Thursday, 29 November 2018

Essay on Smart Vs Decent Cities: Some Reflections for UPSC

Essay on Smart Vs Decent Cities: Some Reflections for UPSC

Unless new cities are developed to accommodate the burgeoning number of people, the existing cities would soon become unliveable. The govrnment plans to build 100 satellite towns near existing urban areas on the smart city template, to upgrade existing mid-siezed cities and to build settlements along industrial corridors. Rs 7,060 crores have primarily been earmarked for the porpose which amounts to a little over Rs 70 crore per city. The Rs 7, 060-crore corpus is said to be merely the need money to get the ‘Smart City’ project going.

The term ‘Smart City’ encompasses a vision of an urban lebensraum which is ecologically friendly, technologically integrated and meticulously planned. Such a city relies more on the use of information technology to improve overall efficiency.

The smart cities are supposed to leverage data gathered from smart sensors through a smart grid to create a city which is liveable, workable and sustainable. All the data collected from sensors – electricity, gas, water, traffic and other government analytics—are to be carefully compiled and integrated into a smart grid and then fed into computers with a focus on making the city as efficient as possible. This would allow the authorities to have real time information about these cities. This also allows the computers to attempt ‘perfect operations’, such as balancing demand and supply on electricity networks, synchronising traffic signals for peak-hour usages and for optimizing energy networks.

While the ‘Smart City’ initiative is really laudable, cynics have pointed to the deplorable condition of Indian cities. They have questioned the ‘Smaart City’ initiative when the state of affairs in our extant urban settlements continues to the pathetic. When we have failed to provide even the bare minimum urban amenities for the citizens, the ‘Smart City’ venture may turn out to be a pre-mature baby. They feel that instead of building futuristic cities, it would be more than advisable to first focus on ensuring the basic minimum services like proper disposal of solid and liquid waste, improvement of traffic and parking system, better sanitation and hygiene including well-planned drainage system availability of safe potable water and most importantly, better inculcation of civic sense among the hoi polloi.

The fact remains that the state of these facilities remains pathetic even in our grade ‘A’ and ‘B’ cities including the metropolises, not to speak of medium and smaller cities. Clogged, overflowing drains and heaps of stinking garbage are an everyday sight. We still have not been able to ensure a proper drainage system in most of our cities. It is these clogged drains which generally give rise to massive water logging problem in our cities with massive possibilities of outbreak of water-borne diseases as they finally end up contaminating our water table due to uncontrolled leaching and seepage.

The practice of open urination and defecation in different parts of our cities does not help the situation. After all, who can forget the outbreak of plague in 1994 in Surat resulting in the deaths of many people? More than anything, Surat brought a negative publicity to the entire country which became a greater cause of concern. Surprisingly, the same Surat within a year turned out to be the cleanest cities in the country. And mind you, the authorities did not have to undertake any highfalutin initiatives but to focus on bare minimum things. This is what we need to do while visualising our ‘Smart Cities’.

So, we emergently need to ensure a proper system of solid and liquid waste management including house to house garbage collection, a planned network of well-connected drainage system, availability of a network of paid and free public conveniences, arrangements of scientific slaughter houses of ensuring availability of hygienically processed animal protein, clean streets as well as ensuring sale of covered food/street food stuffs. The latter should be coupled with a regime for selling the same by the hawkers, e.g., making it mandatory for the streets food vendors to sell their stuffs only wearing gloves and head-caps to pre-empt contamination. There should be a corresponding provision for enforcing these sanitation and hygiene norms among the people who should be penalised for violating the same as is the practice in most of the advanced countries. The wanton throwing of garbage at public places, open urination/defecation or spitting should be made punishable offences. Use of plastic bags for day-to-day purposes should be discouraged as far as possible and practicable as it is one of the important factors playing havoc with our drainage system.

Again, unavailability of parking spaces in our cities lead to private and public vehicles being parked on the roads itself, leading to traffic snarls and inconvenience. Hence, there is not only an urgent need to do a customised traffic planning for each city including provisioning of notified parking spaces but there is also a need to enforce traffic discipline among the people. The latter should include strict compliance with the rules, zero tolerance for unauthorised parking or placement of household/shop stuffs on public space, roads, streets and footpaths. Construction of decent footpaths and public parks/community halls for recreational and utilitarian purposes should also be a priority for the authorities. The National Policy on Urban Street Vendors 2009 should be strictly enforced for bringing about a semblance of sanity on our roads and streets. This would also ensure the pedestrians’ right to safe and free movement. Availability of better and safer means of mass rapid transport system [MRTS] is also a desideratum.

Given the increasing menace of extremism, it is high time that we have a strong system of city surveillance system to protect and secure the lives of our citizens, more so in light of increasing urban crimes and terror activities. Proper street lighting shall definitely prove quite helpful here. The entire towns should be duly divided in identifiable zones with public display of layout maps and proper road/street signages for citizens’ convenience and for better policing. Identification for water aquifers and identification of highly fire-prone areas should also be a priority with proper awareness regarding disaster management regime for all the stakeholders. Enforcement of building rules also demands serious attentions of the municipal authorities. Enforcement of building rules also demands serious attention of the municipal authorities. There should be an emergency planning for all the old and ramshackle buildings as well as fire-prone areas.

Besides, intelligent effort should be made for natural beautification of our cities. All the municipal authorities should come out with their citizen charters and ensure mandatory compliance with the same. Online deposition of municipal taxes and single window system for getting licenses/permits and various services should be made functional immediately. A strong public grievance system should be an inalienable part of the overall planning. While one knows that finances would be a major hurdle while trying to realise these goals, but with intelligent planning and smart execution, the municipal authorities can actually generate more revenues than they might need for the purpose. It is good to know that both the central and state governments are already synergising their urban planning to be on the same page. If these concerns are factored into the ‘Smart City’ project, then we can actually ensure bare minimum service to our citizens in pursuance to a uniform template. Our ‘smart cities’ should first guarantee bare minimum amenities for ensuring a decent standard of living to our citizens.



Etiam at libero iaculis, mollis justo non, blandit augue. Vestibulum sit amet sodales est, a lacinia ex. Suspendisse vel enim sagittis, volutpat sem eget, condimentum sem.