Friday , 22 March 2019

Hurdles In Making Panaji A Truly Smart City

Taking cognizance of the growing number of illegal handcarts (gaddas) selling eatables in the city, Urban Development Minister Francis D’Souza has directed the Corporation of the City of Panaji (CCP) authorities to clamp down on them. The CCP, the lone city corporation in the state, should have led other civic bodies by example, but it had failed to act on the complaints about illegal gaddas from the hotels and restaurants in the city, and had to be directed by the minister. The minister’s directions came after his meeting with a delegation of Panaji Hotel and Traders Association and CCP authorities. The CCP has also been directed to take steps to rationalise the various taxes including sanitation tax for hoteliers and other traders. Given the fact that the minister has directed the CCP authorities to not only act against the illegal gaddas and stop their activities but also streamline the system for issuing trade licences and payment of taxes, it appears that the functioning of one of the oldest civic bodies in the state left much to be desired.

Panaji has been selected as one of the smart cities in the country, but the CCP functioning appears to be far from one of a robust and efficient civic body. Even panchayat offices are computerizing their functioning, but the CCP is yet to computerise its functioning and had to be directed by the minister to start online services for trade licences and tax payments. The CCP assurance that they will start offering these services online in the next two months needs to be followed by their authorities with concrete steps to get their computers, software and manpower ready for that. The CCP also came in for criticism for making hoteliers and traders go through several applications and processes in order to get their papers right for starting and conducting their business. The CCP must set up a single window system and rationalize its taxes. It has been alleged that the CCP levies high sanitation tax across the board even on the establishments which do not generate a large quantity of waste or have their own garbage treatment plants.

Panaji is the first city in India to be built on a planned grid system but owing to corruption and inefficiency prevalent in the CCP illegalities have become the rule in the city rather than an exception. It is pathetic to note that the CCP officials have failed to clean the city of illegal food gaddas. The FDA has issued a warning that every gadda must have proper licences and must display them clearly for the customers to see. The FDA has been issuing warnings about the possibility of diseases being caused by unhygienic handling of food and money by the licensed gaddas. If there are risks of diseases even from the licensed gaddas, the amount of risks from illegal gaddas can be well imagined. Illegal gaddas that do not pay any fees or taxes also cut into the business of licensed operators who pay all the fees and taxes to the CCP. Since the CCP authorities have the list of licensed gaddas, it should not be difficult for them to identify illegal gaddas and take action against them. Failure to take action against illegal gaddas over a period of time gives them scope for claim to legitimacy. Pleading that they have been operating for a long time, the illegal gadda operators turn to seek approval of their business.

The Urban Development Minister’s meeting with the hoteliers and traders and the CCP authorities has brought out many ills that afflict the CCP. Apart from the ills discussed above, it was revealed that the CCP does not have a trustworthy and efficient file movement system. The CCP commissioner did not fight shy of disclosing that files are sometimes reported to be ‘lost’ on the way from one desk to another and it was only after the higher authorities issue a threat of action to fix the responsibility for the disappearance of a file that it suddenly surfaces. Files in public offices are presumably ‘lost’ to cover the misdeeds of one or more of the public servants or to put a bribe price to it. The CCP cannot go on like the old times. The city will crash. The elected members are the ones that have a greater responsibility upon themselves to make the CCP good, fair, streamlined and efficient. Not that the commissioner and other officials have any less responsibility in this regard. Above all, the government should close the divide between the elected members and officers of the CCP and not widen it. The chasm between the Smart City Mission and the CCP needs to be amicably bridged too.


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