Thursday, July 23, 2015

Smart Cities?: No proposal with Govt of India; Dholera would be just SIR, Gift City "back office of Mumbai"

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Gift City under construction
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The Government of India has said that it has received “no recommendations” for smart cities from any part of the country. In reply to a right to information (RTI) query, the Ministry of Urban Development’s Smart City division has said, on June 25, 2015, guidelines were released for the selection process of smart cities, and “based on the idea of competitive and cooperative federalism” there would be “a challenge process to select cities”.
Pointing out that so far no recommendations “have been received from states/ union territories in this regard”, the reply further said, the states and union territories should “preferably” send their the “names of potential smart cities” to participate in the challenge process by July 31, 2015. However, it added, “there is no cutoff date” for this.
The answer came in reply to a RTI application by Roshan Shah, a political activist in Gujarat, who wished to know “names of potential smart cities received from various states/ union territories”, even as specifying “the date of letter” from state governments or union territories of “ potential smart cities.”
Shah also had sought to know the “cutoff date for challenge process. The RTI reply, significantly, comes amidst lack of clarity in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state, Gujarat, about the states which would be declared “smart”, and lack of understanding what smart cities actually mean, and what would the place of urban poor in these.
While it was reported earlier that all major Gujarat municipal corporations would be declared “smart” – Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara, Jamnagar, Rajkot, Bhavnagar, Junagadh and Gandhingar – as they formed part of the 100 smart cities’ list prepared earlier, there was confusion about what happened to Gift City and Dholera Special Investment Region (SIR), which were till then touted as “smart cities.”
More recently, a senior minister in the Gujarat Cabinet, claiming to be close to Modi, revealed certain names of smart cities, but the list, interestingly, did not include Dholera SIR, which is to be developed in the south of Ahmedabad district. As for Gift City, senior state officials have already begun doubting the viability of the intention of developing as an international finance city.
"After Gift city at Gandhinagar, the government has planned major development in six cities to make them smart cities. This includes Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara, Rajkot, Bhavnagar, Junagadh", said Bhupendrasinh Chudasma, minister of education of Gujarat told a workshop. As for Dholera region, he insisted, it would be "developed" merely as SIR. 
Meanwhile, a top state bureaucrat has said that Gift City would not be an international hub, as it was planned earlier, but merely “a back office of Mumbai”. The suggestion was clear: Gujarat cannot compete with Mumbai in making it an international financial hub.
As for Dholera SIR, which was till now touted as smart city along with Gift City, lack of interest in investment in the region by any of the big business houses is now a well known fact. The investors, which had earlier shown interest in investing in Dholera SIR have, in fact, withdrawn.
One reason for backtracking on Dholera SIR is said to be non-feasibility for developing a port at Dholera off Gulf of Khambhat. This has already put off investors. Not without reason, the Gujarat government has put off its decision to acquire land from farmers and decommand the Dholera SIR region, which formed part of the Narmada command.
Sources said, the powerful Narmada establishment, Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL) has already ordered construction of canal network in the Dholera SIR, which has pushed to the backdrop of the decision to protest land acquisition in the area.

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