Needless Projects

Of late, one has come across a number of infrastructure projects which, to say the least,, have been badly conceived.  Looking at some of these projects it seems no serious thought was given at the time of conceiving and planning these projects. Here I intend to discuss one such project – the multi-level parking that is being constructed by Tourism Department through JKPCC at Dargah Hazratbal, Srinagar. 

To get details of the project I filed an RTI application with JKPCC and requested for the Detailed Project Report (DPR) of the Project. Very promptly I got a 13 page ‘document’ which incidentally had different titles (Application for Administrative Approval, DPR and Cost Offer) on different pages. The cost of the project as estimated a few years back is given at Rs 13.18 crores. However, being a JKPCC project a 100% cost overrun by the time it is completed would not surprise anyone. 

On a very quick perusal of the document (I do not intend to demean the acronym ‘DPR’ by calling these few pages a ‘DPR’) one could find numerous inconsistencies in it. While specifications under its ‘Proposal’ section are for a standard load bearing two storey office / residential building, the bill of quantities and cost offer is for a four storey RCC framed structure. Besides, there is a huge mismatch in the items of work between the proposal and the cost offer. In any case, from whatever one could gather from the sketches it looks like a typical concrete monstrosity found in any large city and would be an eyesore if constructed.

Except for the 4 pages of sketches and the abstract of the bill of quantities, the document provides no technical details specific to the project – all the text is very general and could be pertaining to any building construction project. It misses out on providing even the number of parking slots that the structure would have, not to talk of giving details of current parking needs, future projections and the viability of the project. Only when you strain your eyes to read the ‘virtually unreadable’ so called drawings does one note that there are 40 bays on each floor adding up to 160 bays in the four storey structure.

Looking at the project as such, there were two issues which strike out and merit a deeper study. One, to check whether the option of providing multi-level parking itself is an appropriate solution – is some better  option available. Two, given the likely limited usage of the facility, to assess, on a high level, the overall utilization of the facility and evaluate the viability of this project; the cost of construction, the operation and maintenance costs. I have attempted to briefly answer both these issues in the succeeding paragraphs. 

Is multi-level parking an appropriate solution?

It is not clear as to what options were studied at the time of conceptualizing the proposal but considering a  plot size of  12 kanals could only provide 160 parking slots on 4 floors made one doubt the efficiency of the layout. Accordingly, starting with the least cost alternative, the first option was to explore a surface parking. 

Considering surface parking and using the same philosophy of layout as adopted in the sketches and the standard design parameters led to some very interesting revelations – the surface parking in the plot of land one could actually accommodate a total of 176 parking bays, that is, 10% more parking bays than in the proposed 4 storey multi-level parking. And with no investment at all in case of surface parking the choice of the preferred option is a no brainer. So, the question that begs an answer is why are we spending tens of crores of rupees to construct this monstrosity when surface parking will provide 10% more bays at no investment at all?        

Is the usage and the revenue collection thereof likely to cover the cost of its operation and maintenance?

As mentioned earlier, the document is silent on the demand of parking in the area, future demand projection and the likely usage of the facility. However, from local knowledge one knows that the usage would be only around the five prayer times on Urs days and Fridays – possibly for less than three months in a year and with at best an average two third occupancy rate. Not to talk of returns on capital cost, the revenue generated thereof would be a fraction of the amount that would be spend on staffing the facility and its operation, maintenance and upkeep. Compared to this surface parking could generate similar or better revenue with virtually no investment or maintenance cost.

Clearly, the best and most logical option is to abandon the construction, notwithstanding whatever has been spent so far, and to develop this premium piece of land as surface parking. During the remaining nine months, when there is not really a huge demand for parking there, the area could be used as an exhibition or sale area or even as a flea market housed in temporary kiosks and booths.