Government’s Smart City Mission is an ambitious one and is set to transform our cities and eventually the way we live. The project involves massive investment both by central and state governments. Smart Cities Mission of the Government is a bold, new initiative. It is meant to set examples that can be replicated both within and outside the Smart City, catalysing the creation of similar Smart Cities in various regions and parts of the country. The total investment envisaged is more than Rs 2,00,000 crore.
The main objective here is to create a replicable model which will act like a light house to other aspiring cities. But while creating a replicable model the government should not just restrict itself setting standards for quality of projects, project execution and physical infrastructure. But the government should set standards for other aspects too which are not visible to common man’s eyes say transparency, safety standards, audit standards, etc.
One of the core components of any city development projects including smart city projects is land which is the most abused thing today in our society. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. Our politicians, developers and underworld – all are there waiting for an opportunity to grab even an inch of available public land. When there is an opportunity to grab the land, all our principles of transparency, discreet and far-sighted governance disappear and only greed prevails. So smart city mission should set a standard which promotes transparency in public dealings, punishes the guilty irrespective of his so called status and prevents usurping of public property by private people.
Therefore, auditing of processes and checks at various levels in smart city projects is of utmost importance. We have seen in the past on several occasions private partners grabbing the land in the name of public private partnership projects and in smart city projects too many projects are implemented following PPP model and therefore, there should be enough checks and processes to prevent history repeating itself.
Land is the fundamental natural resource for developmental activities and because of its scarcity land has become a precious commodity with sky high prices. Sometimes terms and conditions of the agreement are drafted so ambiguously that it would be impossible to make out whether it was a contract or a PPP project but at the same time retaining all the characteristics of a PPP project.
Often absence of centralised information on Government land by the revenue department is the major hurdle. And this lack of centralised information is exposed to the risk of possible encroachment of Government land. Further, we come across several instances where the government departments not only fail to prevent alienation of Government land but abet the encroachment. On many occasions carrots of job creations are presented before the public to hide the nefarious acts behind.
Therefore, a performance audit on land management by the concerned departments/agencies involved in smart city project should be made mandatory.
Yes, performance audit or any other form audit can only bring out the facts only after the frauds have taken place and therefore, those who believe in prevention is better than cure may not be so open to the idea. But the very fact that the actions of the government agencies and other involved would be subject to audit by CAG would be enough deterrent for many not to help the land mafia in their acts of land grabbing. Also, in due course it may encourage or force the government and its agencies to put proper checks and processes in place to prevent repetition of such acts in future. By doing so, our Smart City Mission will be setting new benchmarks in all aspects of project execution.