Hon'ble Minister of Urban Development and Town and Country Planning and Municipal Affairs
The AITMC Web Team had an hour-long meeting with Firhad Hakim, Minister in Charge, Urban Development and Town and Country Planning and Municipal Affairs. After completion of one hundred days in the Government, the Minister, popularly known as Bobby da, told the Web Team that the essence of the Government was to serve people and do something fruitful. The excerpts of the interview are below.
At the outset, I take the opportunity to congratulate you on the completion of 100-days in office. May I ask about your experience?
Well, the immediate reaction is of happiness since the Maa, Mati, Manush government has completed 100-days under the leadership of our leader Ms. Mamata Banerjee but at the same time there is a great deal of challenges and responsibility to meet the expectations of the people. As you know Rome was not built in day, we too will have to give some time before things will fall in place and we are gradually working towards that goal.
What are the challenges that you faced within this time period?
There are endless challenges since the past government did nothing in terms of development. You have to understand that we had to start from a negative base, not even base zero. The biggest challenge is certainly the execution of the plan since we are in dire need of funds as the Left government gave us a vacant coffer. But again, I feel the zeal to work is important.
What plans do you have to beautify the river front?
Actually, there are many plans and I can’t divulge them all but in short all I can tell you is that we are concentrating more on the development of river front, the idea is to beautify and create a tourism opportunity. Ms. Banerjee has taken up the riverfront as an initiative to start with. The idea is to develop these riverfronts on the lines of Thames River which will generate opportunity for tourism to flourish and subsequently generate employment avenues. However, our government believes in supplying water to all. So, when on one hand when we plan to river bed beautification, our prime objective is to provide drinking water to all.
Traffic is a major concern in Kolkata. Do you have any plans to decongest the city by building more flyovers?
This is really a big issue and it needs to be looked upon from various angles. Flyover can be one source to ease the traffic. I feel the real issue is numerous people coming from suburbs to Kolkata for their livelihood. We are trying to explore avenues for generating employment so that the suburbs can become self independent. However, replying to your question, yes, there are plans to build new flyovers and crossover foot bridges to ease the traffic. The earlier government did some unplanned work and we are still rectifying them.
Indeed, a positive initiative and a time-taking one, in the mean time, how do you look at the future?
Absolutely, the work is huge and time consuming but as they where there is a will, there is a way, I can assure you that it will happen when Ms. Mamata Banerjee has committed. We are working at nearly 21-projects which include formation of seven-townships. But as I said that the real concern in front of us is generating funds.
If we may ask you what initiative are you taking to do away with the encroachment at both sides of roads?
We are planning to bring a detailed law for the hawkers but unlike the past government not at the cost of their livelihood, predominantly the reason why it fell flat. Though, the initiative is at an initial stage but I can assure you that our government is committed and will look into all aspects before formulating the law. We believe in our leader Ms. Mamata Banerjee’s slogan “shobar pete bhaat, shobar jonne kaaj” (food for all, employment to all) At the same time, we too expect hawkers would cooperate with us.
Can you throw some light on the salient features of the law?
Honestly, I can’t since it is at an initial stage and speaking divulging the details will not be correct. All I can tell you is that we are planning to restrict the hawkers by creating ‘zones’ which will be differentiated with the help of colour codes. Red Zone will signify no hawkers, Blue Zone for the day hawkers, Yellow Zone will allow the night hawkers and Green Zone allowing all the hawkers.
Recently, you convened a meeting with the World Bank; are you hopeful in driving financial aids in the state?
We had a very positive talk with them. They were impressed by the development taking place in the last three-months and assured us that they would get back to us with concrete plans for further discussions sometime in the next week. I am looking forward to the meeting.
You have recently said that your office is planning to rehabilitate the slum dwellers and provide them house to live. Can you throw some light?
Well, you are referring to Calcutta Improvement Trust (CIT) during the regime of Late Siddhartha Shankar Ray which was subsequently renamed as the Kolkata Improvement Trust (KIT). Initially, there was some work done when Ray was the Chief Minister but later the Left government sold the lands acquired for the housing project at a throw away price. After assuming office, we have taken up the project of building houses for the slum dwellers under the Rajiv Awaas Yojna. Let’s think it in this way, if the slum dwellers are given proper place to live in, where there will be running water and proper sanitation system, then there ought to be a change in their mindset, which will affect the society in a better way.
What is your take on the heritage building issue, what is your take on the issue?
I am glad that you asked this question as initially when the Chief Minister shared the idea to build London in Kolkata, many people mocked at her but least did they realize this will help to generate tourism opportunity. The biggest advantage we have is that the city was built by the British and due to this many mansions and streets in Kolkata resemble the British architecture.
What are the new idea regarding Urban development in Kolkata?
We are planning to restructure the two new roads which will bypass the AJC Bose Road. These are the Canal East and the Canal West Roads. Once these roads are ready, it will be easier to travel from North to South and vice versa. We are also thinking of building humps or crossovers at certain points which may ease traffic. The By-pass flyover is 2 years behind schedule just because of faulty planning. We have reworked the whole thing and work is under process.
It is a general notion that Behala is still neglected in reference to its connectivity. Nothing has been done in past years for improvement. How do you plan to solve this riddle?
The people of Behala can expect that their plight is to end by 2012, after the completion of the Metro. 50% of the traffic jam caused will surely end. The track will connect Mominpur. We are talking to the Defense Ministry to sort out problems. We have also tracked out a separate plan if Defense Ministry backs off. In that case the route will connect to a track parallel to the Circular Railways and connect Dalhousie area. Our Chief Minister has asked the Mayor of Kolkata and myself to keep a track of the proceedings.
There are stipulated rules in North Kolkata that does not permit adding extra floors to the existing buildings because of the narrow roads. The promoters make use of the helplessness of the residents. Can this be curbed?
There is a proper Law for this. Nobody is above the Law. We are also thinking of implementing a new West Bengal Municipal Act which may offer more power to the Members of the Mayor in Council. Such problems will come to an end with proper steps taken. There is an idea that all illegal buildings are to be demolished, so nobody will get away by paying fines.
You are also a leader of the Muslim Community. What newer plans do you have to regarding their upliftment?
The Minority Development and Finance Corporation will be loaning out more money in one year than what the past government did in 34 years. The loans and scholarships will be given to students and youths. We are thinking of Technical Colleges in areas where people belonging to the Minority Communities are in larger numbers. We are planning vocational courses for the youths too. The Chief Minister is herself in charge of the Minority department because she is very serious about the developmental issues.