Thursday, December 30, 2010

Loharinag Pala

I attended the first meeting of the NGRBA (Ganga Authority) Steering Committee meeting at North Block Delhi yesterday. I found, for the first time, that Finance Minister Shri Pranab Mukherjee who was chairing the meeting, a bit annoyed at Uttarakhand, and even lose his cool for a brief while. The issue was Loharinag Pala.
At Loharinag Pala of Uttarakhand, NTPC was constructing a Hydroelectric Project. There was agitation that this would disturb the environment and the would adversely affect the Ganga river. But work had already started. Govt of Uttarakhand demanded compensation for the stopped project from Govt of India. To this, Pranab Mukherjee reacted sharply. He argued that this would open floodgate where future projects might start without environment clearance and then demand compensation for stopping it due to non-receipt of environmental clearances. He argued that both development and environment should go in parallel and both were joint responsibility of central and state governments and question of compensation cannot arise. A group of secretaries were formed to see if additional electrical power could be made available to Uttarakhand.
There was a rare faux pas at the beginning of the meeting. Union Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde complained that though he was present in the previous meeting of NGRBA presided over by PM, the minutes circulated did not mention his attendance. Shri Jairam Ramesh apologised and promised that revised minutes would be circulated immediately.
At 9.30 pm, we met Union FM at his office. He will go to Fulbari in Jalpaiguri district to inaugurate a land custom station.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

First Meeting of Task Force on PPP for Affordable Housing

The first meeting of the National Task Force on PPP for Affordable Housing was held today in Delhi. I came out of the PPP seminar at ITC Maurya at 11 am and went to Nirman Bhavan to attend the meet as its member. I outlined the West Bengal experience including JVC/Assisted Sector initiated projects where 50% of the housing stock must be for EWS/LIG. I told of on-line plan sanction in New Town, which basically works on a system of self certification by professionals like registered architects.
I was assigned the task of doing an in-depth study as to how Development Authorities can help PPP ventures in getting projects cleared quickly for Affordable Houses to take place in the PPP / Private Mode. The self-certification route is also to be explored more fully. As suggested by Secretary Ms Kiran Dhingra, I think I'll do a case study in ADDA (Asansol Durgapur Development Authority.
.I have a month to do so. 
(Posted at T3 Airport Terminal Delhi: flight to Kolkata delayed by one and a half hour. It will leave at 9.25 pm it seems)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

PPP Conclave at Delhi....2

Today was the first of the two-day seminar on PPP at Delhi. It is happening in ITC Maurya. It started at 9.30am and eneded at 7.20 pm: a long but useul day. Pranab Mukherjee and Montek Singh Ahluwalia were there in the inaugural session.
In the panel discussion at the Water Exchange, I made the following points:
(1) Capacity building is a step in right direction. But manpower shortage at ULB levels is also a real problem.
(2) Correct DPR and clear assessment of UfW (Unaccounted-for-Water) is necessary for PPP
(3) Chairpersons of ULBs must be sensitised. Political 'race to the bottom' (water user charges are being made free) must be stopped.
(4) For equity reasons (how will the poor pay water user charges?), PPP for water may succeed better for supplementary quality water supply system coexisting with municipal water system (think of the co-existence of bottled/mineral water and municipal tap water or co-existence of unleaded 'normal' petrol and 'speed' fuel).

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Green Modules for New Urban Spaces - Workshop

I attended the workshop at Sonnet today, after being exempted from the High Court where I had to appear first thing in the morning.
 I learnt a lot. Some things that stuck:

(1) We must follow an alternate path for development. We must recognise that the city system is a living organism, and planning must aim to re-inforce the natural fluxes (water, sun, wind etc). For example, streets must be laid keeping wind direction in view.
(2) Walk to work: socially acceptable compact city form must be developed.
(3) Energy efficient, climate resilient city design
(4) Comfort of public space (no rushing from one air conditioned zone to another ac zone in an ac vehicle). Linear green and blue open spaces (I also thought of Shantiniketan's Chhatimtala).
(5) Behaviour change (cycle for poor, car for rich: change mindset)
(6) Freight transport management
(7) RRR (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), PPPP (Public Private people Partnership)
(8) French drain (perforated drainage pipes to allow groundwater recharging) & permeable pavements
(9) Congestion tax to subsidise cycles

I also made a few remarks.
It was a pleasure meeting Jeffry again: I thought what he said made sense. It was gratifying to note that even Dr Johannes Flacke  was in the audience: I knew he'd be flying back to Germany today. Interacting and hearing Prof Misra and other speakers were also great.
* * *
In the evening, I was in a lively panel discussion at the Palladium Lounge. It was organised by Young Indians / CII. I remembered that I attended one event of CII/Yi last year too, when I was in the Election Commission. It was great meeting Dr Kedia once again.
This time we talked on Innovations in Urbanisation. I thought it went off well. At the end (after saying a lot of other things including citizen behaviour change, I suggested that we should launch a campaign "Amaar Kolkata" (My Calcutta). I thought it struck a chord with the audience

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Planning Seminar in Haldia on Monday

I stayed through the day in the Planning Meet at Haldia on Monday (13th Dec). This was about adoption of scientific methodology for urban land planning (LUDCP).
I liked how Prof TNMajumdar of IIT analysed Haldia's transportation goof-ups. The presentation was clear, logical and concise. Over lunch, I discussed if he could suggest a new road alignment that will open up industrial possibilities and if Durgachak-Haldia can be developed as a bipolar township through a rapid transport (metro rail / Bus rapid transport) link.
 I also became acquainted with Dr Johannes Flacke of ITC University, Netherlands and his work. He told us how ITC is making complex GIS applications fit for citizen consultation through large touch tables ("giant i-phone-like screens"). We agreed over lunch that it'd be a good idea to visit his university if and when I ever visit Netherlands (I'd been to Amsterdam in 2004 on a 2-day visit when I was studying in ENA, France).
Ms Anandita Sengupta, who is doing a research project with Dr Flacke, also made a presentation. The basic idea of mapping vulnerability by judging the hazardousness of an industry (think of Bhopal) and the susceptibility of houses (think of mud houses vs concrete houses) was quite innovative, I thought.
All in all, it was a day very well spent (I left Kolkata at 6.30 am and returned at 8 pm) where I learnt a lot and also presented my views from a macro level, during the inaugural session.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

PPP Conclave on Dec 22-23

The Ministry of Finance, Department of Economic Affairs, Govt of India is organising a one day India PPP Conclave followed by an international PPP X-change on 22-23 Dec at Delhi. I've been invited to attend it. I went to the North Block today (in between two meetings at Delhi) and ascertained the details.I'm also likely to be a panel speaker since I'd been the co-ordinator for the report on urban PPP by MoUD earlier.
The event is being organised by DEA in collaboration with Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank. I quote below the objective of the conclave:

"The objective of the conclave is to take stock of developments in the PPP space so far and set course for the future, so that the target of private participation for the XII Plan period, which has tentatively been fixed at US$ 500 billion can be achieved".
* * *
I attended a meeting at the Planning Commission in the morning. Among other things, I told that a Rs. 1,500 cr World Bank project preparation on development of secondary cities is being held up because of the conditionality imposed by World Bank that they would first like legislative action for withdrawal of the Urban Land Ceiling Act.

Friday, December 3, 2010

"Ecologically Sustainable, Economically Productive and Socially Equitable"

I am in the gleaming T3 Delhi Airport now, waiting to board the 8.50pm Jet Airways flight to Kolkata. I drove straight from the venue of the National Conference.
FM Pranab Mukherjee said that our urban strategy should be ecologically sustainable, economically productive and socially equitable. I thought he expressed it quite well.
* * *
Mayor of Kanpur described how the State CM was denuding all Mayors of UP of all authority and role, thus making a mockery of the 74th Constitutional Amendment. This was a little while after someone commented on the dais that capacity building was not a prerequisite for devolution of powers to the Urban Local Bodies: after all, Churchill did not insist on training up India's leaders before granting her independence !
* * *
Many states and cities received awards. I felt a little sad that West Bengal didn't get any. I sort of connected with the Mayor of Raipur who said that she was new but would 'snatch' an award next year. ...But can we?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

National Conference on JnNRUM tomorrow

I am in Delhi today. A National Conference on JnNRUM will be inaugurated by Shri Pranab Mukherjee tomorrow. I'll attend. I collected the passes etc. Learnt that they don't allow laptops, mobiles (not surprising) but not even pendrives (rather surprising) inside the auditorium.
* * *
I went to the Planning Commission today. I was told that they had not agreed to the diversion of money from UIG to UIDSSMT. This was proposed earlier by the State Govt.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


I went to Durgapur yesterday. After the review meeting on JnNRUM, I sat with officers and planners of ADDA who are involved in the project for resettlement of subsidence-prone villages. I learnt that a possible site is located at Bomjemari, close to Maithon dam (pic on left) near Jharkhand border. About 2-3 lakh people will be rehabilited at this and other locations. Although it is a long-term project, calling for huge resources over the years, I talked about things that we may take into consideration while making plans for the new town.
It is not often that one gets a greenfield town project, especially in a densely populated state like West Bengal. I urged the planners to think 'out of the box'. I indicated that our focus now may centre around more green spaces for the children and citizens to move around, taller buildings, more underground utilities and transport hubs (I told them about the Masdar City project in Abu Dhabi), energy and carbon neutrality, optimising wind use and generally looking two or three decades into the future.
I plan to visit the spots next month or so.
On my way to Durgapur,  I stopped by to visit the housing project called Rennaissance in Burdwan. The project is a joint venture of BDA (Burdwan Development Authority). I saw two model houses (pic at right) and quite liked them. I advised them to built in some environment friendly features into the project if possible.