- Published: 16 June 2019
The concept of ‘Smart Cities’ shouldn’t be allowed to die. Our cities are currently cesspools of slums and garbage; the poor are being crushed in long commutes and forced to live in hovels
In the high voltage, scalding Lok Sabha campaign we just witnessed, the one big casualty was ‘Smart Cities’. It was not there in the BJP’s election manifesto. It was absent from the oratorial deliveries of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Even Rahul Gandhi and the Congress forgot to pull up the government on missing the ‘Smart Cities’ bus. NDA 1’s big-ticket project to transform the urban landscape was given a quiet burial.
Let’s jiggle our memories a little. It first figured in the 2014 Union budget, where Rs 7,036 crore was allotted by then finance minister Arun Jaitley to develop plans to create 100 smart cities. A ‘Smart Cities Mission’ was formally launched with much pomp and hope on June 25, 2015 by the Prime Minister, with a Union Cabinet nod to spend Rs 98,000 crore on the makeover.
Most of the activity on the project went in first selecting the cities that will become ‘smart’. Bids were called, heavy lobbying for inclusion happened; and after four rounds of selection that went on as late as January 2018, 99 cities were chosen for transformation. The last one, Shillong, was selected in December 2018.
‘SMART’ POCKETS OF GROWTH
An RTI reply in December last year revealed that only Rs 13,846 crore of the total commitment had been released, or an average of around Rs 125 crore per city.
This was against Rs 500 crore promised over five years, with an equal amount from the state government. Of the 5,151 projects approved across 100 cities, work had started on less than half or only 2,342 projects.
There were as many definitions to what makes a ‘Smart City’ as there were stakeholders in the game; but the government view that emerged was far-removed from popular perception.
Smart Cities was not about holistic transformation of existing cities or the creation of green-field ones; it was about specific and limited technology-driven transformation of a few pockets in each city.
The government hoped its deep dive in limited pockets would impact the rest of the city over time, triggering more investment and development. For instance, plans for Chandigarh, which received an allotment of Rs 196 crore, included smart water meters, a Wi-Fi zone and modern solid waste management; but it was all planned for one pocket – Sector 43.
But here’s the proposition: Smart Cities is a progressive concept and should not be allowed to die. Our cities are today cesspools of slums and uncleared garbage. The poor are being crushed in long commutes and forced to live in hovels that can scarcely be called homes. Smart Cities must signal holistic development of existing cities on priority; and greenfield ones if there are funds.
‘Smart Cities’ was initially a lifted concept from the Scandinavian and West European cities. It meant technology-driven modernisation — from well-synchronised traffic lights and intelligent homes to driverless transportation. It has important lessons for India, but our urban problems are more basic. Our need of the hour is basic housing, efficient transportation and infrastructure that will lift people from the hell holes they are condemned to today.
An old McKinsey & Company report on India’s urban landscape predicts that 40 per cent of the country’s population or 590 million people will be residing in cities by 2030. Moreover, the drivers of the economy by then would have shifted from agriculture to services and manufacture; and 70 per cent of the new jobs being created by 2030 would be in urban areas.
Isn’t it time to make our cities more liveable? McKinsey estimates that the investments require a humungous $1.2 trillion by 2030 in capital expenditure. “Today, in per capita terms, India’s annual capital spending of $17 is only 14 per cent of China’s $116 and less than 6 per cent of New York’s $292,” says the report.
The urban housing shortage is estimated at over 18 million units, and ‘Housing for All by 2022’ was the answer of NDA 1. The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) was launched; but despite claims by the government that 12.5 million homes have been constructed in the four years of NDA 1 rule, the on-ground results would be one-tenth the claim.
On urban infrastructure and transportation, the BJP, in its April manifesto before the Lok Sabha polls, has committed to making a capital investment of Rs 100 lakh crore in infrastructure in the next five years; and to build 60,000 kilometres of national highways. These are good starting points to launch Smart Cities 2.0. The programme needs to be back on the agenda.
Autor(en)/Author(s): Gurbir Singh
Quelle/Source: The New Indian Express, 09.06.2019