Kerala stands ahead of most other states, so far as literacy and overall development is concerned, and we aim to achieve the same level in urbanisation as well, says APM Mohammed Hanish in an interview with Nayana Singh and Kartik Sharma of ENN
Give us an overview of your department and how it intends to exploit the immense urbanisation opportunities in the state.
First of all, ours is perhaps the most urbanised state in the country, with 48 percent of the population residing in urban areas or urban agglomerations. We need to provide them with decent facilities to live as well as work. It calls for creation of a large number of satellite towns which provide one with proper opportunities to live, opportunities to work, social infrastructure, educational institutions, schools, colleges, hospitals, parks, etc. Main problem pertaining to urban development is non-availability of good road network, drainage system, water supply and adequate sanitation and cleanliness for healthy living of citizens. To this end, we are planning to seek lots of funding from various external agencies like World Bank, ADB and Government of India missions like JnNURM.
Now, there are various ways for proper utilisation of finances to create better infrastructure facilities and better execution of projects. One of the tested options is that of PPP (Public Private Partnership) model. PPP makes room for greater transparency and accountability on the part of the private operator.
Any specific project being implemented under the PPP model in Kerala?
In Kerala, we take up projects under the model off and on. We have the example of Kochin International Airport. It has 26 percent government participation and 74 percent private share, and it is working out very well. Today, it is one of the busiest airports in India. There are also some small and medium projects that have come up in various towns under the PPP model, and the “Partner Kerala Mission” is giving it a fillip. The Mission is a process within the government to look exclusively at PPP projects and recommend them to the government for implementation by the local bodies.
Various state governments and the Central Government are focussing on smart cities. What type of high-tech cities are you trying to raise in Kerala?
The basic problem in Kerala is acute scarcity of land. This is a small state with 38,863 square kilometre of land and a population of 3.5 crore.
Therefore, land is a scarce commodity here. Whenever you try to conceive of an idea like smart city, you face stumbling blocks. So, we are trying to create better facilities in less space in the upcoming satellite towns called smart. Unlike many other states, Kerala does not have much land where smart cities can be started from the scratch. So, instead of creating new smart cities, we will try to develop smaller cities into world-class high-tech cities.
Coming to urban local bodies, how do you intend to strengthen institutions like municipalities?
An amount of Rs 30 crore has been kept aside as a dedicated corpus fund for creation of quality DPRs that are absolutely essential for seeking financing from external bodies. Getting funds is a major handicap for urban local bodies because of the lack of adequate capacity building. Of late, empanelment of consultancy has also been enforced and it is left for the government to decide whether to finance them or not. Based on a general mission of the Government of India to create capacity building, the Central Government has provided Rs 49 crore, which would be utilised for building capacity in urban institutions, municipal financial bodies, e-governance, waste management and social development. The programmes are operational in 14 districts.
Now, the urban local bodies’ functionaries will be trained in different areas like service delivery, service benchmarking, municipality finance, city sanitation and finance management by various training institutes. Experts, seminars, workshops, and study material and support material will be made available for training.
Along with that, we also try to modernise the new scheme funded by the World Bank also known as Kerala Government Social Development Programme (KLGSDP).
Some projects aided by the World Bank and the Government of India will bring sea change in the way people perceive the functioning of urban local bodies (ULBs). Efforts will be made to access finance from the market. The various credit rating agencies can rate services offered by respective municipalities. Tomorrow, the major towns and cities can go for infrastructure bond on their own and this will change the way local bodies work and make them free from the clutches of the government. This way, Nagar Palika Act would be practised in the true sense.
“Unlike many other states, Kerala does not have much land where smart cities can be developed. So, instead of creating new smart cities, we will try to develop smaller cities into world-class hightech cities”
How are you using technology in e-Governance initiatives?
e-Governance is a critical component of administrative service delivery. Using general fund for e-Governance, we have gone great length in governance initiatives in Kochin and Thiruvananthapuram. The initiatives taken up in Kochi are complete and will be rolled out soon. The move is aimed at promoting use of cutting-edge technologies for straight interface with public in 14 districts.
The Town Planning Department, which is also under my control, will also see introduction of software to know the nature of land. This will help one in making decisions with regard to the purchase of property. Other important urban initiative is e-filing of building plan application. This is a major initiative from a common man’s viewpoint.
Do you think this initiative will curtail corrupt practices?
What was the impact of RTI? It did not eliminate corruption completely, but made people aware about the processes in government offices. It has made things transparent and instilled fear among authorities that they might be caught. Similarly, accessibility to the information will become keyword for e-Governance.
Any challenge you are facing in overcoming the barriers to IT initiatives?
The biggest challenge that I am facing is about the morale of the staff. All these years they have been confined to their tiny worlds, simply oblivious to the travails and miseries of the common man. The challenge before me today is to shore up their morale to bring them face to face with modern techniques and practices. Their capacity building to enable them to face the challenges of technology is the need of the hour.
What is your vision for tomorrow’s Kerala?
The State of Kerala is well known for the beautiful mountains, lakes and greenery, and people come here for holidaying. Besides being a destination for tourist activities, Kerala is also a place where clean cities, better civic facilities and a great deal of transparency in terms of working of the system is role model for the whole country. Infant mortality rate, maternity mortality rate and life expectancy rate here is at par with western countries. To sustain those and ultimately follow the models of e-Governance is the biggest task in the coming times. With an effective e-governance system, we would like to add another feather to our cap.