Weak urban local bodies could dent J&K’s claim to smart cities

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smart-cityWhile the government of India has notified the norms of the Smart cities project, and set specific guidelines for being selected as a smart city project it is very clear from the outset that only those cities which have a history of strong urban local bodies, and good governance are likely to be to able to come out as winners.

For the state of Jammu and Kashmir, though the central government has only allocated a single smart city but there are four claimants to this epithet and it is most likely that at least two smart cities will come up ultimately in the state one each from Kashmir and Jammu.

Four cities Srinagar, Jammu, Anantnag, and Katra have been identified by the state to be considered for becoming smart but if these cities are benchmarked against the standards set for selection than all of them falter on one or the other count.
First of all the election to the urban local bodies has been kept in a limbo for past several years which is itself a handicap. As such none of these cities have an elected municipal body which runs the local affairs. There are also legal tangles with regard to the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, and it remains to be seen how they help the state in getting relaxations.

While Jammu and Srinagar have million plus population but Anantnag and Katra do not fulfill this criteria. Neither of the four cities in Jammu and Kashmir has a functional property tax regime run by the municipal bodies though some efforts have been made in this regard but it is unlikely that these are going to satisfy the mandarins in Nw Delhi.

Although because of strategic and intelligence reasons they might agree to allotting two cities the smart city framework but that would not be because benchmarks are met. Only one city in the state i.e Jammu has a proper master plan whereas the master plan of Srinagar is still a project in the making while the other two cities may have rudimentary plans but nothing concrete on the ground.

There is also a need for provision to ensure that foreign and Indian companies can buy land in these cities but due to Article 370 thic could be a problem in the state. Implementing a property tax regime could be another challenge in Jammu and Kashmir where urban local bodies are dependent on state government for funds as their own revenue realization is meager even to pay salaries.
It is most likely that the state government is going to seek relaxation in the norms as J&K is a special state.

If existing service levels are to be taken as a parameter the entire state of Jammu Kashmir has performed badly because the performance on sanitary front has been dismal, and data reveals that J&K is worst performer on sanitation front and on bottom third in the list of all states.

Both Jammu and Srinagar municipalities have basic online grievance redressal systems that would be a big positive. However, it would be subject of a study on how these have helped in grievance resolution. The monthly newsletter is non-existent but it can be created by all the municipalities.

As far as budget is concerned Jammu municipality has posted budgets upto 2012-13 but this is a doable thing for all the urban local bodies.

Levying a penalty for delay in service could be introduced in the state but it is unlikely that penalty could be implemented in the state.

Internal generation of revenue is a major weakness for all the four municipalities in the state as all are dependent on state government for funds though some revenue accrues to them.
Water in many parts of Jammu, Srinagar, Katra, and Anantnag is supplied by PHE and it needs to be supplied by the municipalities. JNNURM would be another point on which the urban local bodies in Jammu and Kashmir would falter as not much development has taken place under this plan as well in the state.

Parameters set up Central government for selection as Smart City on points basis.

1. Existing Service Level

i. Percentage of increase over Census 2011 or Swachh Bharat baseline on number of
household sanitary latrines, whichever is less (Form 2, Part -1) – 10 points

ii. Making operable Online Grievance Redressal System with response being sent back
to complainant (Form 2, Part-2) – (Y/N) – 5 points

iii. At-least first monthly e-newsletter published (Form 2, Part-3) – (Y/N) – 5 points, and
iv. Electronically place project-wise municipal budget expenditure information for the last two financial years on the website (Form 2, Part-4) – (Y/N) – 5 points.

2. Institutional Systems/ Capacities

i. Started to levy compensatory penalty for delays in service delivery (Form 2, Part 7) –
(Y/N) – 5 points, and
ii. Has the total collection of internally generated revenue (e.g. taxes, fees, charges)
shown an increasing trend during the last three FYs (2012-15) – (Form 2, Part 8) (Y/N)
– 10 points.

3. Self-financing

i. Payment of salaries by ULB up-to last month (Form 2, Part-9) – 5 points,
ii. Audit of accounts up-to FY 12-13 (Form 2, Part-10) – 5 points,
iii. Percentage contribution of tax revenue, fees and user charges, rents and other internal
revenue sources to the ULB Budget (actuals in 2014-15) – (Form 2, Part 11) – 10 points,
iv. Percentage of operation and maintenance cost of water supply, which is met by
collected user charges for supply of water during last FY (2014-15) – (Form 2, Part 12)– 10 points.

4. Past track record and reforms

i. Percentage of internal revenue sources (self-generated) budget funds used for capital
works during FY (2014-15) – (Form 2, Part 13) – 10 points,
ii. Percentage of City-level JnNURM Reforms achieved (Form2, Part 14) – 10 points for
six (6)ULB level Reforms, and
iii. Percentage of JnNURM projects completed, which were sanctioned during the original Mission period (upto 2012) (Form 2, Part 15) – 10 points.

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