India’s Smart City Vision which was started in June 2015 completed three years on June 25th and during last three years the mission has been able to generate lot of hope, despair and skepticism in equal measures. When pot hole on the roads, garbage on street corners, beggars near the traffic signals and crowded public transport system are still the common sight in Indian cities one wonders what is all noise about smartness? The fact that few milimetres of excess rainfall can bring the Indian Financial capital city to standstill clearly indicates that things have not moved a bit from where we started three years ago. Only visible things around us are fast disappearing greenery, more digging of roads and shrinking width of footpaths which can never be regarded as signs of development nor are they the result of cities becoming smarter.
Indeed, selected 100 cities for smart city project, have set up special purpose vehicles with a Smart City prefix attached to them and most of them have advertised for appointment for CEOs for their companies. Many have been issuing tenders for project management consultancies too. Many building materials manufacturing companies are expanding their capacities on the hope that new projects will increase demand for their products. Let’s hope that their hopes are not belied. After all announcement of projects, shelving of them and renaming them are common practices in our country and this time lets again hope things will be different and Rs 2,039 billion being planned in smart city projects won’t go waste.
One should be aware that at present our cities are suffering from some structural deficiencies, inequalities and inadequacies. Piecemeal, project-based interventions overlooking the fundamental problems bound end in failures, disappointments and waste of public money. We need to place people and not the technology at the centre.
Also, it is feared that the new and emerging technologies tend to capture personally identifiable information and household-level data about citizens. This in turn has given rise to serious concerns about the smart city’s propensity to violate people’s privacy through misuse of big data. In addition to violations of the right to privacy, several other rights, including the right to access information and the right to security are threatened by increased surveillance and control of personal data. A suitable policy regime to address these issues and safeguard the interests of the citizens should be put in place.
Much more than digital connectivity and physical infrastructure, we should concentrate on making cities more humanly liveable for all – be it rich or poor, be it privileged or under-privileged. Clean air and water, affordable housing, safety and security, proximity to public spaces, affordable and comfortable public transport and good quality healthcare are the basic requirements of modern families which the city they live in should be able to provide. Easy access to quality education of the children is the wish of every responsible parents which the smart city developers should always keep in the mind while planning. Every individual’s foremost desire is to live with peace and security and the smart city should be able to provide the same.
Whatever may be the mission but the overarching objective should ensure that green belt is not endangered, open spaces are not encroached, pedestrian rights are not violated and the fruits of smart projects percolate to the lowest level of the society. Ultimate objective should be to make the cities more liveable. It should not disconnect people from each other and should not convert them into semi-machines. “Social animal” character of the human being should be maintained and promoted.