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Govt of India's smart cities project "ignores" poor slum-dwelling children: PwC, Save the Children report

By Our Representative
Top international consultants, Pricewaterhouse Coopers and multinational NGO Save the Children have said that Government of India's (GoI's) ambitious smart city project has ignored "child-friendly” and “inclusive” approach. Their just-released new report, “Forgotten voices: The world of urban children in India”, says that while “defining” the smart cities scheme, the GoI failed to go “beyond accommodating the aspirations of the new middle class comprising of professionals and investors”.
The report regrets, “While the spirit of creating smart cities sounds modern and resource allocation is impressive, the GoI in its conceptualisation seems to suggest that these smart cities are needed mainly to cater to the ‘aspirations of the new middle class for better living standards'.”
To prove its point, the report quotes an official document which says that the GoI defines smart cities as “those that are able to attract investments and experts and professionals” by offering “smart housing, high level of healthcare, entertainment and quality education… comparable with any developed European city.”
“The problems or priorities of the urban poor do not feature in this investor-focused definition”, the report underlines, adding, “While the government’s concept note on this project speaks of ‘citizen consultation and public scrutiny of services’, it makes no mention of the participation of children or young citizens in civic affairs.”
The GoI’s has allocated, the report says, 70.6 billion INR (1.2 billion USD) for smart cities in the Union Budget 2014-15”, with a public private partnership (PPP) model having been conceived to “upgrade infrastructure in 500 urban areas”.
Then, it adds, the Ministry of Urban Development has planned to develop “two smart cities in each of India’s 29 states”, and the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation Ltd plans seven ‘smart cities’ along the 1500-km industrial corridor across six states with a total investment of 100 billion USD.”
Suggesting that this investment undermines the idea of “child-friendly cities”, the report says, smart cities should ensure proper “land use and urban planning” in which “children’s facilities such as schools, anganwadi centres, crèches and playgrounds” are central. This is particularly important as land is a “limited resource” with multiplicity of its competing uses”.
Noting that “land use in urban India is extremely inefficient and poorly planned”, the report insists, “Data shows that even as the demand for land increases, ironically, large chunks of institutional land within big cities are lying vacant or underutilised (often as a result of weak property tax systems) or are concentrated in private hands, which makes them unavailable for urban development and prevents their optimum social use.”
It is in this context that, the report wants, “it is important to plan a change in the land use patterns in favour of vulnerable children.” It adds, “Various instruments such as social housing, master plans, land use conversion, discouragement of low or no occupancy, etc. should be used judiciously to achieve this objective.”
Especially critical of public private partnership (PPP), which is central to smart cities, the report says, “A number of studies conclude that the health of urban poor is significantly worse than the health of the rest of the urban population and is often comparable to health conditions in rural areas. In cities, particularly in the large ones, there is an overemphasis on super speciality care centres within the private sector which are clearly out of the reach of the urban poor.”
“In India, one primary healthcare facility located within an urban area caters to a much higher population when compared to the standard norm of one centre per 50,000 persons”, the report says, adding, “Also there is an imbalanced focus on curative care, and a near total neglect of preventive as well as promotive care.”
The result has been, says the report, “approximately 443 million school days are lost as a result of water and sanitation related diseases. The Census 2011 report shows that the child population (0 to 18 years) increased by 12.8% in urban areas during the preceding decade, but a closer look of the report reveals that neither the corresponding enrolment at the school stage nor the number of education facilities and teachers has increased proportionally.”

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