‘Focus on sustainable urbanisation of Siliguri in a planned manner’
siliguri: Walking steadfast on a single ideological path, Gautam Deb—the Mayor of the Siliguri Municipal Corporation (SMC)—is taking all possible measures to ensure ‘sustainable urbanisation of Siliguri in a planned manner.’
In a political career spanning over 49 years, he has shuffled through various roles—from student leader to minister in-charge of North Bengal Development department, later of the Tourism department—and always desired to ‘serve in the capacity of the Mayor of SMC.’
Talking to the Millennium Post about various initiatives undertaken for Siliguri by the new Board of SMC, Deb also reveals how he missed the opportunity to ‘serve people’ as the Mayor in 2009.
“In 2009, I had this opportunity but the CPI(M) and Congress forged a tacit understanding and formed the Board.” Interestingly the arrangement between the Congress and CPI(M) had spawned a new political term- the “Siliguri Model,” he added.
“The circle was completed on February 21, 2022 with the TMC winning the elections with a thumping majority resulting in my Mayorship,” added Deb. Prior to this Deb had served as the Chairman, Board of Administrators of the Siliguri Municipal Corporation for 8 months.
Nearly a year has passed since coming to power in the SMC. “We have been working tirelessly, living up to our commitments made before the elections. Our main aim is to provide proper civic amenities to the public with stress on sanitation, drinking water, health, road connectivity, green spaces, sports facilities, reduce pollution and beautification. The key is sustainable urbanisation in a planned manner,” stated Deb.
The biggest challenge for the present Board has been garbage clearing and the dumping ground. With expertise and help from the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (KMDA), 5 acres of the dumping ground has been cleared using bio-mining technology. “We have bought around 100 vehicles which help in speedy and efficient collection of garbage. Tri-cycles, garbage collection vans now collect garbage from house to house in all 47 wards under SMC. Night garbage collection service has also been introduced by the Board in vulnerable areas like markets,” stated the Mayor.
With collaboration of the PWD department, the SMC is constructing a high drain at Sevoke road. A fund worth Rs 186 crore has been sanctioned for this project. Another feather in the cap has been the cleaning of the Mahananda River. “Pollution level has come down in Mahananda. Work is on to revive Jorapani, Fuleshwari, Panchanoi rivers also,” added Deb.
Siliguri has been declared as an Open Defecation Free (ODF) Zone. “Now Siliguri is on the way to being declared as ODF plus. Around 100 community toilets will be constructed in the entire city. In the first phase, construction of 30 public toilets have been taken up. Already 12 toilets are complete,” informed the Mayor.To solve the drinking water problem in Siliguri, the SMC has started the tender process for a mega drinking water project. It will have a capacity of 135 million liters per day and will augment the present water supply that is in deficit. A fund of Rs 511 Crore has been sanctioned for this project. In this project, the state government will spend 62 per cent, SMC 5 per cent and remaining 33 per cent will be given by the Centre. Work on the Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) will also start soon. Both the projects are under ‘AMRUT-2.’ The SMC is conducting a survey with the help of Rail India Technical and Economic Service (RITES) aiming to construct a new road from 6th Mahananda Bridge to Hill Cart Road. The construction work of Burdwan road flyover is going on. After completing the work, the SMC will create a state-of-the-art activity zone and food courts under the flyover. The area will be beautified.
The “Housing for all project” had come to a standstill with the previous CPI(M)- run SMC Board not managing to get funds in the 2020-21 financial year for this project. The present Board has revived it by creating a Task Force. About Rs 24 crore has already been disbursed for this project, stated Deb.
The SMC is shifting the local bus stand to the Tinbatti More along with taking many other such steps to address traffic congestion.When asked about his success mantra, Deb stated: “I joined the Congress as a student leader and then joined the TMC when the party split and TMC was floated in 1998. The CPI(M) and BJP tried to allure me but I never compromised on my political ideology.”
“Our stress is on interaction with the masses to assess the situation on ground zero. We have already implemented a ‘Talk to the Mayor’ programme where people can call up the Mayor every Saturday. We have started the ‘Write to the Mayor’ initiative where written complaints can be registered through the official website of the SMC and a WhatsApp number. We will start ‘Manusher Kachey Cholo’ drive from February where the Mayor and councilors will be visiting households every weekend to interact with the masses. We are also publishing a book in February highlighting the complaints we had received and how they were addressed along with a report card of our work,” added Deb.
However, the previous Board of the SMC has emerged as a major deterrent to the future. “The previous Board has left us with huge debt and an unaccounted workforce. They had appointed 435 persons without the sanction of the state government. Owing to this, the 435 persons do not exist in government records. Hence, we have to pay around Rs. 4 crore as salary from our coffers. We can’t retrench them as it is a question of their livelihood. Where we need people, we can’t appoint. In a year, we have appointed only drivers and engineers along with workers for Nirmal Bandhu and Nirmal Sathi with approval,” stated Deb
Previous debts are huge. “We have cleared Rs. 10 crore dues of the contractors for the financial year 2021-22. There are dues pending for vehicles and purchases. The past Board called numerous tenders just before elections and started the work. All these projects are incomplete,” he said.
“The SMC buildings were in bad shape also. We renovated the existing buildings and even came up with new buildings,” added the Mayor.Despite all these challenges, what still keeps the 69-year-old lawyer-turned-politician going? “I draw inspiration from songs. I love singing especially Rabindrasangeet,” stated Deb. In 2021, he had released a Rabindrasangeet album that had also featured legendary actor late