Statement by S P Udayakumar, on behalf of The Green Tamil/Pachai Tamizhagam
The long list of the BJP government’s ‘long on rhetoric but short on content’ projects such as Swatch Bharat, ‘Make in India,’ and ‘Digital India’ gains yet another addition: Smart Cities Mission.
The purpose of this Mission is “to drive economic growth and improve the quality of life of people by enabling local area development and harnessing technology, especially technology that leads to Smart outcomes. Area- based development will transform existing areas (retrofit and redevelop), including slums, into better planned ones, thereby improving liveability of the whole City. New areas (greenfield) will be developed around cities in order to accommodate the expanding population in urban areas. Application of Smart Solutions will enable cities to use technology, information and data to improve infrastructure and services. Comprehensive development in this way will improve quality of life, create employment and enhance incomes for all, especially the poor and the disadvantaged, leading to inclusive Cities.”
In other words, ‘Smart Solutions’ such as ‘area-based development,’ and ‘developing new areas’ with the help of technology, information and data will allegedly improve infrastructure and services in the selected cities and bring about ‘Smart Outcomes’! To put it tersely, ‘digital cities’ project!
According to the government’s plan, the core infrastructure elements in a smart city would include: i. adequate water supply, ii. assured electricity supply, iii. sanitation, including solid waste management, iv. efficient urban mobility and public transport, v. affordable housing, especially for the poor, vi. robust IT connectivity and digitalization, vii. good governance, especially e-Governance and citizen participation, viii. sustainable environment, ix. safety and security of citizens, particularly women, children and the elderly, and x. health and education.
Don’t these “Brave New Cities” plan miss a few things that are important for better quality of life in these cities: food, nutrition, clean air, pollution control, renewable sources of energy, waste disposal sites, urban sprawl, concentrated poverty, unemployment and underemployment, crime control, social forestry, ground water replenishment, alternative modes of transportation, and most importantly, efficient and corruption-free administration?
The present focus on technology, information and data will only help import unwanted foreign machinery, spread ‘feel good’ information and manipulate urban development data. There is hardly anything “smart” in this for the people. To give an example, consider the Underground Drainage (UGD) project that many cities around the country undertake these days. After all, open drainage looks dirty, uncouth, uncivilized and even risky in many ways. So it sounds very innocuous and even welcome to tuck it away underground. And no one would oppose the UGD project.
However, it becomes a pet project for the vested interests for all kinds of reasons. You can imagine the types of machineries, continuous repair work, constant need for labor and other assortment of services that will be necessary to clear the clogs, replace damaged pipes, repair the pumps, maintain the pressure of the drainage flow, treat the sewage and so on. Unlike the open drainage that gives a few menial jobs for the poor, the UGD will open up perennial and profitable work orders for several contractors and sub-contractors and provide bribes and kickbacks for the local body leaders and influential politicians and bureaucrats. It is smart, isn’t it?
What India needs here and now is not Smart Cities, but Green Cities! With urban farms and farming that cater to the food and nutritional needs of the city dwellers, stringent emission control and smog reduction, renewable sources of energy from the Sun and wind and kitchen wastes etc., solid waste management plants, sewage treatment plants and so forth.
The Smart Cities plan includes ‘developing new areas’ which is nothing but urban sprawl that will put additional burden on the cities for more land, more water, more energy, additional housing, more services etc. and will defeat the entire project. This kind of indiscriminate urban growth with more and more suburbs will result in the neglect of inner cities, concentrated poverty, lopsided opportunity structures with unemployment and underemployment, and more crimes in those backward areas. As a result of this polarization, the whole city will come to smart with socioeconomic-political inequalities and injustices.
What most cities in India today needs is urgent ground water replenishment, restoration of water bodies, social forestry, urban transport based on renewable energy, pedestrian and bicycle-friendly roads and streets and so on. And most importantly, our cities need efficient and corruption-free administration that is vital to accomplish all of the above schemes and projects.
Obviously, all these schemes and projects put the city dwellers and Green values at the centre and not the planners and developers as the Smart Cities Mission tends to do. Green is the way to go!
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