05 Mar 2023  |   06:40am IST

Is Panjim city everything but ‘smart’?

The manner in which the Corporation of City of Panaji (CCP) has undertaken various works under Smart City Mission has been drawing flak from the citizens, who are irked due to road closures, making it difficult to travel in the city. There are road blockades at every intersection as CCP is in a tearing hurry to complete the projects before the June 2023 deadline given by the Union Ministry of Urban Development. The people of Panjim are struggling currently with ongoing Smart City works. The commuters everyday face a lot of hardships caused by the damaged roads and traffic snarls caused by the incessant digging for Smart City projects. The chaos caused by the dug-up roads is causing severe stress to not only the local residents of Panjim, but also visitors, especially tourists. In the weekly Herald TV debate, Point-Counterpoint, AVIT BAGLE explores the reasons for this mess and why the city’s ‘guardians’ are not able to get their act together
Is Panjim city everything but ‘smart’?

Panjim was among the first 100 cities selected by the Centre when Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Smart City Mission in June 2015. The Smart City Mission’s objective was to promote cities that would provide core infrastructure and give a decent quality of life to its citizens, a sustainable environment and application of ‘smart’ solutions.

However, even after over six years of its inclusion as one of the 100 Smart cities in India, Panjim has not achieved this target due to delay in executing a number 

of projects.

The Smart City works were going at a snail's pace until the State government received an official communication from the Government of India directing it to complete all projects under Smart City Mission by mid-2023. 

The result is that the roads of entire city have been dug up in a bid to meet the deadline and complete the Smart City works, with agencies including Sewerage and Infrastructural Development Corporation of Goa Limited (SIDCGL), Goa State Urban Development Agency (GSUDA), Public Works Department (PWD), Water Resource Department (WRD) and others getting in action mode.

The common people are severely affected and they fear, if the works are not completed in proper manner before the onset of monsoon, Panjim could be in for more trouble as floods are looming large.

Patricia Pinto, a former councillor of Corporation of City of Panaji (CCP) said, “The situation is very sad. We thought that Panjim would be a Smart City, as they (government) made us believe. Unfortunately, this is not at all a Smart City. I would like to explain what a Smart City is. A Smart City is a livable and sustainable city, where one can live happily and peacefully. It should be a thriving city.”

However, she believes that the capital city is certainly not going to be a livable city; rather it would be a “living hell”.

“Same is the situation with the term ‘sustainable’. Seeing the way by which the work is going on, one can feel that there is no coordination amongst the various government agencies, no supervision along with bad quality of work. In this scenario, definitely, it’s not going to be sustainable,” Pinto said.

She said, “It is for sure that none of us are going to prosper by living in this hell. So, we really can’t see a smart city coming up, though we thought so as the government had told us it would be.”

“As per the guidelines, for a Smart City, active participation of people is very important. People should be at the heart of an urban agenda. Unfortunately, for any information regarding Smart City Mission, we have to ask it under the Right to Information Act,” she added. 

“We have been spending thousands of rupees to get the minutes of the meeting from different departments. Instead of participating in the decision making process, we are spending our money to be part of this whole activity as none of us know what is happening,” the former CCP councillor said.

She added, “We even asked for a presentation from the MLA of Panjim city, who, along with the Mayor, CCP Commissioner, is a Director of the Imagine Panaji Smart City Development Limited (IPSCDL), under the Company’s Act. Since November last year, we have been asking for a presentation. Till today, there is no presentation given to us by the Corporation, which is unfortunate.”

Pinto added that the people were only involved in the initial stages because the city had to qualify as one of the selected 100 Smart Cities. Without public consultation, a city wouldn’t have qualified.   

“They called everybody for a meeting at the Old GMC, put up kiosks having the plans regarding the Smart City Mission and suggestions were asked. Inputs were given by the people, the project was given to the Government of India and Panjim was selected as a Smart City,” she said.

The IPSCDL’s role was to transform Panjim from an ordinary city to a ‘Smart City’, under which the city was supposed to have IT-enabled services, e-governance, low emission, bio-diverse and zero land filling, citizen centric facilities and multi-modal transit system. These are the essential components of Smart City. 

Initially, active public participation was needed for Panjim to be qualified for this project. Some of the suggestions given by the locals included making smart cards for the passengers who could go from one point of the city to another using that single card. Another person had suggested the use of solar power for city’s street lights in order to save electricity consumption amongst others. 

For these to happen, necessary infrastructure is needed. So, is Panjim ready with the required infrastructure since the Smart City works started?

Architect Tallulah D'Silva said, “It's been years since I saw the plans for the Smart City. It was in 2009 when I was first invited as a local expert to be involved in the project. They had appointed consultants from Bangalore for projects such as urban renewal, heritage, conservation, mobility of the city and facilities for the urban poor.”

“We had done a thorough survey which included from going ward to ward, asking people about the problems they face, the aspirations they have from the project etc. Then we exhibited the list of issues for the people, who came and suggested solutions. The list of requisites for the smart city which was made back then is still relevant today,” D’Silva said.

Regarding the issue of infrastructure, she said: “For the last 12 to 15 years, we all have been only imagining this Imagine Panaji initiative. We are yet to see the practical implementation.”

“Panjim is a coastal city, where rivers and sea play a very important role in sequestering. Since green areas are part of the infrastructure, does the Smart City plan recognise its importance?  Green areas in the city are also part of the infrastructure. They act as the lungs of the city by providing oxygen and constantly clean the environment by battling the carbon emissions,” D’Silva said.

“Panjim is already a green city and some years back, the trees along the D B Marg were slated for cutting. Citizens foiled those attempts. This Green network has to be preserved. If you go around and see, all the parks in the city are barricaded, making them inaccessible for children and senior citizens. It is not necessary to have every infrastructure project to be made of concrete,” the noted architect and green activist said.

Ironically, there is hardly any ‘green’ 

element in the works that are being 

carried out. 

“The life of cement concrete is of merely 50 years or even lesser, if the quality is subpar. What does this mean? Are we going to remove these structures after 20 years? Our MLA and Mayor are posting on their social media saying that the Campal Road near Bal Bhavan is ready as a part of the Smart City project. The pavement for the same was done probably less than a year ago. They removed the pavement and put it up again,” she said.

Independent politician, Dattaprasad Naik said that PM Narendra Modi had initiated Smart City project in order to improve the status of the cities across the nation and also to provide funds to the States, who face shortage of funds. 

“However, these funds have been misused for the last two years. The Panajikars are suffering every day. The people's civic body CCP has been turned into a family owned corporation. Let alone people, the corporators themselves do not know what works are being carried out in their wards,” Naik said.  

“One good thing that has happened is Chief Minister Pramod Sawant called the meeting of the officials and I feel they received instructions. Maybe that is why we see some of the work being undertaken,” he said. 

“Unfortunately, the father and son duo, who are in-charge of Panjim, were nowhere to be seen in the photo of the meeting which went viral. Since the people of Panjim voted for them, that is why they are reluctant in questioning them about the mess Panjim is in currently.  People are equally responsible for this situation,” Naik said.

Speaking about how the activists and people of Panjim have to pay from their pockets to get information related to Smart City Mission, Patricia Pinto cited examples about two projects – the Mandovi riverfront walkway-cum-cycle track and storm water drainage.

“People’s inputs were taken for the walkway-cum-cycle track project. It starts from the Campal indoor stadium, goes right up to the football ground and then connects the road. People approved this. Now, once it was approved, people were forgotten. People’s participation is supposed to be there till the end of the projects. But now, there is no public participation. This walkway, which was supposed to go till the D B Marg, has gone right up to the ESG. Now, whose idea was it? This extended portion was not discussed with the people,” she said.

The former CCP councillor added that this whole project comes under the CRZ and hence clearance is required for the project. So the consultant itself has to give the Environment Impact Assessment report, which is accepted by the GCZMA. Based on that, the clearance is given.

“In this particular case, the concerned consultant is not accredited with Quality Control of India. This consultant has no right to give an EIA. This information was gathered by us from the Quality Control of India under RTI after checking about its credentials on the internet. Similarly, the GCZMA should have also checked on this,” she alleged.

“They have put up an ugly bridge opposite to the ESG for connecting the extended portion of the track, which is a second project. There is no permission from the CCP, Captain of Ports or the NGPDA for this portion of the project. It seems, any work can be undertaken under Smart City Mission and not be accountable for anything,” she said.

Speaking about road transport infrastructure, Tallulah D’Silva said, “We had done a lot of design interventions during the previous missions such as Amrut and JNNURM, before the commissioning of the Smart City Mission.”

“Just like infrastructure and GDP, there is also something called the Happiness Index. If you see in North Eastern states, they have a high happiness index. We will have a high happiness index here only when we cater to a large number of people who use public transport or who are walking and cycling,” the environmental activist said. 

She pointed out that 80% of people use public transport, walk or cycle. Only 20% of the people use private vehicles. The city’s infrastructure currently caters to only that 20%. 

“Panjim is a lovely city to have a walk. Even when we were doing the surveys, we would take cycles and go to truly understand the problems. Footpaths are uneven. The pedestrians should be given the first preference actually. The way vehicle owners behave, causes inconvenience to others,” she said.

She added that vehicle owners park haphazardly and even in the No Parking spaces, causing severe hardships 

to others. 

“We have been telling CCP to mark the parking spaces for the last 12 years so that people park in a disciplined manner. Since it's a Smart City project, they could incorporate technology, where after parking in the No Parking zone, the vehicle owner could be notified with a

‘beep’ sound. 

“Our gardens, green networks are not easily accessible for the elderly and for the differently abled. We have visually challenged brothers and sisters. Can they navigate through the city? They require textures to identify the city,” she said.

Hitting out at the obsession to widen roads for accommodating more cars,  D’Silva said, “Our attitude is that if the number of vehicles are increasing, then let's widen the road. But you replace those 30 cars with one bus, and it frees up the road.  Solution to decongesting the city and to improve mobility is to improve the public transport as well as to give access to pedestrians. Countries like the Netherlands, encourage their people to cycle to work.”

As per the government statistics, 95% of the tourists visiting the State mostly come to Panjim. So around 7-8 lakh tourists, including 1.5 lakh foreign visitors, visit Panaji. What are the hardships the Panajikars have to face due to 

the load put on the city by this huge 

influx of visitors?

Dattaprasad Naik said that as a resident of Panjim and an entrepreneur, everyone's businesses set up here have been ruined. 

“Except the D B Marg, the internal roads of the city are not convenient at all. The tourists are facing the inconvenience of course, but the small traders in the city have been affected the most. If the CCP has even a little bit of concern for people, then it should waive off the taxes of the small traders in the new financial year,” Naik said. 

He said that first priority should be to reduce the exorbitantly high Sign Board tax. He also demanded that the CCP should also waive off Property Tax of the residents as the civic body hasn’t provided any facilities.

“In fact, they have only increased people’s woes. The colony where I stay, we cannot even call an ambulance anymore. The incidents of trucks caving in have already happened and one cannot guarantee that the same will not happen with the ambulances,” he said. 

“People are not against what is happening, they are against the manner in which it is happening. The change in the sewage line of Panaji is required as it is very old and there are leakages. The sewerage project of Taliegao which started in 2010 is still incomplete,” the politician-cum-activist said. 

“The person who claims to be the 'King of Taleigao' has not been able to complete the project in 13 years, why? Taleigao still does not have a market. Had it been there, a lot of load on the Panjim market would have reduced. People have to suffer for the next three years as they voted for this,” he said.

Tallulah D’Silva said, “I just want to add that whenever a building license is obtained by an architect, they have a 25-point protocol which states the things the builder should not be doing, such as not dumping debris, not blocking the road etc. Is this not applicable to Smart City works? What if a senior citizen falls into one of the trenches caused by digging of roads? There are higher chances of accidents in such situations as the drivers try to avoid those trenches. It is a human rights violation.”

According to Patricia Pinto, because of flooding, there is a flood mitigation report for Panjim done by a Danish company. This was done as part of a strategic collaboration between the Government of India and Danish Government.

“Under this, the company called Project Urban Living Lab (PULL) has prepared the entire report, in which it is stated that Panjim is prone to floods and has mentioned the measures to tackle it due to the rise in sea tides. It has given a full plan on how Panjim should work on its drains,” she said.

There are old Portuguese-era underground drains. According to her, the Portuguese were very good at hydrology and their drains were very good.

“Over a period, mud and silt has got deposited on these drains and hence require maintenance. You have to clean these drains. The report also states that these drains should be connected to nature-based solutions, so you let it flow into gardens, so that water remains there for some time till the tide levels get lower,” Pinto said.

The report also stated that the Smart City should refer to the Government of India’s sustainable kit, which is a manual on storm water drainage systems. In that it has stated that the drains must be maintained. 

“Sewerage system should not damage other underground infrastructure. The sewerage manholes have come up right in the middle of these drains and are damaging them. If you go in front of the Printing Press, all the slabs have been taken out using an earth mover. These were the underground drains, which were being dismantled. Instead of cleaning them, these are being replaced with concrete pipes. The inter-connecting drains are being cut,” she said.

The ex-councillor warned that Panjim will witness floods. She alleged that this was a huge racket. 

“I wish they leave Panjim as it was, instead of damaging it further. If Panjim gets flooded again, who will be responsible for it? It has to be the CCP, which washes off its hands from the Smart City project, even though the Commissioner and the Mayor of CCP are directors in the company handling the Smart City works,” she said.

The floating population in Panaji is far more than the local population. Although the Assembly has been moved to Porvorim, the city is still the capital of the State and houses many government as well as private offices. How does one assess Panjim’s carrying capacity in this backdrop?

Tallulah D’Silva said studies have been done regarding the load bearing capacity of panjim and many more are being done. But efforts should also be made to find a solution. 

“The tourists visiting Panjim are five times the local population, which puts immense pressure on the infrastructure. The requirement of water, other basic facilities are much higher. There is also the issue of garbage. Our natural asset is biodiversity. Panjim has a lot of springs and some of them are perennial. The name ‘Fontainhas’ is derived from the spring. But wells and springs which were maintained once upon a time, are now either closed or left unattended,” she said.

Dattaprasad Naik said that ground water has been completely contaminated. The restoration of wells can be done only after the sewage projects are done and dusted.

“The real estate boom in Taleigao and nearby areas has ruined the groundwater, as the sewage from these housing colonies is discharged without a proper treatment system into the water bodies and the farms,” he said.

“As Chief Minister and head of the State, Pramod Sawant should take charge of Panjim. He has a strong support of 33 MLAs and people of Goa have given him a good mandate. He should not bend in front of a couple of MLAs just to satisfy their needs. CM should keep the interests of few aside and work for the people of Goa,” Naik said. 

So, the most pertinent question is, what should be done to make Panjim a Smart City in reality?

Disheartened with the status of the Smart City Mission in Panjim, Patricia Pinto said that already the city’s infrastructure has been destroyed and now the work should stop to prevent any further damage. 

“Water bodies, land and hills are already destroyed. There is no river front in the city anymore. The government is not doing anything for the city at all,” she said.

Tallulah D’Silva said, “I think the people who are trying to manage the city are mismanaging it and misusing their power. They should just simply step down and hand over the city to its people. The city will be destroyed if there is no public participation.” 

“The Smart City plan has no mention of climate resilience whatsoever. Does anyone know what to do if there is a rise in sea level tomorrow? A very active environment architect Elsa Fernandes has done a study of Tiswadi taluka, which states that all the low-lying areas will submerge. A mitigation plan is required for this eventuality,” she said.

The attention to semi-urban areas is also required. If the government and representatives cannot do it, then they should step down and we people should take over.

Dattaprasad Naik said that it's not that Panjim has not been dug up before. The DB Marg was widened in 2000 before IFFI.

“But the then Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar would take people into confidence, hold meetings with them and then start the work. This is not happening anymore. CCP has become a family-owned company. CM Sawant has to take the charge in his own hands. He is the last resort. If people want Smart City, then they should also vote smartly,” Naik said.

(Herald TV had contacted Vijay Kumar, Chief General Manager of Imagine Panaji Smart City Development Ltd, responsible for the Smart City project for Panjim. He had deputed, a junior official Samueedin Shaikh, who had agreed to participate. However, just few minutes before the debate he expressed his inability to participate to present the IPSCDL’s point of view with regard to the inconvenience caused to people because of the digging up of roads for various projects)