Panaji has been ranked 90th in the ‘Ease of Living Index’ among 111 cities announced by the Union ministry of housing and urban Affairs. The ministry’s evaluation was based on four parameters – physical infrastructure, governance, social conditions and economic situation. The four parameters were further divided into 78 indicators spread over a 100-point scale. While rankings can be debatable, no one can deny that Panaji lacks in road quality, ease of transport and parking and public amusement and other areas. Though public toilets were promised for those without private lavatories, they were not kept. There are scores of illegal constructions that have come up in different parts of the city which do not have proper access. Inaction of the authorities to deal with the fallout of the illegal structures would surely not lead to improving the ranking of Panaji. The city fathers have an uphill task to overcome the shortcomings.
Former city mayor Surendra Furtado accuses Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar of not doing enough to improve the conditions in the city. Parrikar has represented the Panaji constituency in the state assembly for almost 25 years and has been chief minister for close to a decade. He was also the Defence Minister for nearly three years. One of the oldest issues regarding Panaji has been the prime land occupied by the army in the heart of the city which could have helped Panaji to ease the parking problems as the Corporation of the City of Panaji had sought the land for construction of multilevel car parking facility. Parrikar has been accused of not helping the cause of the city despite being the Defence Minister. It has been alleged that hundred of crores of rupees sanctioned under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission were allowed to lapse by the government. The funds were allocated for creation of parking facilities, e-governance, restoration and beautification of St Inez nullah, Rua de Ourem creek, drainage and sewerage works, footpaths, etc. Had the funds been utilized the city could have improved various facilities. On the other hand, the Parrikar camp claims that he has been trying to do a lot to the city with the Smart City Mission.
It is to be noted that the Ease of Living Index released by the Union ministry of housing and urban affairs speaks more of non-availability of data than poor performance of cities on ease of living parameters. No wonder some cities scored a zero on certain parameters because there was no data collected with regard to them. By any standards, the rankings have exposed the failure of the authorities of cities to collect and maintain data on crucial parameters. As various shortcomings have been noted by the Union ministry of housing and urban affairs, the Corporation of the City of Panaji and the government undertakings need to take steps to address the shortcomings. The first endeavour of the city authorities should be to ensure that all the data with regard to the parameters on which the cities were judged along with other indicators are collected. Secondly, the authorities need to work on the noted shortcomings and ensure that city parameters improve in order to make life better for residents and visitors alike. Some facilities could be added to the ongoing Smart City project.
Panaji has seen high growth in population in the past decades. As land is limited there is pressure on creation of additional infrastructure to meet the needs of the growing population. There has been unplanned and haphazard development in the city. The authorities failed to prevent illegal constructions, which have been blessed by certain politicians for obvious reasons. The authorities should demolish the illegal structures, rather than allowing politicians to use their residents as vote banks. With various projects being underway as part of the Smart City Mission, the focus of the city authorities should be to create facilities that would help in making life of people comfortable; the ranking would follow. The city transport is poor and pathetic; the private bus services do everything that is contrary to contributing to ease of living. The government should take strong measures to streamline city transport, making travel faster, cheaper and easier. The development of the city and improving ease of living in it would require co-operation of different entities. Political partisanship will never allow Panaji to earn a high rank in the ease of living index. The various entities should give up their petty infighting and work together to make Panaji one of the best cities of India.