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Mixing "what" and "how" - Mysore water supply protest example

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Not writing this to take sides in the recently lit 'protest' over supposed privatization of water supply at Mysore. Good friend Vinay forwarded this article from Star of Mysore which goes by the title "Intellectuals oppose Tata deal"

Now, in there, what caught my eye were the 'demands' listed by these esteemed citizens of Mysore, which, quoting from the SoM story, are:

  1. MoU between Corporation and JUSCO should be publicised
  2. To pass a resolution in the Corporation meeting not to privatise water supply
  3. Not to take any step which results in hike of water tariff and not to reduce the number of public taps
  4. Govt. should take steps to manage themselves the supply of Cauvery water to all the extensions.

Now, this is what I'd call a case of mixing the "what" and "how".

  • If you add the missing point about quality of water, point #3 is perhaps the "what", or, the outcome we want, the service requirements from citizens.
  • But, point #2, and #4 talk about "how", notice the words, rather directions about "privatise" and "themselves".

When citizens supply "how" on top of the "what" in their demands, we make things harder for governments.

The "how" items tend to be ideological, and more distracting than constructive. We as citizens should work relentlessly to tell local governments all the "what" items in greater details. Spending energy on "how" dilutes that focus, and gives the few manipulative sorts in government and political circles a chance to drive divisions in active citizen groups. We should learn to leave it to the experts to figure out the "how". And of course, we should demand that real experts, and not enthusiasts or activists decide the "how".

Not that I am not a pro or anti privatization guy. Many people make the mistake of assuming that one has to be anti or pro on ideologies on a blanket basis. Privatization etc may be a cure here or there, but why assume on a "blanket" basis that it will or will not work everywhere? Such labeling of people as pro or anti an-ideology is another way in which we, the active citizens, lose focus from the "what" and spend hours on "how".

PS: A note on the unaviodable ideological comments. My stand on the ideology etc is that hey, in present times, when we, urban or rural citizens, are so starved of quality services, we'd rather focus on listing down quality and cost requirements for local service/utility providers, and ask for complaint systems that we will use if the promises are not kept.

Whether government serves me via publicization, privatization or PPP-ization, why do I bother?


Naveen's picture

Another Case of Opposition to Unfamiliar....

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Hi All,

Similar to opposition for privatization of insurance, banking, telephony, etc., we have yet another case here justifying government controlled water distribution as "better" than private controlled, because this was how it had been all along & "public taps were always free" !

As long as water supply is improved & at the same costs, if not marginally higher for the improvements, why should it not be tested ? To safeguard the interests of the poorer sections, the MoU with Tatas must contain specific clauses that each km of piping will have a certain no. of public taps. If this were incorporated, where is the harm in trying to tap private capital in to the water distribution system ?

The MoU must of course be made public so that all opposing members and activists can have a look & satisfy themselves that the terms & conditions are acceptable & for common good.

zenx's picture

Private = Evil ?

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True - the "how" is not the important part.

I grew up in that town. That lake/dam, and many others, were created and maintained throughout my lifetime through private effort.
We had clean/potable water through the taps (I was a little surprised to find folks impressed with this aspect of the US when I got into Bangalore in 96). We saw the town getting greener through our lives.

All the "municipal-controlled" areas received clean drinking water through this effort as well, mostly free of cost!

I'd never seen an open drain (except rainwater ones) or even overhead wiring except on a short stretch of road - where it was something to wonder about!

Apart from this, there were about a 100 villages around adopted for education, sanitation, promotion of local handicfrats and employment opportunity.

"Private" is not a synonym for "evil", after all. The intent of the effort matters, and sure, getting a regulatory framework in place to understand, and manage this is important. Demonization of this "ism" or that takes the debate to the wrong place.

- Sameer, Bangalore

- Sameer, Bangalore

murali772's picture

all for privatisation

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Well, I am all for privatisation (rather, competition from private sector), unabashedly and unapologetically. From around the early nineties, when it really started picking up, things have changed considerably. Admittedly, not all for the better; but, considerably for the better, I'll dare say.

Here's my ode to the romanticists who will not agree - check:

It's nobody's case that privatisation is the panacea for all the ills. There will continue to be problems. But, like the late Sri C Subramaniam had once stated, atleast these will be new problems, and not the same old ones for which we have not been able to find solutions for over half a century.

For recent debates on the subject in the HU yahoo-group, click on:

Muralidhar Rao

Muralidhar Rao
rohith's picture

Good measure

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But one thing these corporations must keep in mind is that there are some things in governance that mandatorily must come under public control - basics like sanitation, water supply, roads, primary education and stuff like that. That said, any tendering to a pvt party to get portions of the work done, is not equal to privatisation - and hence need not be opposed in face value.

But an element of profitability could spell disaster in these sectors. And if privatisation indeed happens, profitability will be in focus. Not that I am against profitability, but this is not the place for profits, isnt it? And anything that is done for charity is sure to be unsustainable in future. So in this scenario, how is the corporation equipped to inspect the quality of deliverables from the pvt provider? How is the MCC equipped to ensure that quality hasnt been compromised with for profits. And how transparent is the tendering mechanism? What are the deals signed under this tender?

These are the questions I think people need to be asking. So I feel as long as there are strict guidelines framed in this deal, pvt involvment is a good measure indeed.

Rohith Rao
Rohith Rao


zenrainman's picture

Nice debate

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 As somebody watching the secto for long I am happy with the tenor of the debate (so far :)  ). For the first time one see's no posturing, no strident name calling and a focus on the solution.
It would be good for citizen's groups to quickly benchmark the situation with water supply in Mysore now and see for themselves the way things turnaround (or not) .
A lot of the anti-privatization efforts were led by fears of MNC's stepping in. In the Mysore case it is an Indian company-JUSCO- stepping in and for the first time talking 24/7 for a city of this scale - a million population no less. It is doing so under a contract by the Mysore City Corporation so there is no fear that the 'waters' will be privatized. Key issues to emerge will most certainly be
- the capacity of the MCC to manage the contract. How is this to be built will be crucial to the long term performance of good water supply to the citizens of Mysore. Will the MCC create a separate wing and equip it with the right trained and skilled personnel to manage contracts (and not water)?
- the price of water will definitely go up and rightly so. Ridculously the subsidies reach the well off and he poor pay a higher price for water. How will this 'vested' interest be managed?
- a pro poor policy will need to quickly emerge which will take care of the interests of the poor who may not be able to afford the true price of water. Will that include subsidised connection charges? Subsidised fist salb of water? What will be the price ? Hopefully all this will be discussed in the public domain to the satisfaction of all concerned.
- how will sewage flows be collected and treated? Is this part of the contract? this will be interesting when systematically leaks are plugged and water supply connections extended these will cause wastewater flows to assume a different pattern . Hopefully this will be managed correctly and citizens will pay the true cost of water which includes sewge collection and treatment.
- the insitutional mechanism to redress grievances by indiviuals and collectives who may feel left out or badly done by some parts of the project. Why does not the MCC think of an ombudsman for this project? Should be the right positive step for transparency, accountability and grievance redressal.

Mysore has several enlightened civic grous an a very active citizenry , they should play a pro-active role in ensuring that this project delivers socially,ecologically and economically water to all . It can be a precedent for all other towns of Karnataka and India.

As rightly pointed out by the intially discussants lets get off the high horse of ideology and lets work towards solutions which deliver safe sustainabke water to all - including rich and the poor.

Will this group in praja monitor the progress of this project? Should be interesting and challenging.  
murali772's picture

project tracking

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Zen-rainman avare'

The municipal/ para-statal systems have been failing all across the country. And, with them just incapable of building the requisite capacity within their own set-up to meet the ever-increasing demand, it was clear that outside expertise had to be engaged.

Given the right kind of approach, the private sector in the country has been meeting all kinds of challenges. Since over a decade now, they have proved their capabilities even in the global arena, effectively taking on the big names in the various fields. As such, meeting the challenges involved in the infrastructural areas like water-supply, public bus transport services, power distribution, etc, would very much have been within their capabilities, provided the whole thing was facilitated properly.

But, unfortunately, with the psuedo-socialists raising a hue and cry against any kind of involvement of the private sector, the government kept backing out every time, resulting in these sectors continuing to languish the way they have been for decades together, adversely affecting the quality of life of the citizens, apart from their becoming a drag on the country's economy as a whole.  

Well, of course, it was inevitable that some set of corrupt babu/ neta lot saw opportunities in such situations leading to quite a few fiasco's involving some multi-nationals, the most notorious amongst them being ENRON. But, the answer to that is not the status-quo, which will only provide breeding ground for fresh fiasco's.

The answer is to engage properly with the issues involved and proactively figure out the solutions in partnership with the right kind of service provider. Hopefully, that's what Mr Manivannan has managed in the JUSCO tie-up for Mysore water-supply.

Yes, it will be a good idea to track the project closely. I am with you on that. I have requested for a PRAJA-type meeting with Mr Manivannan. If he responds, we can perhaps further it from then on.

Muralidhar Rao

Muralidhar Rao
silkboard's picture

Can come for a meeting @ Mysore

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If I were based at Mysore, I would have raised my hand on tracking this project. If I can get 2-3 phone numbers that I have to call to get status of the project, I am game for doing the tracking.

If someone @ Mysore can make the initial connection, and get us some names, phone numbers and email addresses that we have to ring up regularly to follow this project, more people will sign up to do the tracking.

If the meeting is on a weekend, I am game for driving up for that first meeting to setup the process for tracking via regular phone/email conversations. I bet I can drag along a few more Praja members as well.

Mind you, tracking to me means checking how MCC will meet Mysore's water supply requirements. I don't care if MCC will do the job itself, or via JUSCO (thats the whole point, isn't it) . To me (as a future Mysore resident :) ), MCC is responsible for 24/7 good quality water. We will track how they are managing their projects to meet citizens' requirements.

PS: zenrainman sir, assuming you are based at Bangalore, some of us have been saying we will track BWSSB's big projects but have not begun yet. If you are enthu, shall we get started?

murali772's picture

meeting with Mr Manivannan - next Saturday

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Muralidhar Rao

Muralidhar Rao
Vasanth's picture

Public angry about JUSCO

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[Or try this cached google link if above doesn't work]

silkboard's picture

'Mysore civic bosy to respond ...'

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Business standard's coverage on this:

See the difference in coverage, here, you have stats and quotes from mostly named people. Fair enough, Star of Mysore and business standard have different audiences, and moreover, biz-standard is clear on what it stands to promote :)

Anyway, some stats from this article:

Currently 42.5 mgd water was being lifted from the bed source of the river Cauvery at four water pumping stations.The population of the city being around 12 lakh covering the 65 MCC wards and the villages coming under the city’s jurisdiction of Mysore Urban Development Authority, this should work out to an average supply of 135 litres per head. However, figures reveal a water supply of 110 litres on an average.

And Jusco is not the only 'private' company involved here:

Besides JUSCO, the Nagarjuna Company was entrusted with replacement of water supply mains and construction of 25 overhead tanks.

So clearly, MCC has some project management duties here.

Vasanth's picture

Can we have JUSCO and old Vanivilas water supply together?

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Well, as Murali Sir says Privatization gives "value for money" and services to the best as seen with the cable tv mafia which was taken over by satellite tvs and those mafias are no more, better entertainment through private channels, telecom - so much revolution.

Just like we have BSNL, Airtel, Reliance etc.. side by side can we have JUSCO and Vanivilas water supply works operating side by side so that people can choose the supplier. I know the hinderances here are aplenty having to provide pipes from end to end unlike cellular companies who just add a carrier frequency. But, there are also landline with wire service provider and broadband provider who has to draw wire all the way. Initial setup might be a problem, but with days progressing, it will be easier for the private companies to enter. Probably in future, another water supply company say Reliance Water Supply may enter and offer even better services. To compete, these two companies have to gear up.

Enduser is more beneficial due to this healthy competition getting 24/7 water supply. Probably in future they don't need this "Sump - Overheadtank" concept in every house.

zenrainman's picture

JUSCO- Participation

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It is good that a meeting with Mr Mannivannan is being organised on the Saturday. If possible I too would like to join the team .
The previous writeup makes a point of JUSCO and Vani vilas water works co-existing. As choice between that and this supplier, in te wate sector it would be impossible or prohibitively costly to lay 2 parallel pipes to each household to enable 'choice'. Remember the water also as to be taken out after use so then presumable there would be 2 parallel pipes for sewage too. Water is a natural monopoly and hence the fears against privatisation of this crucial element. You can live without cable TV and yes even without electricity but not without water so the fear of placing it in private hands. The rules of the game are respected by the public sector howsoever tedious the process but if the private sector choses too disregard rules , it is difficult for citizens/consmers t take them on easily.

The issue according to me is the framework which assures citizens of Mysore (and all other cities that privatization is contemplated) that the benchmark criteria has been fairly evaluated, that the performance of JUSCO will be closely and independently monitored, that there will be no abnormal rise in tariff and that grievances will be redressed quickly and efficiently. THis is most likely to happen but it should happen in a framework which is 'seen' to be fair . A panel of eminent citizens can easily be the 'third party' observers in the absence of a 'water regulator' or 'ombudsman'. This will assure everybody that another Enron is not in the making.

We have Mr Manivannan right now in a crucial decision making post, known to be upright and honest, but what when we don't have the likes of him manning this crucial post? In that case an institutional mechanism with capacity , fairness and democratic accountability - should oversee the process. An example was the Jala Samvardhane tank rehabilitation scheme, when Mr Madan Gopal was there things were hunky dory and work was on with zeal. The moment he left the post things went doen the tube very fast. Dependence on individuals is not ideal,systems have to work.

Sometimes things are long,slow and tedious but creating suitable instituions and frameworks is crucial for us in India because we have to make governance work not seek short cuts, and privatization is a short cut. TO carry Mr Murali's argument to its absurdity - since the police forces is seen by many to be dysfunctional can we privatize the police? The army next then? Privatization has a crucial role but in vital sectors make haste slowly and with checks and balances so that equity and access are addressed as much as efficiency and delivery.

... and yes we will keep tabs on the BWSSB too

Vasanth's picture

Side by Side Operations Barrier to be broken

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Well, let us put aside the barrier "How will they do it?". But, we can just ask "Can you do it?". Let the private water supplier  figure out how will they do it. We can call for 2 or even more water supply providers. Private water supplier can have a good educated locality such as Kuvempunagar / Vontikoppal areas as a POC site to provide water supply side by side. Better is to provide a locality where there is no cauvery water yet.

Had we ever figured out how Tatasky would beam their signals, had we ever figured out how a cable operator will lay the cable. Never. They will do the research since they need to run their business.

By having the reluctance, we are preventing ourselves from the benefits of privatization and leaves us patronizing the same provider irrespective of what he gives, quality that he gives and makes us to  bear however he gives. I remember reading in Star of Mysore the pathetic condition of water tank in Vijaynagar where so many pests had died which was being supplied to public.

Having a tight control over the operators are needed. I used to work for CMC Limited, then Government now a TCS company for the Bhoomi state data centre. Secretary of e-Governance, Mr. Rajeev Chawla had so much of tight control over us. He regularly used to have progress tracking meetings and every minute point had to be addressed with a deadline.

Myself and Murali sir had a debate on BMTC, the conclusion was that organized entry of private sectors such as VRL / Sharma will not make much harm but allowing anyone to run the bus like done in Mangalore and Kerala will result in chaos.

We should also break the barrier of "Indian Company". It is good to patronize and love our country since it rotates the money within India, again we are putting a barrier to ourselves the services that a MNC service provider can give us. We have seen the differences of Indian TV manufacturing companies like BPL, Solidaire etc and to the MNC manufacturers like Sony , LG , Samsung. Earlier people had reluctance thinking they may not get spares, but, now they ultimately want the quality. Bus is another best example, introduction of Volvos changed the way in we travel and entry of many prominent manufacturers to India including Mercedes.

Naveen's picture

Privatization Moves

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I agree with you wholly - proper & stable "frameworks" need to be in place to oversee the privatization process & institutions that can handle the job of overseeing & periodically checking /supervising the performance of private players developed. Such institutions also need to involve & engage with consumer groups & be sensitive to consumer needs - this is pretty standard in most other countries. We are nowhere near this & are still "groping in the dark" in this area.

Opposition to the Mysore water privatization move with Jusco appears to have gathered steam now. I think it has been a muddle right from the start. The move to privatize should have engaged consumer groups from the start & attempts should have been made to try to convince them about the benefits privatization can usher in. This might have taken some more time, but this is part of the process. Consumers are equally hard & one cannot blame them entirely for the disruption & for suspecting motives when things are done quietly.

Take Cable TV - now, with competition from dish providers, they appear a somewhat tamed lot & seem to have improved, at least in my area. Earlier, they were pretty much a "mafia", as Vasanth mentions above, & were "untouchables". They never bothered about disruption in TV transmissions during power outages. Now, they have installed generators or use UPSs to ensure that TV services are available 24x7 & are also addressing questions about quality, etc. much better whilst keeping their prices in tune with what the competition charges.

Cable TV, Telecom, Insurance, Banking, Aviation /Airports - these sectors have made progress & we are now seeing the benefits. The privatization of these sectors was relatively easier since the poor were not effected much.

However, the same cannot be said of water, power & transport. Any moves to tamper with the existing systems will be seen as critical & be subject to questioning by the price-sensitive lot much more. Thus, the authorities need to tread cautiously & moves to privatize them must be approached differently.

s_yajaman's picture

What AND how important

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It is the job of citizens to give the government a hard time in such matters - else we will end up digging and watering our own graves.  Unless the tough questions are asked upfront on not just "what" it will lead to a Bolivia like situation.  

Sadly "the experts" have goofed up time and time  again.  Which is why we find ourselves in the current economic crisis.  This is a side topic, but "experts" can go wrong.

Read this report on the various water privatization fiascos.

Read the one on Atlanta in Georgia, US.  Here is an excerpt. 

"United Water vastly overstated the amount of money  that it could save the city and vastly underestimated the amount of work needed to maintain and operate the system. Almost immediately after signing the contract, United Water started hitting up the city for more money, and tried to add $80 million to the contract. The city refused. United Water came backwith charges of $80 million for additional expenditures.

Atlanta’s Water Commissioner refused to approve the payments, but in a bizarre twist, lettersauthorizing the payments showed up with the signature of former Mayor Bill Campbell. Campbell denied he had ever signed the documents. The city attorney ruled the authorizations invalid, and United Water eventually backed away from pressing the claim. United Water was also improperly billing the city for work it didn’t do. The company billed an extra $37.6million for additional service authorizations, capital repair and maintenance costs, and the city paid nearly$16 million of those costs."

We cannot assume that just because the Tatas are involved it will smell and taste like milk and honey.  Will they e.g. allow rainwater harvesting as it takes away from their revenue? 


P.S. I am in Bombay from tomorrow till Sunday and won't be able to make it.

Drive safe.  It is not just the car maker which can recall its product.

Vasanthkumar Mysoremath's picture

JUSCO Deal -Vibrant participatory civil society questionnaire

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Dear All and Mr.Mani Sir,

If only we can have such a vibrancy in all matters concerning our civil society, India will sure become a super democracy.  I was overwhelmed at the response from various concerned citizens.

There appears to be many 'ifs' and 'buts' about the JUSCO water supply deal;
1. why is it being opposed by majority of the experts and concerned citizens; 
2. if everything has to be privatised and outsourced, then why should there be government servants to serve the people;
3. will the jusco take over the staff of VVWW also;
4. poor people have only two taps but rich people have any number of taps but rents, rates and taxes are same for everybody - democracy ensured;
5. most of the old localities houses have un-metered water supply system right in front of their houses with neatly built underground mini-water storage systems on the streets with taps directly connected to the water mains;
6. people are happy that the water supply is ensured before it reaches the meter that is fixed somewhere inside the house and the water being drawn is free from billing;
7. how many know that there is an unwritten understanding in sharing the spoils by milking the VVWW and who are the beneficiaries; - ask an upright water meter billing clerk - he may spill the beans.
8. for official purposes, billing is done but is it realistic;
9. what are the terms and conditions and in whose favor does the JUSCO deal weigh and has the deal been finalised in consultation with citizens and experts in the field and what are their findings and have they been placed on record; 
10. nothing comes free and if citizens agree to the JUSCO deal, will it ensure quality water supply (once it is finalised, there will not be any transparency and accountability and these private players will ensure this through the fine prints which are seldom understood by the common man)
11. will the rates be reasonable and commensurate with the quality and quantity of water supplied - who is the watchdog for these services;
12. will the social justice be met with regard to supply of minimum potable water to poorer sections of the society and what foolproof arrangement is proposed to be put in place;
12. in case of failure what are the penal clauses included;
13. is it not possible to have a PPP model with JUSCO as the executor and with officials as check point controllers (minus the attitude of 'what is in it for me');
14. is there a vision statement and a plan with a futuristic ambience for supply of 24x7 water to the teeming millions (floating population) that will be thronging the city within the next 5 years in namma Mysoru and how will this paradoxical problem be addressed by JUSCO / VVWS;
15. will such influx affect the present distribution system and rationing will start;
16. Finally, how will JUSCO achieve this 24x7 water supply dream which could not be solved by VVWW for decades of its existence and where will the water come from and will it be a mixture of fresh water and recycled water/ground water? 

It will be better for the authorities concerned to be armed with convincing realistic replies to the above observations (not exhaustive because many others may have their own points to make) if they want to convince the concerned citizens to push through the JUSCO deal.

- Vasanthkumar Mysoremath

PS: - This questionnaire is not exhaustive; others may have their own doubts; this may help cut  short lengthy discussions and to utilise the time for sensitive issues of the JUSCO deal;
      - may be, JUSCO/VVWW officials will keep proper handouts;
idontspam's picture

The devil is in the structuring

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I have to admit upfront I do not have the details of the JUSCO deal so I am not passing a judgement but every deal is as good as the structure and the regulation it is put through. You could have a privatization deal which can be handled well and be win win for all or you could have an agreement which lets one party be screwed over the other.

The usual goals of privatizing or PPP'ing of govt services is to bring in better technology and improve the services while retaining maximum of benefits available on the cost side. One possible model followed by metro/train companies is to outsource the maintenance of stations, lines, trains, signalling, running the trains etc for a fixed fee payable every year while ensuring the service levels are kept.

The advantage this has is pricing for services is retained by the administration and they can take the hit in shortfall while the private operator can look at automating and improvising on the maintenance to keep his costs low and making a profit on the fixed price. This not only allows the govt to give away people and technology intensive tasks to the people who can bring value but retain sensitive non people intensive critical tasks like pricing, regulation with itself. There are organizations who can consult on the deal structuring and advise on efficient model.

But let us not throw the baby with the bath water.

Public Agenda's picture

Local agendas must be encouraged thru democracy

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Hi All ,

Does a government  decide what a city needs? or can citizens be allowed to do that in a democratic structure?

Let the local people of Mysore who support privatisation quickly line up to support the JNNURM implementers. Let the democratic voice of the public come out in the Mysore city Lok Sabha elections agenda

An opinion that is strong among local namma mysoreans is the mess which Bengaluru has already landed in must not be repeated here

So encourage the public in Mysore to come forward and have an open debate, let their development needs not be decided by others from Blr, GoK or GoI -JNNURM authorities etc


silkboard's picture

Jusco scheme in abeyance till LS polls

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Star of Mysore reports:

Regional Commissioner and JNNURM Special Officer  M. V. Jayanthi has announced that discussions on implementation of the  controversial JUSCO scheme to remodel the water distribution system in the  city will be kept in abeyance till the completion of Lok Sabha polls.

Presiding over the weekly JNNURM Review meeting at City Corporation office
here yesterday, Jayanthi said that public opinion would be weighed before
deciding on the JUSCO deal but only after the polls.

Read more on their website.

murali772's picture

there's some progress

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check this

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