Revenue Minister and Panaji MLA Atanasio alias Babush Monserrate's sudden criticism of the ongoing Smart City works has taken everyone by surprise and gives yet another dimension to the project that has been muddied with controversies, twists and turns.
On Wednesday, Monserrate, who until now was exuding unjustified confidence, said he felt substandard work was being carried out. "I am not interfering because consultants are hired to do the job, and there is one who is paid Rs 8 crore for consultancy," he lamented.
The belated criticism of the Smart City work comes as a surprise, mainly because the Panaji MLA, who kept himself out of the city action, had at one point even assured Ponjekars that the patience with the discomfort and chaos would eventually pay off. So the question thrown over the quality of work at this juncture is baffling and smacks of behind-the-scene politics.
Monserrate's claim could be genuine, but the timing is suspicious. He is now speaking the language people of Panaji, and sections of the political class were speaking all this while. The media has consistently highlighted the state of affairs and raised alarm bells over roads and drainages from time to time. The question is, what made Monserrate come out in the open and speak now?
The clear thinking is that he may be trying to insulate himself from a possible fallout later since timelines have gone haywire, and it is increasingly becoming clear that the smart city job is getting messier by the day. Interestingly, Monserrate has taken the cudgels at a time when Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has put himself on the frontline along with Sanjit Rodrigues as the new CEO of Imagine Panaji.
However, Monserrate cannot just make a random charge to suit his interests. He must understand that he is an elected representative besides being a cabinet minister and is answerable to the people of Panaji on this project. The people need to know what changed for Babush from his February 2023 confidence that led him to say, "Common people are not complaining, but only a handful of certain elements."
Ironically, PWD Minister Nilesh Cabral squarely pushed the onus on the CM a day earlier when asked about the delay in hot-mixing roads in Panaji, including the long-pending culvert at St Inez. "The CM is in charge, and he will take a call on the matter", was his quick retort when media persons questioned him about the confusion between departments. There appears to be an anti-climax to the Smart City plot, with ministers either distancing themselves from the project's progress or preferring to shift the focus to the CM.
Sawant's urgency in changing the CEO, introducing a 3-shift non-stop work schedule and the recent announcement that work will continue through the rains indicates that something has gone amiss in the smartness of plans. The CM has admitted that "things have not gone according to plan", and now Monserrate takes on his own CM with a veiled charge. The chaos between leaders seems to be in sync with the confusion on the ground.