It is now around five years since the Central Government announced its Smart City project, under the auspices of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. The mission, aimed at 100 cities of India, was meant to make them function better under various heads such as Mobility, Energy, Water, Technology and Environment. It was expected that these initiatives would improve the quality of life, get people to participate in governance, bring about transparency in the functioning of those in authority and promote public consultation. It is a moot point as to whether any of this has been achieved.
The Short and Snappy column in MM, (June 1st (The Isthmus of T’Nagar) featured a write up on the inordinate expansion of footpaths at the expense of carriageway at Sir Theagaroya Road. The subsequent week, a prominent business daily of the city carried a photograph of the same thoroughfare that showed cars parked on the broad sidewalk. The caption below asked if Chennai was really ready for such smart city solutions. The implied message was that it was not. We would readily agree with that sentiment.
A year back, we had the much-publicised launch of a bike-sharing initiative, promoted by a worldwide company. Chennai was one of seven Indian cities where this was taken up. The operations were wound up within six months. It was rumoured that continued theft of bicycles hit the company hard. This year the Corporation of Chennai has reintroduced the same scheme, under its auspices, thereby becoming the first civic body in the country to promote cycling in a big way. It is still early days to comment on how the plan has fared but we need to only look at our roads to wonder if cycling safely is at all feasible.
The announcement of the Smart City initiative has seen many consultants descend on Indian cities and Chennai is no exception. It is rumoured that there are as many as ten different organisations simultaneously working on the scheme, all of them claiming to be in collaboration with the Corporation. It is quite likely that none of them is working with the others and therefore most of them may be at cross-purposes. Have we not had the same problem and suffered enough with Government agencies negating each other’s work for decades?
Most of these consultants and the NGOs they have spawned appear to be working hard at bringing in international solutions that have no truck with ground reality. Take for instance the footpath widening scheme at T Nagar – is it all likely that vehicles would be parked on them in a western capital or for that matter even in a neighbouring country like Sri Lanka? And yet people in Chennai do it. Would it not have been better to first influence people in following the law before embarking on such solutions? The same applies to creating artistic and recreational spaces beneath flyovers. Given the weather conditions and the chaotic traffic, who in their right senses wants to relax under a flyover? And given the level of poverty and homelessness, will the less privileged people not make a beeline to these spaces?
It would be far better to focus on certain basic factors than on such eye candy schemes that gather immediate publicity and are then forgotten or misused or worse, cause harm. Can there be smart solutions to water management, property encroachment, traffic violation, public transport, coordination between Government departments, local area planning, river cleanups and social welfare schemes? If these are managed by smart city solutions we would have a great city, one that can justify its listing a few years ago among the 52 most liveable metros the world. Everything else we are sorry to say, is mere eyewash.
Well said. The ground reality is really pathetic. We will be like this for many more years I believe! Duties of citizens are neglected by many. No idea how we are going to achieve smart cities!
It is one more of the failed ideas of Mr.Venkaiha Naidu when he was the urban development Minister. Instead of listing 200 smart cities & creating the bureaucracy and office set up for that , he should have just set up one each in all the states & developed it fully to make it a model for the other dists. in the state to follow.
Now, after five years and many crores of Rs.down the drain, it is nowhere. What was required was a good waste collection set up , water treatment plants , water usage management & recycling , clean and good roads, well maintained (even paid)Urinals & Toilets in common places, markets road sides etc, working street lights,good green cover,good local & Micro transport, regulated -street vendors, roadside parking, lane driving strict traffic rule abidance etc. etc.
These would have given visible results, a head start instead blabbering on the stage and seminars about smart cities in other countries. They may most of them are state subjects – but then you give additional and special funds only if the above are done.
Every one talks about rain water harvesting. It can be harvested only if it rains. whereas water recycling is totally ignored. how much water is used in each house for bathing, washing cloths,other cleaning etc. Can’t we use this water after treating them for toilets flushing, gardening, cleaning common areas etc in big housing societies. Should not a water recycling plant be a part of any Building plan sanction along with the Rain water treatment plant. Use of solar energy for common area lighting,Street lighting is an easy smart city item. Even this has not made any heady way .
Where is the Smartness in the cities. Yes . it is there – in the bureaucrats creating one more empire for them.
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