Saturday , 23 March 2019

A Not-So-Clean Project Of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan

DESPITE the appointment of a ‘governance expert’ over a year ago to guide it, the Goa State Urban Development Agency (GSUDA) failed to achieve the desired results under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. The GSUDA spent almost Rs 10 lakh on the expert’s salary and expenses for creating ‘smart wards-smart colonies’ without having much to show. The so-called ‘governance expert’ Sumit Singh, who claimed to have been associated with the Jodhpur-based NGO All India Institute of Local Self Government, was appointed by GSUDA on a monthly salary of Rs 1 lakh plus accommodation and travelling expenses to “guide the state” in replicating the Jodhpur model of smart colony-smart wards. He was appointed for a month and directed to visit at least three urban local bodies for intensive campaign to make the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan a success. His other responsibility was to implement the action plan for citizen participation so as to bridge the gap between the urban local bodies and various stakeholders. His responsibilities were also to suggest a mechanism for convergence of various social welfare schemes to enhance accountability and transparency. The expert was expected to define roles and responsibilities of colony committees in ensuring clean neighbourhoods and making the wards open defecation-free. The only ‘achievement’ of the expert was that one ward of the Mormugao municipality was declared as smart colony in December last year. He was expected to present a detailed report and recommendations for better implementation of the initiatives which are still awaited.

No one in the government thought of carrying out an audit of the works ‘completed’ by the expert; however, his services were extended. The ‘expert’ produced a status report which does not speak about the activities carried out by him in the municipalities for successful implementation of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Neither did his report give any idea of any mechanism for convergence of the social welfare schemes. Despite the fact that there were no concrete accomplishments to show, the ‘expert’ managed to get extension twice, the last of which ended in March this year. However, the ‘expert’ is believed to be continuing ‘giving his services’ to GSUDA even after the end of the last extension. According to informed sources, GSUDA management is still interested in continuing with his services!

It was only after a concerned citizen’s complaint about money being wasted on the ‘smart ward-smart colony’ project that the government appears to have woken up. The matter of appointment of the ‘expert’ and his performance has since been referred to the vigilance department for probe. The issue has reached the Chief Secretary. The government has incurred an expenditure of over Rs 10 lakh on the ‘expert’ so far, and it might have to pay more as retention fee to him. It is surprising that the ‘expert’ has continued to be associated with the GSUDA, though his ‘extended’ contract expired more than six months ago. There has been no audit to check the expert’s claim that the project has made good impact in the state and 11 colonies were declared ‘smart’ within two months of the project launch and  work on declaring 20 more colonies, including three slum areas, smart was underway. The expert’s report, however, does not disclose the names of the municipalities or the areas where the so-called smart colonies exist. The only specific mention is that of ward number 12 of the Mormugao municipality as a smart colony. Does not GSUDA need to check the truthfulness of the expert’s claim?

The government should order an inquiry to find out who favoured and gave extension to the expert despite there being little or no achievement for the works assigned under his supervision. Could the government spend funds from the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan mission for paying the salary, rent and expenses of a ‘governance expert’ when there is no provision for such expenditure under the mission guidelines? With poor results to show, the government has to inquire whether the expert actually carried out his assigned duties or just claimed his salary and perks without actually fulfilling his obligations. The government must withhold any dues claimed by the governance expert. The state government must stop squandering public funds on availing services of ‘experts’ that are appointed without clear objectives and ‘perform’ without any overseeing by the employer and get away by submitting vague and unsatisfactory progress reports. The officials of GSUDA, who were responsible for appointment of the ‘governance expert’ but were indifferent or indulgent to his poor achievements, must face administrative action for their role in waste and misuse of public money.

Please like & share: