The National Buildings Construction Corporation (NBCC) has been awarded the contract to construct all 26 Community Toilets and 21 of the 27 Public Toilets in Bhubaneswar as part of Project Sammaan. (The contract for the six remaining Public Toilets is still pending despite a qualified bidder, the Vinayak Agency, being identified through an open tender nearly six months ago). The motion to award NBCC the contracts for Cuttack’s 31 Community Toilets is expected to be passed this week, and the formal Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed soon thereafter.
NBCC is a massive Public Sector Unit headquartered in Delhi that takes on projects across India, as well as in overseas locations such as Iraq, Libya, Nepal, Yemen, and Turkey. The company’s services is broadly in three segments: Project Management Consultancy, Real Estate Development & Construction Business, and Engineering, Procurement and Construction Contracting. They are the implementing agency for a number of large government programs, and has the distinction of earning Navratna status. It is certainly a coups for Project Sammaan to have such a distinguished contractor sign on, and it serves as a bit of validation in regards to the importance of our initiative in the sanitation space.
This decision was made following nearly five months of review at the Housing & Urban Development Department and represents the culmination of efforts for over a year-and-a-half on the tendering process. As the months dragged on, there was a growing concern that we would fail to identify any willing and qualified contractor, and that the project would fail because of this. Now that these concerns have been assuaged, Sammaan can move forward and shift focus to other aspects of the initiative, most notably the research and community engagement activities that need to precede ground-breaking. This decision is certainly cause for celebration, but the significant delays we’ve faced curtails this such that we need to throw ourselves fully into the new challenges at hand.
The MoUs have yet to be signed, so there is still a bit of anxiety surrounding the decision. Given the manifold challenges that the project team has faced, we are hesitant to trust anything that is said to us; the “proof is in the pudding” so-so-to-speak, so we’ll have to stick with the mentality of we’ll believe it when we see it. Even the press announcing this news was mixed, with the focus primarily on the inordinate delays that have affected the project, indicating that the frustrations plaguing the project team are shared by others throughout the twin cities of Bhubaneswar and Cuttack. It’s certainly not difficult to empathize with these communities, given the scale of the sanitation crisis in the cities, and the prevalence of the unhygienic and dangerous practice of open-defecation that tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people are forced to subject themselves to due to a lack of other options.
All things considered, though, and given the immense efforts of most of the project team over the past three years, there is a palpable weight off of our shoulders, especially those on the “hardware” team leading the facility design and construction efforts. It is a bit bittersweet, but in the best possible way: commencement of the construction activities marks the beginning of the transfer of the day-to-day management of all aspects of the project to JPAL and the rest of the “software” team tasked with designing and implementing the innovations around Operations & Maintenance and Management Models for the facilities. One can only hope that their experience in facilitating the necessary government approvals goes far smoother, and expeditiously, than ours did.
There are still months’ worth of activities to complete before the construction work can begin, but it certainly does feel great to have, at least on paper, achieved as significant a milestone as partnering with the contractor who will bring our dream to life.