More than 35 percent of India lives in urban areas, not counting the floating population, and the figure is expected to increase drastically in the near future. Social scientists argue that the country desperately needs new cities to curb urban growth. Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised in the runup to the 2014 elections pomised that he will initiate steps to solve urban problems by building 100 smart cities in India. In a recent note, the Ministry of Urban Development stressed that the scheme will promote not only satellite towns but also modernise existing cities. It will support a broad range of projects related to education, healthcare, and entertainment, facilities for the poor, governance and institutional modification. In a way, the smart (intelligent) city idea guarantees employment opportunities and an unparallel high quality of life to urban inhabitants. At least on paper, it is a great relief to the urban poor as they are denied access to basic amenities such as electricity, safe health and water.
Modi hopes that after the government intervention, private companies will invest in the smart revolution. Chief Ministers of many states, particularly of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, have started rolling out red carpets for corporate players to invest and develop infrastructure and create employment opportunities. However, critics are of the opinion that the idea of ‘smart cities’ in reality exclude the marginalised sections as they are governed by corporate entities that would minimise or undermine the local laws and governments.
Structural adjustment programmes and neoliberal policy minimised state control over market economy in India. The neoliberal policy encouraged public-private partnership towards urban India. As an intended consequence, there has been pumping of heavy capital in urban India and created “Gated Communities”, “SEZs” (Special Economic Zones) and now the idea of smart city is just to bourgeoisie the urban middle class.
Since India’s rural economy is weakened with the implications of LPG (Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization), particularly in the neo-liberal era, the poor people from rural areas have started migrating to cities in search of livelihood opportunities. There has been uneven growth of urbanization and slums in cities with no basic amenities. There is a need to develop infrastructure facilitates in all corners of the city, particularly slums.
There is a need to rethink and revise the idea of smart city concept in Indian context. The Modi government is aiming to build smart cities in select areas on a similar pattern. It is a dangerous thing to universalise smart cities! The policy making should not homogenise aspects of social life by imposing hegemony of the ruling class, including spatial environs, in a country as diverse as India.
Apart from economy there is a need to study the smart cities concept through social and ecological concerns. Just pumping money without people’s involvement will not yield any results. The government should focus on strengthening local councils, by allowing them in decision making and giving them powers to reduce corruption.
When everybody gets an adequate shelter, a toilet in every home, a footpath on every street, a bus route on major road, a proper sanitation with drinking water facility, an uninterrupted supply of electricity and employment opportunities for skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labour force, then one would feel that’s a smart city.
Without addressing these concerns the expensive pipe dream of smart city would lead to another real estate ventures. It further perpetuates unequal distribution of resources between rich and poor. major centres needing an overhaul in India.
Department of Sociology,
University of Hyderabad