Haroon Reshi

Developmental works in ULBs pending for want of technical staff

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Clamor for reinstatement of engineering wing to Directorate of Urban Local Bodies gains traction

Srinagar: The government decision of abolishing engineering wings of the Directorate of Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) in Kashmir and Jammu divisions last year has been drawing damaging effects on urban development scenario in the Valley. Thus, the demand for the reinstatement of the engineering wing to the directorate is gaining momentum day by day.

According to official sources, most of the developmental works in ULBs across Kashmir are pending because ULBs lack technical staff, particularly the engineers, since the day government closed down the directorate’s engineering division in January 2020.

The UT administration, while abolishing the engineering wing of the Directorate of Urban Local Bodies had assigned the job of the execution of civil works of ULBs to the Public Works (R&B) Department, which has miserably failed to execute this additional responsibility.

“Public Works (R&B) Department does not bother at all about the execution of works at ULBs in the Valley. The officials of the department say that they are already overwhelmed by their own work. They simply ignore the additional job assigned to them, and this situation has left most of the developmental projects at ULBs at halt.” an official source confirmed to ‘Kashmir Images’.

Pertinently, the Administrative Council under then Lieutenant Governor (LG), G C Murmu, had sanctioned abolition of engineering wings of Directorate of Urban Local Bodies in both divisions of Kashmir, and Jammu, and the staff was transferred to Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) and Jammu Municipal Corporation (JMC) respectively, on January 29, last year.

The government, at the time, had claimed that this move would facilitate speedy execution of works in ULBs, besides bringing in efficiency, transparency, and discernible improvement in the functioning of these bodies.

Also, the government had said that the transfer of the engineering component of the ULBs to the Municipal Corporations of Srinagar and Jammu will also ensure speedy execution of works in these two Corporations.

Further, the administration had claimed that this decision will facilitate speedy execution of works in ULBS, besides ensuring timely utilization of additional grants released to the municipal bodies under the 14th Finance Commission following ULB elections and early completion of 42 languishing projects approved and funded by the Jammu & Kashmir Infrastructure Development Finance Corporation (JKIDFC).

However, more than 20 months down the line, the decision has proven unproductive because the Public Works (R&B) Department has failed to execute pending works in ULBs.

Sources say most of the works in municipal bodies are awaiting technical support from the Public Works (R&B) Department; and last year, the department had to surrender 70 percent of developmental funds meant for the municipal bodies because of the failure of the Public Works (R&B) Department to complete the pending projects.

Mathoora Masoom, Director of Urban Local Bodies, Kashmir, when contacted told ‘Kashmir Images’ that “the new system would take some time to get streamlined.”

“Every new system takes some time for its proper implementation. We are trying to work out the solution to the problems, and I hope the system would be streamlined soon,” she said.

However, the director acknowledged the fact that Public Works (R&B) Department has not been able to pay attention to its responsibilities towards the ULBs. 

“No doubt that we have some problems. Since the R&B Department has its own work schedule in place, it could not fulfill its responsibility towards the local bodies. But I am sure the new system will take some time to get streamlined,” Masoom added.

However, on the other hand, the Directorate of Urban Local Bodies, Kashmir, has asked the government to allow the municipal bodies to outsource the manpower so that they would complete the pending works in time.

In this regard, the Director of Urban Local Bodies Kashmir, on October 01, 2021, wrote a letter to the Principal Secretary to Government, Housing & Urban Development Department, requesting “to authorise the directorate to allow the municipal councils and municipal committees for outsourcing of services of junior engineers, works supervisors and electricians” as per the requirement.

The letter (‘Kashmir Images’ holds a copy of), further reads: “… Need to mention here that after the abolition of engineering wings of the Urban Local Bodies by the government, no one at the level of Municipal Councils/Committees have the expertise to supervise the developmental works, and the concerned Municipal Councils/Committees are suffering due to non-availability of technical manpower like junior engineers, works supervisors and electricians. The services of the technical manpower would be definitely beneficial for monitoring and supervision of the developmental works/projects for Urban Local Bodies and would abet the executing agencies in the timely achievement of the developmental targets.”

However, some officials fear that allowing municipal councils and committees to outsource the services of junior engineers, works supervisors, and electricians might throw another gate of corruption open in the local bodies, which are already accused of having a large number of illegal appointees.

It is pertinent to mention that a high-level probe into the allegation of illegal appointments made in the ULBs of Kashmir between 2003 to 2010, is already going on.

A committee constituted when Jammu and Kashmir was under the coalition government of National Conference and Congress, found that around 1800-2000 illegal appointments were made in the ULBs of Kashmir between 2003 to 2010. The inquiry team concluded that more than 20 officers were involved in the scam. Presently, the case is being probed by the Vigilance Organization (now Anti-Corruption Bureau).

Also, a committee of officers headed by Director Urban Local Bodies Kashmir, Mathoora Masoom, has been constituted to inquire into all these illegal appointments. This committee was formed on July 07, this year; and given a month’s time to submit its report.

In the given situation, sources say that allowing municipal bodies to outsource the technical staff might be another scam of illegal appointments.

They suggest that instead of outsourcing the manpower, the government must restore the engineering wings of the Directorate of Urban Local Bodies (ULBs), which administers as many as three Municipal Councils and 39 Municipal Committees across Kashmir so that the pending works are completed accordingly.

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