In an obvious measure to grab eyeballs, the Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry has asked the State governments to push up implementation of “impactful” projects which will get people talking about the Smart City Mission. The Centre and the State governments together have identified 261 projects worth ₹32,600 crore under this category. Majority of these projects are in the first lot of 20 smart cities announced in January 2016. Projects have been shortlisted without any clear definition of what “impactful” means. “261 impactful projects have been identified in consultation with the States and circulated earlier vide letter dated August 16, 2017. These projects are expected to have visible and transformative impact on the various aspects of the lives of the citizens,” Secretary Durga Shankar Mishra writes in a letter addressed to all Chief Secretaries. All these projects have to be commenced by November 2017. The idea is to complete the projects in time for the next Lok Sabha polls in May 2019. The list of “impactful” projects varies from Museum of Urban History in Bhubaneswar, to Adventure Park in Udaipur, to rejuvenation of water bodies in Coimbatore, to 5 km-long heritage walk in Warangal, to conservation of built heritage in Thanjavur, to redevelopment of world-famous Manikarnika Ghat in Varanasi. PPP projectsMr. Mishra, in his letter, has also urged the States to prioritise 370 projects to be completed at a cost of ₹30,000 crore, which are developed under public-private partnership. The Ministry has sent out this missive after the review of Smart Cities by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 30. He directed the Chief Secretaries to review the progress of projects on weekly basis. Since the list of first 20 smart cities came out on January 1, 2016, questions have been raised on the mission. For one, the Smart City is a misnomer, because only small pockets of the city are to be developed. The latest review of Smart City projects reveals that only 79 projects with total budget of ₹ 841 crore have been completed. Another 204 projects, with a budget of ₹ 7963 crore are under implementation. Projects worth ₹1.14 lakh crore are still on the drawing board stage. To accelerate work, the Ministry has now decided to award World Bank and AFD (Agence Francaise De Développement) funds on competitive basis. “The detailed guidelines with competition framework in this regard are under finalisation and would be circulated separately,” Mr. Mishra said in his letter.
As part of the series of concessions being granted to the real estate sector, which is facing a credit crunch, the State government aims to help relax the ban on construction in the buffer zone around flamingo sanctuaries in Mumbai and Thane.Ahead of the Assembly polls, the State government is pushing the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) to notify Eco Sensitive Zones (ESZs) around the sanctuaries. The notification will help real estate developers seek a relief from the ban imposed by the apex court on construction within the buffer zone. Real estate bodies have submitted an affidavit to the courts on the need to lift the ban for the benefit of the industry. ‘Fast-track proposal’According to the Supreme Court directive dated December 11, 2018, unless the State government notifies ESZs, a 10-km buffer has to be marked from the boundaries of flamingo sanctuaries. As per the directive, construction will be banned within or around the buffer zone. Real estate representatives have demanded the proposal to declare the sanctuaries as ESZs be put on the fast track. An environment department official said, “We have done our bit to mark out the ESZs and forwarded the proposals to the (MoEFCC) from the Mangrove Cell of the Maharashtra Forest Department. The developers have moved the courts seeking relief from the ban, which will become easier once ESZs are marked.”In the recent past, the government has relaxed a variety of environmental permissions while lifting cess and premium charges on projects to support the real estate sector. Twelve demands made by industry associations have been approved, including the submission of development proposals simultaneously to the planning authority and the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA). According to the existing practice, proposals in Coastal Regulation Zone (2) area are submitted first to the planning authority and later to the MCZMA. The government has decided to exempt real estate projects from an online system, which monitors commercial, information technology and green building projects. The Project Proponent (PP) will no longer be made responsible for operation and maintenance of pollution control systems in a housing society. Maharashtra Pollution Control Board regulations mandate that the PP be held responsible for five years for systems installed after the formation of a housing society in a residential project.Last week, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had approved a slew of fiscal concessions to the struggling construction sector, setting the State exchequer back by ₹800 crore. Among the measures were the removal of development cess on the additional floor space index component. The premium charged in case of residential projects was reduced to 35% from 50%, while the commercial charges in the category were brought down to 40% from 60%. The premiums on construction of information technology parks, redevelopment of Maharashtra Housing Area Development Authority structures too was reduced by 50%, officials said.