commercial unit owner. The Municipal Corporation considered this to be a successful project. The project was implemented with – no major protests, on time, within the estimated costs, and yielded desired results in terms of improved roads and well planned resettlement neighbourhoods. As the existing houses of affected families were old and dilapidated and the neighbourhood was also dense and lacked infrastructure, the new resettlement colony promised new better planned houses and neighbourhood. However, there were many renters on the properties that got demolished. They seem to have simply disappeared.
In the case of slums, AAPIL started with SPRS and undertook a massive survey towards creating a database on slum dwellers and slums. Various kinds of data were compiled on each slum dweller recording demographic and economic conditions. Further the physical characteristics of each slum, along with details of each house were also mapped. Slum-dweller biometric identity cards were prepared. The information collected was vetted by the municipal officials and the list of exact people who needed houses was finalized. While all families in irregular sub-division of lands were considered as having tenure, the year 2005 was considered as the cut-off year for recognition of the beneficiaries in case of families without tenure.
All this information became the basis for developing a ‘Slum-Free City Policy’. Nanded was the first city to develop such a policy at the city level. AAPIL approached the National Government for funds under the JNNURM with its entire database, its slum-free city policy and detailed project reports towards making the slum-free city. The National Government was so impressed with the efforts, that it directed other cities to follow the method followed by Nanded to develop a database on slum-dwellers and Slum-Free City Plans. Projects worth Rupees 1002 crores were sanctioned by the National Government to build 26,307 houses.
For the house construction, the National Government gave 80% of the grants, 7% came from the State Government, 2% from the Municipal Corporation and 11% from the beneficiary families. For development of physical and social infrastructures, the National Government gave 80% of the grants, 18% came from the State Government and 2% from the Municipal Corporation.
AAPIL formulated three models for redevelopment depending upon the ownership and tenureship patterns. The first was the ‘in-situ redevelopment model’. This was applicable for all slums where people had tenure over the land they occupied. This was also applicable for slums in municipal owned or government owned lands. The new houses were built almost exactly over the piece of land occupied and owned by the slum dwellers. On case by case basis, the streets between the houses were widened and straightened. The streets were widened to a minimum width of 1.5 meters. Small amount of land required for such widening was given by the slum dwellers. Community facilities were built in places where earlier community facilities or community toilets existed. 269 sq feet houses with two rooms and a kitchen with toilets inside were proposed and built. In most cases, ground storied structures were built. In some cases where the land parcel was very small, ground plus one structures were built. Thirteen types of houses were designed to be used depending upon the site conditions. These types were approved by the Town Planning Department based on the guidelines developed by MHADA (Maharashtra Housing and Area development Authority) for Low-Cost Housing. The layouts however were not approved. Nanded was in the process of changing its development control regulations. The new ones were yet to be published. The Municipal Corporation decided to build the houses in the period before the new revised development control regulations came into being. The officers felt that this was a chance to get things built which may later become incorrect according to planning standard requirements.
The second model was that of ‘relocation’. This was applicable to slums where people had encroached on private lands or government lands where in-situ development was not possible (like edges of railway tracks etc). In this case, a piece of land reserved under the zone ‘Housing for the Dishoused’ category in the development plan (master-plan) was acquired and a housing complex was developed. In this case all regular town planning rules were followed for set-backs, open spaces. Ground plus three walk-up units with two rooms, a kitchen, a bathroom and a toilet were built. The complex also had spaces for children’s nurseries and day care facilities.
The third model was ‘in-situ redevelopment with land sharing’. This was developed for one large site with 5136 households. Here one third land was owned by the Nanded Textile Mill and two third by the Gurudwara Trust. An agreement was entered into with these two owners to facilitate the redevelopment project using a land sharing mechanism. The total area of the land was 113 acres out of which 40 acres was proposed to be used for rehabilitating the slum dwellers. The remaining land was to be shared between Nanded Textile Mill and the Gurudwara Trust in the proportion of their original ownership. However, complete FSI as available to each of the parties (the Mill and the Gurudwara) in their original land was allowed to be utilized by each of them on their new parcel.
The Municipal Corporation developed several small mechanisms to deal with other issues – it developed a micro-finance scheme for the beneficiaries so that they were able to make the contribution of 11%; the communities were asked to manage the transit accommodation themselves in nearby areas and the programme was not burdened with providing it; and in case of the relocation site, beggars and criminals were accommodated and given work in the construction of their houses.
While Hema Dudhwala was very happy after making the robust information system; today, the database on every slum dweller of Nanded sits in some computer in the municipal office without being used. Moreover, no one in the Municipal office has the capacity to use it or update it. For the Municipal Corporation, it was simply a strategy to get funds from the National Government.
2009 was an enlightening year for Hanoor – she was confronted with situations that made her appreciate the multiplicity of ethics – where one set of ethics were pitched against the other, and she had to make the choice.
One morning in February 2014, Rastogi visited Hanoor’s office and told her that she should be hurrying up with appraisals of proposals as ‘Achaar Sahinta’ would be imposed any time in the next weeks. Hanoor had never heard the term ‘Achaar Sahinta’. After seeing Hanoor’s puzzled face, Rastogi realized that she had not understood him. He explained that ‘Achaar Sahinta’ meant ‘Code of Conduct’ that the Election Commission imposes before any elections. When such a code is imposed, there are restrictions on government decisions and spending.
Hanoor had worked as a planning consultant in various private organizations before joining the State Level Nodal Agency of Maharashtra for JNNURM (Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Mission), a huge central program to improve infrastructure in large cities of the country. Under this program, the National Government provided funds to cities to undertake infrastructure related works. Every state had a State Level Nodal Agency (SLNA) that coordinated the program across all cities in the state. Cities had to prepare project proposals and send them to the SLNA, who were supposed to appraise the proposals and recommend them to the State Governments, who would in turn recommend them to the National Government for funding. Before considering such proposals, the National Government referred them to central expert agencies for their approval. In Maharashtra, the Mumbai Metropolitan Authority was appointed as the SLNA for JNNURM.
The SLNA had hired an ex-military engineer, Gulshan Kohli to appraise all project proposals before recommending them to the State and the National Governments. Kohli was a civil engineer and had experience in large infrastructure works. Since the JNNURM proposals were largely about water supply, sewerage, and roads, he was comfortable appraising them. But in 2009, the Government of India started asking for proposals of e-governance projects. When the e-governance proposals arrived, Kohli simply refused to appraise them stating that he did not understand them. The proposals were then referred to Hanoor for appraisal. Like every time, she was enthusiastic to take this up as a challenge.
The proposals had come from four cities in February and the elections were expected to be held sometime in May. Rastogi explained to her that she should quickly appraise the reports and send it to the State Government because if the election dates were declared, then under the election Code of Conduct, no new financial decision could be taken. Rastogi was a seasoned consultant and had prepared all the four proposals. He also told her that soon after the National Government elections, the State Government elections would be held and there would be another Code of Conduct imposed immediately. Hence the project approval may be delayed by about six months. He also mentioned that there was a possibility that the government would be changed after the elections and then the program itself could be stopped and the project would never happen. Hanoor felt the pressure and started work immediately. She felt responsible – ‘if she did complete her appraisal quickly, then project may not even happen – and ultimately people of the cities would lose’. However, while going through the project proposal, she realized that it was highly under developed and several issues were unresolved. She also felt that many aspects were wrongly priced. She called Rastogi and told him that the proposals required revisions. He told her that he was aware of the problems but there was no time and the Municipal Commissioners had pressurized him to submit.
Meanwhile the State Level Nodal Agency officers, including Hanoor started receiving phone calls from the Municipal Commissioners, Sate Government offices, MPs and MLAs regarding the delays in project appraisals. Hanoor was pulled up by her boss. She explained the situation to her boss and said that she had written letters to the concerned Municipalities about her observations asking them to resubmit revised proposals. There were only few days remaining and everyone realized that it was not possible to revise the project reports in such short time. Hanoor was of the opinion that if the proposals were sent to the National Government in their current state without revision, then they would be stopped by the National Government appraisal agencies. Rastogi said that he was confident of getting the proposals approved by the National Government agencies. Hanoor was still uncomfortable. Her boss suggested that she could use the phrase ‘the project may be considered for approval with conditions’ instead of ‘the project is recommended for approval’. This was thought over and finally Hanoor agreed to use the term ‘may be’. As expected, Rastogi managed to get the projects approved by the National Government agencies as well as the National Government. Hanoor had mixed feelings about the whole thing. She knew that there was something wrong and duties were not done by anyone properly. Moreover, much more funds were going to be spent on the projects on account of poor planning. She resolved her ethical crises by thinking about how the project would benefit many people.
Hanoor was often faced with such dilemmatic situations where different dimensions of the same things presented different ethical challenges – sometimes the projects appeared to be made for appropriating public funds, at other times they appeared to be about saving peoples’ lives; sometimes people appeared to be explaining difficulties in implementation of projects, at other times it seemed that they were bluffing to protect the contractors who had bribed them; sometimes it was about corruption and poor quality of work, at other times it was about providing water to poor people. There was no end to such dilemmatic situations in JNNURM.
One day, she received a call from a senior State Government official who wanted her to visit Delhi the next day. He told her that there was a meeting of National Government officers where a solid-waste management project of a certain city was coming up for approval. He told her that the Municipal Commissioner and the Chief Engineer of the city were going to be there and he wanted her to represent the State Government. He also told her that she would be asked a one question regarding a State Government Reform on land titling, for which she should give a standard answer that the ‘Maharastra Government was studying the Chennai model’. She was also told that someone would wait for her at the Mumbai airport with a flight ticket and at the Delhi airport with a car. Being pulled up and asked to attend a National Government meeting the next day was not unusual for Hanoor. This often happened. But every other paraphernalia was very strange – every time she went she had to get a ticket booked from the office agent; she had to also hire a taxi from Delhi airport herself; and more strangely no one ever expected what question would be asked in the meeting.
When she arrived at the National Government office in Delhi, Chadda and one of his assistants were accompanying the Municipal Commissioner and the Chief Engineer. Chadda’s consultancy firm had prepared the proposal for the solid-waste project. She remembered that Kohli, the engineer in charge of appraising projects at her office had raised several objections to the proposal submitted by this city. Kohli had doubts about the data used for making this proposal – they appeared to be exactly similar to the data for two other cities. Proposals for all these three cities were made by Chadda. Somehow, Chadda had managed to get the proposals approved by the SLNA, the State Government and the central approval agencies. The meeting of the National Government officials happed as scheduled and as expected Chadda made the presentation on behalf of the Municipal Commissioner. The chairperson of the meeting asked some questions to the Commissioner and the National Government appraising agencies, which were answered. Hanoor was also asked the question she was prepared for and she replied. Everything went well and within 15 minutes the proposal was approved under JNNURM. The meeting had started at 1pm and Maharashtra group, which included the Municipal Commissioner, the Chief Engineer, Chadda, his two assistants and Hanoor were out of the meeting hall before 2pm.
As JNNURM meetings usually went for long, the Maharashtra team was booked for a late night flight. But as this meeting finished very quickly, the entire team wanted to return to Mumbai early and miss the evening traffic. They all rushed to the airport in a large vehicle. Chadda’s assistants started making arrangements to prepone the return tickets. After several phone calls, the assistants whispered something to Chadda. He slowly told the Commissioner, that since it was a Friday evening, all flights for the evening were full and there weren’t any seats available. The Chief Engineer looked happy and suggested that they could all spend some time celebrating the approval and enjoying the evening. The men in the group reached a consensus to go to Gurgaon and spend time in the shopping malls. Hanoor was disgusted with them but had no other choice but to accompanying them. Many things were bought in the mall – sweaters for daughters, jewellery for wives, gadgets for sons, and silver cutlery for the house. While the municipal officials were buying, Chadda helped them choose the best quality. Even though the officials insisted on paying, the bills were borne by Chadda. Hanoor was quite confused with the whole things – she could not understand the relationship between Chadda and the officers – Was he bribing them? And why were the municipal officials accepting such petty bribes? Were such things enough to make high ranking officials happy? The shopping took some time and then the group went to a restaurant to have some drinks and food. This time the bills were paid by one of Chadda’s assistants. Everyone returned to Mumbai happy that evening except Hanoor.
Everything was fine until the proposal was converted into tenders and quotations were invited from contractors. The lowest quote was more than double the estimated amount. The Municipal Commissioner, the Chief Engineer and Chadda had managed to get Rupees 140 crores approved for the project under JNNURM. Out of this amount 50% (70 crores) was going to come from Government of India and 20% (28 crores) from Government of Maharashtra. The remaining 30% (42 crores) had to be borne by the Municipal Corporation itself. But the lowest bidder for the project quoted Rupees 290 crore. The project was awarded to this bidder as there was not much choice. The Municipal Corporation had to bear Rupees 192 crores instead of estimated Rupees 42 crores. The Municipal Corporation had no funds to bear this additional burden, but the project had to be done. This was the case with many Municipal Corporations. Poor estimation of projects overlapped with poor appraisals had pushed many Municipalities into getting expensive loans. Responding to this the State Government decided to start its own infrastructure fund from where such loans could be obtained.
Hanoor was not new to the idea of bribes. She had once returned from a stressful meeting from the ministry and had found an I-Phone box on her table. When she asked the office attendant about it, he said that the person who had kept it on her table was waiting for her outside. She called for him. He came inside and said that she should check the phone and if she did not like the color, then he would get another one. He also said that his boss would call her to confirm the receipt of the phone. When she asked him who the boss was, he said that the boss would call her. The man did not tell either his name or the name of his boss. Annoyed with the whole event, Hanoor yelled at the man and asked him to take away the phone. The men took the phone and left the room. Later, one of her senior colleagues said that such things were not new in the office and she was being tested for ease of further business. Hanoor still wonders who the boss was.
Hanoor believed that the SLNA team of Maharashtra was very honest and maintained their dignity. Her four colleagues were senior to her. Kohli was an ex-military engineer and looked at the engineering aspects, Deshmukh was the finance person, Naidu their head was a planner and Hanoor herself kept track of the reforms and maintained the information system. The Secretary of Urban Development had asked the team to visit every project and report to him on the progress. The team decided not to make any consultant, contractor or municipal officer pay for anything during the trip. All arrangements of these visits were made in advance. However, there were always instances when the team would return with small silver statues of Ganesh or a wine bottle or oranges, grapes, etc. Sometimes such things were simply kept inside the team’s car without their knowledge.
Kohli’s image in the SLNA was that of a strict officer. He was an old-timer and kept records for everything. During the site visits, he would terrorise site engineers and contractors. His reports to the Urban Development Secretary on site visits were honest and often pointed out problems in the quality of work. No silverware or grapes would make any influence on him or his reports, even though he would happily take these things home. He was also in charge of appraising new proposals and recommending them to the State and National Governments. During the appraisal of engineering projects, he would be ruthless with the consultants making them run around for every detail. Many project approvals were delayed due to his inputs, which were seen as interferences by many. Moreover, bribes did not work with him.
Kohli had a sister in Dwarka. As she was old and lived alone, he visited her every three months. During one of these visits, he wrote an email to Hanoor asking her to inform their boss that he would be spending a couple of days more with his sister and would like his leave to be extended. He however did not return after two days. Though, this had never happened before, the SLNA team felt that he was simply spending more time with his family and would return to work in another few days. After four days, the SLNA team was informed by Kohli’s family that Kohli had died in a mysterious condition. His naked dead body was found in a hotel room in Agra. After Kohli’s death, Sharma, another engineer was appointed to look after engineering issues.
While JNNURM was messy and nightmarish most of the times, it also had strange and absurd moments. One day a very fat man came to Hanoor asking her to give a letter certifying Kalyan as a Mega-City. Hanoor was puzzled – many questions ran through her mind simultaneously – Was Kalyan really a Mega-City? What is a Mega-City? Who was this man? Why did he want such a certificate? Could Hanoor give such a certificate? To whom was she giving such a certificate? She started asking the man these questions. He said that he wanted to start an engineering college in Kalyan, a small city close to Mumbai. He told Hanoor that before JNNURM, the National Government ran another programme called the ‘Mega City Scheme’ under which funds were provided to cities for infrastructure. At that time, large cities and areas around them were identified as ‘urban agglomerates’. The entire urban agglomerate was eligible to get funds. He argued that since Kalyan was a part of the urban agglomerate and the Mega City Scheme – it should be considered as a part of a mega city. He then disclosed that for opening an engineering college, the authorities insisted on requiring 2 acres of land. However special relaxation was given to colleges in ‘mega-cities’ where 1 acre of land was sufficient. Hanoor agreed with the arguments, but was unsure of why she was approached. He explained to her that the Mega City Scheme was discontinued and JNNURM followed the exact same definition for ‘urban agglomerates’. The State Level Nodal agency could certify that ‘Kalyan is a part of the urban agglomerate under JNNURM and the Mega-City scheme’. He would then produce such a certificate to the approval authorities for engineering colleges and get his relaxation.
In another instant, Hanoor received a thick bunch of papers marked to her to respond. It was a question asked under the Right to Information (RTI) Act of 2005. Asking questions and answering them was a substantial dimension of JNNURM. There were RTI questions, questions from parliamentarians, legislative assembly members, councillors, politicians and also senior bureaucrats. Along with all of these, there were several appraisal agencies, research groups and academicians doing research on JNNURM who had their own questions. Though the entire SLNA team believed in sharing and providing all kinds of information to everyone; the volume of questions asked was frustratingly enormous. The questions from the parliamentarians and other politicians were taken very seriously and every effort was made to provide answers that were non-controversial. Standard answers were kept ready, which were used most of the times. The research groups were also entertained well as most of them turned out to be friends or friends of friends of some member of the SLNA. The RTI questions were however treated as a liability. Effort was made to dodge the question by getting into the technicalities of the way in which the question was framed. For example, if there was a question like – How many projects were approved in 2010 for Navi-Mumbai and what was the total approved cost? Then, the answer to this was: ‘such consolidated data is not available’. The applicant would then make another application asking, ‘Where would he/she get data on the number of projects approved for Navi-Mumbai and their approved cost’? For this the answer would be: ‘please refer the website of JNNURM’. After this, the applicant would then try to derive the data from the labyrinthine website of the JNNURM.
Hanoor had received an RTI application from someone from Madhya Pradesh. He had asked for a tender document of one of the water projects of Nagpur. Hanoor looked at the bunch of the papers and found out that the administrative division of her office had been quite active in corresponding with the applicant. The application was first received some three months ago, where the applicant had pasted a 10 rupee stamp on his application. Such a stamp was required to process the application as per the Act. The application was written in Hindi and this had evidently put off some officer in the administrative division who had decided to reply to the application after 20 days stating that the validity of the stamp had expired as it was dated more than six month prior to the receipt of the application. Of course this response was sent in Marathi. The applicant then had written asking if he could send a demand draft for rupees 10 instead of putting a stamp and in whose name such a draft could be made. The administrative division had answered he could send a draft in the name of MMD Fund. All this communication was happening in Hindi (from the applicant’s side) and in Marathi (from the MMDA side). Then the applicant had sent a draft made towards MMDA Fund and the administrative division had promptly pointed his mistake and written back to him stating that the draft had to be made in the name of MMD Fund and not MMDA Fund. Finally after three months of letter exchanges in Hindi and Marathi the draft arrived with the right name and Hanoor was asked to respond to the application. The officer from the administrative division who had handled the RTI application had himself come to give the correspondences to Hanoor. He displayed a sense of achievement while explaining how he had delayed the application for three months. He also told Hanoor that she should answer the Hindi application in Marathi and take his help to make the Marathi difficult. As the tender document for any project was not available at the SLNA, Hanoor wrote a reply stating: ‘the information sought by the applicant is not available at the SLNA office and he should apply for the same at the Nagpur Municipal Corporation’. The reply was written in English and Hanoor also forwarded a copy of the application to the Nagpur Municipal Corporation.
After three years of working in JNNURM, Hanoor realized that she was getting numbed by obsessions of keeping the system running. She decided to leave in December 2011.