Urban Times

Scripting Urban Makeover: G Mathi Vathanan

Leading Analytical magazine Bhubaneswar Odisha

Odisha’s urban landscape is headed for a massive makeover. Smart Cities, waste management, dedicated funding for urban infrastructure projects, homes for the urban homeless and property rights for slum dwellers are just a few steps defining that metamorphosis.

G Mathi Vathanan, secretary with the housing & urban development department is aware of the ever piling expectations from him. The seasoned bureaucrat has launched himself into an overdrive to ensure the array of projects get commissioned on time. And, he’s not tolerating any delay in his scheme of things.

Recently, Mathi Vathanan wrote to the East Coast Railways on the delay in redevelopment of the Bhubaneswar railway station. The overhaul plan envisages a multi modal hub under the Smart Cities Mission along with developing a world class railway station building.

Equally concerned he is on the availability of drinking water facilities in urban blocks as the sweltering summer is round the corner. The Urban Development department is tasked with completing at least 400 drinking water projects in different urban local bodies by March-end. Of the 910 projects sanctioned by the Government, 268 projects have been completed while the remaining 642 projects are in different stages of implementation. Women self-help groups (SHGs), Mahila Arogya Samitis (MAS) and Ward Kalyan Samitis ( WKS) would be engaged as water monitors for door-to-door campaign and hand-holding support to the people for taking water connection. The urban poor will not be required to pay any upfront connection charges.

Under the Odisha Urban Housing Mission (OUHM), the state government has targeted to construct 49,142 housing units for the urban poor. While over 29,166 units are under various stages of completion, the chief secretary has directed collectors to issue work orders for remaining units and to ensure their timely completion. On the basis of feedback received from the district collectors, funding pattern under OUHM has been streamlined, Mathi Vathanan said. As the fund was earlier released by OUHM authorities, now the state government has empowered the district collectors to release the amount.

His other big masterstroke is ensuring houses for the urban homeless. The department has its task cut out with the state government sanctioning 5000 such houses estimated to cost Rs 156.4 crore. “Fund support to the beneficiaries is being provided within two days of the uploading of the photos of the houses under construction. Each house is also being geotagged. So far, Rs 103.5 crore has been released to the beneficiaries with zero pendency for payment at the OUHM level”, Mathi Vathanan said.

In August last year, the department of housing & urban development launched a historic step of according property rights to urban slum dwellers. Slum dwellers have long opposed efforts to relocate them to distant suburbs which limit their access to jobs and amenities. Instead, they favour development with upgrading of facilities and secure tenancy.

While Odisha and other states have programmes to give land to the landless poor in rural areas, a similar effort has not been undertaken in cities before, said Mathi Vathanan.

Mathi Vathanan has been striving to make urban areas in Odisha open defecation free. To realise that dream, his department has sought Rs 173.29 crore from the Government of India under Swatch Bharat Mission. He is monitoring the pace of implementation of a host of projects to develop Bhubaneswar as the number one Smart City. Bhubaneswar Smart City Ltd, the special purpose vehicle is set to forge a partnership with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private arm of the World Bank. IFC will support BSCL in the area of housing projects to be undertaken in PPP mode at an estimated cost of Rs 2,000 crore.

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