Thursday, July 23, 2015

Smart people, Smart cities.

The fantasy to see our cities getting ‘smart’ is a welcoming thought. There’s no harm in
fantasising about our cities decked out with the best facilities, at par with the developed countries. We should unabashedly dream more and have the will to pursue them dutifully against all odds, making the necessary sacrifices. The smart city schemes won’t revamp the cities in a night, just like a human doesn’t evolve in a touch after owning a smartphone. Everyone involved in system must contribute fearlessly and proactively, right from the administrators, people who elect them, social organisations who monitor them. There should be acceptance to new ideas and ability to shed off the old ones, enduring all troubles, to build smarter cities.

The 10 primary municipal facilities that makes a city ‘a smart city’, include, (1) Water (2) Electricity (3) Cleanliness- Sewage and Waste Management (4) Public Transport (5) Affordable housing (6) Computerization (7) Public interest & e-Governance (8) Eco-friendly systems (9) Security and Safety (10) Health & Education. This information is available on official government website. Incidentally, except for computerization, it is no different than the municipal or state tasks mentioned by the constitution. Still, it has regressed than any progress. The only factors are responsible, the dirty politics, and the dormant people. (Well, that’s us.)

One example that speaks for itself, if policy and execution are kept dissociated is public participation. The previous government brought in Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) to secure funds for developing urban areas. One of the regulations to allot the funds was, that the ward sabhas should be held based on Gram sabha and the law should be changed accordingly. Maharashtra state government was smart enough to acquire the huge funds creating the law but never formed regulations to execute it. With these funds, roads were paved again and again, old but fully functional street lights were replaced with new ones, bicycle tracks were built that not only cyclists find hard to ride on but the pedestrians can’t walk too. Neither the ’renewal’ ever happened nor the cities ever got smarter.

Though the current government does mention public participation in the smart city schemes, the question is whether the government will comply by the schemes. It is necessary to uproot the old ways of administration and more laws should be issued and executed in public interest, posing strong rules and regulations play a key role in fulfilling such vast dream. If it is treated just like another project, everything will follow ‘Sarathi’s path. ‘Sarathi’ was an impressive project started by of Dr. Shrikar Pardeshi in Pimpri-Chinchwad, which was gone to dogs post his service. The current state government must build stronger municipal systems. It should not tolerate the corporators who think of the ward as acquired kingdom in feudal allegiance and bear no duty towards its well being. The laws should make them worry about the urban development than the percentage share with contractors.

While pointing out the rotten politics, we should be aware and responsible citizens too. The city revamp begins right from separating the waste in wet and dry, to fearlessly question the corporators. If the corporator doesn’t budge, we as citizens should make him sit at home since he deserves it. We should bring about a change in the way we think and perceive. More than the wide roads, wider footpaths symbolize development. More than the number of cars running in the street, the efficient public transport shows the progress of the city. We should demand its use so the government has no choice but build better public transport systems.

Recently, my friend Harshad Abhyankar, shared an true incident on social networking website. At the inaugural speech of Smart City Scheme, central minister Mr. Venkaiah Naidu stated that the funds were secured for Bus purchases, BRT, bicycle and pedestrian facilities. In the Q & A session, a question was raised if the funds are for flyovers too. Mr. Naidu’s baffling reply was “No, because they are not smart solutions!” Until all of us stop the superfluous expenses and apply the long lasting, eco friendly and smart solutions in its truest sense, only then, there is a possibility that we can build better cities, smart cities!

-Translated by Madhuwanti Vaidya

(Original Marathi article was published in Maharashtra Times of 23rd July 2015)

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