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Experts agree govt lacks clarity on Smart City: Project involving Gujarat's CEPT, Leeds and Cape Town univs launched

Counterview Desk
#Gujarat’s prestigious CEPT University’s Centre for Urban Equity has joined hands with the Leeds University, UK, and the University of Cape Town, South Africa, in a major research project on smart cities amidst experts at a seminar in #Ahmedabad on the project agreeing that the Government of India lacks any clarity on how to identify a particular city as “smart”.
Titled “#Smart cities: Urban Utopias or the Future of Cities?”, the seminar concept note distributed said, “When access to reliable electricity, clean drinking water or safe sanitary facilities and public transport remain beyond reach for too many people; will the ‘smart cities’ agenda outshines some of these basic needs in Indian cities or will ensure efficient delivery of the same?”
Headed by three experts, Prof Ayona Datta from Leeds, Prof Rutul Joshi from CEPT, and Prof Nancy Odendaal from Cape Town, this was the first of the seminars for project, in which planning professionals, academicians, researchers and civil society activists took part. Several of those who participated insisted that the talk of 100 smart cities was “political”.
Prof Datta said that a “fiction” is being sought to be created around smart city by citing urbanization as an business model, calling smart city a public purpose in order to acquire land from agriculturists, and defining smartness of cities only in terms of information and communication technology (#ICT).
Prof Datta quoted a well-known pro-Narendra #Modi economist, Laveesh Bhandari, who, at a seminar in January 2015, had talked of what smart city should be like. He had said that the poor should be kept out of it in two ways, through “prices and policing”. While “the prices will automatically be higher in such cities, the notion that they will be low cost is flawed”, the police will need to “physically exclude people from such cities” as here there will “a different set of laws from those operating in the rest of India”.
CEPT University’s Prof Bhargav Adhvaryu cited a study which he carried out among the protagonists of smart city to suggest that ICT actually ranks pretty low in the list of nine benchmarks which are cited as important components of a smart city, which included landscaping, environment, transport, energy, social infrastructure etc.
A former Gujarat government official, Vijay Anadkat, who is with Embarq, a not-for-profit initiative of the World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank in Washington, DC, suggested he doubted if private participation, as claimed by Government of India, could be cornerstone of smart cities.
Involved in the past with the Jawaharlal Nehru National Renewal Mission (#JNNURM), which has been “dropped” by the Government of India in favour of smart cities, Anadkat said, of the 552 JNNURM projects taken up in the country, only 48 could be peripherally called as involving public-private partnership (PPP). “Even here, the private involvement was limited to management contract”, he asserted.
Anadkat also pointed towards how finances are going to be huge problem in the smart city project. “We estimate that Rs 3.35 lakh crore is what is required for infrastructure development of India’s cities. But what is allocated is Rs 48,000 crore for 100 smart cities and Rs 50,000 crore for Amrut, an urban scheme for another 500 towns”, he said.
Prof Janaki Nair, who made a presentation on development of Bangaluru city, said, she found “speculative urbanism” as the main hallmark of urbanization taking place between Bangaluru and Mysore. There are opponents of urbanization between the two cities, but they are all real estate developers, she asserted, adding, none of them have “interests” in agriculture.
Social activist Persis Ginwala, associated with the land rights movement in Gujarat, said, the Government of India effort to “corporatize” cities through the smart city concept looks strange and wishy-washy. The government is efficiently putting forward the need to involve private sector in every walk of life at a time when it does wish to carry out its basic duty, of taking care of health, education, and other basic infrastructure needed for the poorer sections, she added.

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