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Dholera 'rooted' in post-2002 Gujarat riots legacy of breaking down communities, neighbourhoods, trust

Dholera "smart" city
Counterview Desk
In one of the sharpest critiques of the Government of India’s (GoI’s) proposal to come up with 100 smart cities, a senior UK scholar on urban development has said that Gujarat's Dholera, which GoI proposes to develop as a model concept for other smart cities to follow, is nothing but a “new urban utopia” of post-colonial India.
Ayona Dutta, associate professor at the University of Leeds, involved in studying urbanization in India, has said, Dholera, proposed on 903 sq km land in Ahmedabad district, to be twice the size of Mumbai, reflects nothing but “large-scale expulsion of those that cannot fit into its smart city-based ‘high-tech strand of developmental utopianism’.”
Dutta, in her research paper, “New urban utopias of postcolonial India: ‘Entrepreneurial urbanization’ in Dholera smart city, Gujarat”, said, as against earlier “planned cities” like Chandigarh, Bhubaneshwar and Gandhinagar, Dholera symbolizes “a new trend in city building in India” which, instead of addressing existing social exclusions, “actually reinforces long-standing social inequalities.”
According to Dutta, Dholera is composed of “large-scale privatized residential neighbourhoods, commercial and business districts, a ‘private’ city at a gargantuan scale, producing a ‘new urban colonialism’.” In fact, it has been “planned in the image of a global Gujarat that rejects its local identity rooted in Gandhian principles.”
Thus, Dutta underlines, while making a break from cities like Gandhinagar, Gujarat capital, there is a need to understand how its concept was developed “in a larger context of a Gujarat reeling after the 2002 communal riots and the breaking down of communities, neighbourhoods and trust.”
Pointing out that none of the narratives on Dholera refer to “local history or the diversity of its social, cultural, religious or material landscapes” which exists in the region, Dhutta says, “Dholera fails to make connections with the postmodern realities of a plural India struggling to maintain communal relations.”
In fact, said Dutta, “Neither the plans nor videos of Dholera, nor the speeches of Narendra Modi, nor the lectures of Amitabh Kant, refer to actually existing Dholera, which remains as an absent presence, giving the impression of an empty backdrop, a tabula rasa – the perfect landscape in waiting for the smart city.”
Pointing towards the “roadblocks” Dholera faces amidst agitation against the special investment region (SIR) proposed on its 903 sq km land for building smart city led by Jameen Adhikar Andolan Gujarat (JAAG), Dutta says, quotes “several official reports” on flood assessment and biodiversity “that are potentially more concerning for the state.”
One of the reports, for instance, underlines “the high risk of flooding in Dholera, which means that it would cost over INR700 crore to do the necessarily engineering works for flood mitigation.” Then, Dholera is proposed on “the blackbuck habitat and would therefore lead to irreversible loss of biodiversity.”
Dutta concludes, “Dholera is the new urban utopia, whose fault lines are drawn in its very conceptualization, whose bottlenecks are written into the speed of its delivery and whose materialization as smart city requires the active dispossession of marginalised citizens.”

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