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Vol. XXIX No. 18, January 1-15, 2020
As another Year dawns, several programmes in newspapers make us feel heady. Traffic rules will be enforced, Pallikaranai will be retrieved, Kodungaiyur and Perungudi waste dumps will be converted into energy by high-tech solution “to end the City’s waste menace”, the Marina will be beautified and upper reaches of Adyar will be dredged for free flow of sewage free water and the estuary will bloom.
Should we rejoice or resign ourselves to accepting that things will move painfully slowly and would remain the same? That is our soliloquy. Take, for example, an important public health related necessity that has been in the air for several years. It was announced in mid-2017 that with an outlay of Rs. 1,442 crores for remediation of the vast dump yards in Kodungaiyur and Perungudi, which are serious health hazards, further dumping would be stopped. The conservancy process would be revamped. Two plants would convert waste to energy-absorbing incoming waste and converting the accumulated heap. It was then estimated that in a period of 15 months the waste heaps would be fully degraded, biologically and chemically. Not 15 but 30 months have passed. The present announcement says that the Corporation has “finalised the proposal” at Rs. 1,250 crores. The Chief secretary is “likely to review the proposal soon”. Once that is completed, officials “expect the work to start next year”. About 36 months have passed from conception to just to start of work. That is not an exceptional case but seems to be the norm as other examples would show.
In early 2017, Chennai residents were told that the Adyar River would get a make-over with riverfront development, plugging of sewage outfalls, modular sewage plants, walkaways and cycle tracks. The project report “has been readied”, it was said. Restoration was expected to take three years. Meanwhile, flow of polluted water into the estuary would negate efforts to revive and maintain the creek at considerable cost and effort. After three years the river work has started, and it may take up to 2022 or longer as there are difficult hurdles. That is six years or more from concept to completion.
Launched in 2016, the Smart City Project came alive by mid-2018. There is no clear indication of the target completion dates for different projects, but it is known that the Smart City Project has a five-year time frame ending 2022. It may be extended.
Construction of the first stretch of Chennai Metro began in June 2009, spanning seven stations, Koyambedu to Alandur, covering 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) and began operation in June 2015, taking six years. Now in 2019, the operational network is 45 km. At full network length of 163 km, with all interconnections in place, the project may be completed only by 2025 and not by 2022 as originally envisaged. With congestion rising every day to unbearable limits, the capacity as estimated by CMRL would, by 2025, become inadequate to give any significant relief. Nineteen years is indeed a long time by which time the project could become irrelevant to its context.
Projects and services not conforming to timelines and cost discipline seriously erode credibility. Long gestations increase costs, undermine viability, suffer from congenital failure and become, when finished, irrelevant. GDP and growth have come into everyday conversation these days and are no longer technical. We speak of growth without corresponding employment. Project implementation phase, likewise, registers in statistics as “growth” because it generates incomes during construction. But when completion is unduly prolonged and the impact is not realised, what is reflected is growth without welfare. Upon completion, delayed projects fail to meet the desired objective and people are still chasing aspirations for a better life, running on the treadmill, as it were, going nowhere. It is time we need not only a statutorily mandated Citizen Charter of what we can expect from the Government in terms of public facilities and services but also timelines and commitments to performance constituting a Performance Charter.
Timely execution and making the resulting infrastructure deliver expected outcomes is the responsibility of the bureaucracy. The netas make investment decisions and sanction necessary funds. Transforming that into specific facilities and sustained delivery of public services is the function of the officials at different levels. That is Governance; it is the alchemy to convert Input into Impact. For instance, while the State scores high on infrastructure in the fields of health and education, the score is not good in terms of outcomes and impact. More governance is necessary to extract the maximum value from investments already on the ground, in every field of government – traffic enforcement, defending public space from misuse, collection and disposal of solid wastes, women’s safety, providing clean air and water, respecting pedestrian rights and safety, putting real value and meaning into free health and educational services and so on and on – and our New Year wish is for more Governance.