Smart City buildings not smart enough?

Su Venkatesan pointed out the buildings constructed at the Periyar bus stand and multi-level car parking centre near Meenkashi Amman temple have not obtained approval from the DTCP.
Image used for representational purpose only.
Image used for representational purpose only.

MADURAI: The buildings, constructed as part of various Smart City projects in Madurai, lack the approval of the Directorate of Town and Country Planning, claimed the elected representatives in the district.

Addressing media persons after the second Smart City Advisory Forum (SCAF) meeting at Arignar Anna Maligai here on Friday, Madurai MP and co-chairperson of the Smart City Advisory Forum (SCAF) Su Venkatesan pointed out the buildings constructed at the Periyar bus stand and multi-level car parking centre near Meenkashi Amman temple have not obtained approval from the DTCP. "If a private player or an individual has done the same, will we be okay with it? Even now, we are trying to make better use of the constructed buildings only because it is all built from the taxpayers money."

He further said that most of the projects have reached around 80 per cent completion. "Compared to other Smart Cities in Tamil Nadu, which wisely chose many small and city-specific useful projects, Madurai has chosen 14 large projects, most of which are unnecessary. The quality and guidelines followed by the civic body would be scrutinised by other government bodies like District Development Coordination and Monitoring Committee (DISHA), as SCAF has the right only to recommend plans to improve the projects," he said.

The MP also said that separate review meetings will be held in the coming weeks to discuss five priority projects including redevelopment of Periyar bus stand, Vaigai riverfront project, underground drainage system, traffic management and restoration and preservation of heritage sites. "The department officials concerned will also participate in the review meetings," he said.

Elaborating, the MP said there were 4,000 buses departing from Periyar bus stand before the commencement of the Smart City project. "This included 1,800 buses passing through Tirupparankundram and Thirumangalam. Now, a shopping complex has been built in the place that housed the bus stand. Where will we accommodate these 1,800 buses now? A very complicated infrastructure in the name of buildings has been set up during the previous government and it poses a challenge for both the development and the traffic management system in the city. Similarly, the green cover in the city centre has turned zero by these projects," he said.

Meanwhile, citing the Union government's move to withhold Rs 2,875 crore as the urban local body elections were not conducted in the State,  Finance Minister PTR Palanivel Thiagarajan asked, "If the Union government decided not to release even the general funds to urban local bodies citing it has no elected representative, how did it release funds for Smart City projects? Besides, the corporation commissioner has also been holding the in-charge posts of CEO of Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) and the Special Officer (instead of mayor). If one person could hold all the responsibilities, why were three different posts created?"

He also clarified that he took part in the meeting in his capacity as the Central Constituency MLA and not as Finance Minister, as it would be in conflict of interest.

According to official sources, a sum of Rs 693 crore has been released by both the Union and State governments so far for the Smart City projects in the district so far. Of this Rs 601 crore has been utilised. Further, proposal seeking release of the second installment of funds for this year has been sent. A sum of Rs 200 crore is being released in two installments for each fiscal as part of the scheme.

Political feud over corruption charges

 Meanwhile, replying to Thiagarajn's allegations that the selection of projects under the Smart City programme was aimed at facilitating corruption for three ministers of the previous AIADMK-led government, Madurai West constituency MLA and the then Minister for Cooperation, Sellur K Raju challenged him to prove the charges and take action against the perpetrators. He said that back then, he only inspected the projects in his capacity as a minister from Madurai and has nothing to do with awarding tenders or selecting projects.

Responding to Raju's challenge, Thiagarajan said, "Proving corruption is not rocket science. Already raids are being carried out across the State and he should rather be careful now." Implementing wrong projects or even the right projects without a proper plan has adverse effects than the revenue loss. The execution capability is much more challenging than the financial crunch, he added.

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