‘The Hitavada’ confronts civic authorities with city ills

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 13 Jun 2018 10:53:42


Staff Reporter,

“Why are you so insensitive?” With this question, ‘The Hitavada’ editorial team, doubling as common citizens -- with extensive documentation in hand about the mess strewn across the city in the name of developmental works -- took a historic and bold decision to confront Nagpur’s Mayor Nanda Jichkar, Municipal Commissioner Virendra Singh, Ruling Party Leader Sandip Joshi, and Chairman of Standing Committee Virendra Kukreja and a host of officials at the Mayor’s chamber on Tuesday.

The idea was to confront the civic authorities whether they had chosen not to respond to ‘The Hitavada’ expose of city’s ills, as the People’s Paper. To the barrage of issues raised by ‘The Hitavada’ editors, the municipal leaders answered the questions in the negative -- “No. We are not insensitive. Though we do not wish to shirk our responsibility, we have genuine challenges to face. But, we must thank ‘The Hitavada’ for the initiative to call on us and confront us with realities.” At the same time, they assured to take stock of the situation periodically and return with feedback.

Vijay Phanshikar, Editor, ‘The Hitavada’, who led the delegation, expressed disappointment and anguish on behalf of the citizens that despite the people raising the issues relating to mess in the name of development, Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) had been unresponsive. “Why is there no response to people’s grievances? Should the people expect insult, year after year?” were the pointed questions. Submitting the copies of the extensive coverage relating to bad condition of roads, garbage piling up at various spots, delay in completion of cement road construction, ill design of roads leading to water-logging in the very first spell of monsoon, and the unviable dream of London Street (now renamed as Orange City Street) project.

‘The Hitavada’ editorial team members pointed out with specific examples that there was lack of illumination of roads at night due to non-working street-lights, absence of trimming of trees that affected illumination of roads at night, the menace of stray dogs and stray cattle, ill-executed works of cement roads, lack of proper co-ordination between NMC and other agencies. Above all, all of them sought to know what was NMC doing to redress the grievances of people in this regard. They wanted to know who should be held responsible for accidents taking place in various areas of the city, thanks to bad ramps of cement roads. They asked, “Will NMC own up responsibility for injuries or deaths in such accidents?” 

Right from Ramdaspeth, Dhantoli, Laxmi Nagar, to Khamla, Sadar, Vanjari Nagar, Manewada, Gittikhadan, the problems faced by people residing in these areas figured in the discussion. ‘The Hitavada’ team members handed over the copies of the newspaper reports to the Mayor. “When it comes to redressing the grievances of the people, there can be no separation between political and administrative leadership of the civic body. Political leadership has to face the consequences if the administration is not responsive,” they said. They asked hard, and discomforting, questions about quality of the cement roads in the light of cracks, density of hospitals in areas like Dhantoli and Ramdaspeth and problems thereof, parking issues, encroachments on footpaths, and failure of the civic body to keep the city clean. When everybody knew about monsoon arriving in June, what was the need to start the work of Dharampeth road in the last few days of May, they asked.


Nagpur is passing through transition phase: Mayor

Mayor Nanda Jichkar called the discussion with ‘The Hitavada’ editors a ‘healthy’ one and said that NMC’s leadership was ‘well aware’ of people’s grievances. She observed, “Many projects are under execution simultaneously. Nagpur is passing through transition phase, and we will have to tolerate this for three-four years. But, we are making efforts in co-ordination with the civic administration to find solutions to reduce inconvenience faced by people.”

On the issue of waterlogging even in posh areas like Ramdaspeth and on newly constructed cement roads, the Mayor said that waterlogging got cleared within two-and-a-half hours of rainfall and the city did not face the situation that arose in Mumbai. There are some issues that are old and in some cases the matter is sub-judice. Still, she added, the civic leadership was trying to find a solution to those. On NMC’s poor financial health, Jichkar said that it was coming back on track and pending bills were being cleared.

Solutions will take some time: Mpl Commr 

Municipal Commissioner Virendra Singh said, “I go through whatever is published in newspapers, visit the place, and interact with officials. We are sensitive, but change will take some time to come.”  To reduce inconvenience faced by the people, he said, he would be calling multi-agency co-ordination meeting soon. None of the areas will remain untouched. “It will be my honest effort to redress grievances of people. Changes will be effected to keep the civic administration in good stead. I shall try to bring about change, set the priorities, and complete the projects in time,” assured Singh.

We shall introspect, taking corrective action: Sandip Joshi

Responding to the barrage of questions, Ruling Party Leader in NMC Sandip Joshi first thanked ‘The Hitavada’ editorial team for the unique initiative. “We do not wish to skip our responsibility. But, we face some difficulties, which we are making efforts to get over,” he said. He, along with Standing Committee chief Virendra Kukreja, Chief Engineer Manoj Talewar, and Health Officer 

Dr Pradeep Dasarwar, replied to various queries of ‘The Hitavada’ team. According to Joshi, 60 per cent of the total road length in the city came under the jurisdiction of Nagpur Improvement Trust (NIT), Public Works Department (PWD), and National Highways Authority of India (NHAI). NMC has 40 per cent of the road length in the city with it, he added. “We will introspect on issues pointed out by ‘The Hitavada’, and will also call a co-ordination meeting with various agencies executing different projects in the city,” he assured.

As far as cement road works were concerned, Joshi said that Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis himself had taken cognisance of the bad quality of roads and had asked the authorities not to release payment of contractor concerned. “Accordingly, the work beyond Narendra Nagar has been stopped and his orders of enquiry are being followed. As far as stretch between Trimurti Nagar to Pratap Nagar Square is concerned, 76-78 cracks were spotted on the road. However, according to engineers, cement roads develop cracks in first six to eight months. Corrective action is being taken wherever cracks are deeper and wider than the norms prescribed by Indian Road Congress,” he said.

Adding on to that, Chief Engineer Manoj Talewar said that major cracks were detected in Reshimbag and area near Children’s Traffic Park. “It is mainly because of black cotton soil in nearby grounds, which led to capillary action resulting in cracks. Hence, we have asked the contractor concerned to carry out rectification. Central Road Research Institute also is being consulted on how to carry out the work,” he informed ‘The Hitavada’ editors. Twelve out of 30 cement roads proposed had been ‘completed’. However, a contractor company is in liquidation and now NMC is finding a way out how to complete the works with that agency, he said. He, too, admitted to delays in completion of works but said that permissions for utility shifting works were received in phased manner. Besides, in some cases, delay was caused due to shortage of sand supply.

In some cases, Joshi admitted, NMC’s calculations about availability of funds went wrong. “But”, he quickly added, “Please do not suspect our integrity and honesty.” He candidly admitted that NMC’s finances were in doldrums. Despite 6.50 lakh property units in the city, the property tax collection was around Rs 150 crore to Rs 200 crore, which was lesser than that of Akola city, which had lesser number of property units. NMC’s finances are dependent on Government grants, he observed. Hence, he said, NMC was proposing to increase property tax that was not done for years. The delays in construction of cement roads were caused by various reasons including the fact that Police Department blocked permission for starting work on another side of the two-lane road for almost six months in a few cases, Joshi alleged. In case of bad condition of road especially near Khamla vegetable and fruit market, he claimed that action was taken against contractor concerned and his bill payment was stopped. Joshi, who had led an agitation against the hospital density in Dhantoli and Ramdaspeth areas, said that the court had allowed hospitals in residential areas and hence NMC could do nothing. At least 16 proposals for new hospitals were pending, he told ‘The Hitavada’ editorial team.

Linking it to the issue of London Street, Joshi said that hospitals were willing to shift to London Street area. “However, the problem is that the big-scale project did not find any investor from Nagpur, and the big names from other parts of the country found it commercially not viable. Hence, now, we have divided the stretch into 10 segments -- markets, medical facilities, gardens etc. Soon, NMC will appoint a Transaction Advisor that will help the NMC in selling the properties that will come up on the land,” he explained. Further, he assured, NMC in its latest budget has made a provision of Rs 50 crore to ensure that the project comes up soon. Before December 2018, the project will start, he added.

On the issue of maintenance of sanitation and hygiene in the city, the senior corporator lamented that many sanitation workers were not doing their jobs properly and when it came to taking action against such lot, the unions opposed the initiatives like biometric attendance or GPS watches for workers. Regarding encroachments, Joshi informed ‘The Hitavada’ team that NMC was in the process of hiring private police to ensure proper bandobast during encroachment removal drive.

On the issue of stray dogs and stray cattle posing risk to lives of people, Standing Committee chief Virendra Kukreja said that an Animal Shelter was being created at Bhandewadi. Dr Pradeep Dasarwar, Health Officer, said that the officials were reluctant to take action on a wider scale as they were afraid of inviting the wrath of animal rights activists. “What if someone dies because of stray dog or stray cattle?,” asked ‘The Hitavada’ editors. To this, Dr Dasarwar said that efforts were on to find out proper solution.