People’s Resistance against the Smart City Project, by Sachinderpal ‘Pali’

[The facts and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and have not been verified or endorsed by the project team in any way]

On 27th of August (2015) Union Urban Development Minister (UUDM) M Venkaiah Naidu declared the list of 98 cities that are going to become the first smart cities in India. The list also includes Chandigarh. This smart city project is the invention of World Bank; the project also exposes the neo-liberal agenda of imperialism. Actually in the current neo-liberal scenario, the finance capital has stuck into a global economic crisis. The economic crisis of 2008 has not ended yet, the smart city project is a new product of this crisis, by which the global capitalists want to come out of this crisis. To come out of this crisis, the global finance capital needs to be invested somewhere else and the developing countries are ‘ideal’ destinations for such investment. Earlier, the Indian government along with the governments of the other developing countries were forced to open their economies, the scale of the imperialist loot, in the current era, has been aggravated even to a wider scale. In the face of the current crisis, more and more policies of liberalization, privatization and globalization (LPG) have been introduced even in many spheres. Under the pressure of the LPG policies, many public sectors of the developing countries have been opened up for the private sector.

Actually in 5 – 6 March, 2012 the World Bank had organised a workshop in Washington DC on the subject ‘Smart City for All’. The heading of the report which was read there: ‘Planning, Connecting and Financing Cities’. To implement this smart city project in the whole world, American corporation S & C Electric (which make automation products) established a ‘Smart City Council’ (SCC) in 2013 in the leadership of Jesse Berst, which is the chief analysist of ‘Smart Grid News Dot Com’. The purpose of this SCC is to make 5000 smart cities in the world.

Smart City Definition: America’s market research and advisory corporation Frost and Sullivan had given the eight specificities of the smart city. Which includes; smart energy, smart buildings, smart transportation, smart technology, smart infrastructure, smart education and smart governance, smart healthcare and smart security. Smart energy means all the resources of energy would be digitalized. For this, a smart grid and smart meters would be installed so there would be smarter utilisation of energy. Smart buildings mean there would be closed circuit cameras in every corner of the building and there would be automatic arrangements in the lifts. Smart transportation means there would be the use of advanced traffic and parking management systems. Global intelligence transportation system would be installed, which would work through the censors, surveillance cameras and computerized technology. Under the smart technology the smart city would include 4G connectivity, super broadband, free Wi-Fi with one GB per second internet speed. Smart infrastructure includes censor network, water fulfilment and proper and digital waste management. Smart education and smart governance includes e-education and e-governance. Smart healthcare includes advanced health service equipment and a modern technology would be used for the healthcare. Smart security includes advanced surveillance technology and the use of biometric records etc. In the smart city project, the city will work like a private corporation which has CEO who will be responsible for the whole work in Chandigarh. The city can take loan from foreign country directly and will be responsible for giving it back to them.

And obviously to use all this smart equipment the citizens should also be ‘smart’, so this city would be willing to reside those citizens who would be smart like itself. So the third world countries (which would make the smart cities) would import all the above mentioned equipment, because we all know that third world countries are not technological advanced. Through this, the first world or the developed countries would invest and export the all advanced equipment to the third world. In this way they (developed countries and their corporations) would postpone their economic crisis by investing their capital in this advanced equipment and by doing this the third world would be more dependent on them. So by doing all this they are not going to make us smart, rather through their own smartness they will make us fool once again. So due to above digitization process our PM is giving the slogan of ‘Digital India’.

Recently, many cities have been allotted to foreign countries for the ‘development’ of these cities as smart cities. For example, Banaras has been given to Japan, Vadodara to China, Allahabad, Ajmer and Vishakhapatnam to USA, Nagpur, Chandigarh and Pondicherry to France and three other cities to Germany.

The smart cities project is a crude example of the same imperialist loot. First, the availability of land and privatization of the cities’ services is the prime requisite for these kinds of projects so that the foreign capital could come easily in these cities in the form of Big Shopping Malls/Complexes and many other private services. The greed for land was fulfilled by proclaiming the acquisition of public land (where a large population of the slum dwellers resides). And it is clearly linked to the story of slum demolition in many cities of India. The slum dwellers of the cities like Bhuvneshwar, Chandigarh, Ranchi, Gwalior, Bombay, Dhanvad and Delhi have borne the brunt of the imperialist greed and loot.

We need to understand the migration issue too. Due to the lack of agro-based industry in India and because Indian agriculture is also plagued by several problems, the people from rural India are migrating towards the cities. The majority of the migrating population includes the rural and marginalized Dalits. The land question is the heating issue in the current scenario of India. The majority of land ownership in India lies with the upper castes. On the one side they are the owners of big land holdings in rural India and on the other hand these upper castes dominate many big or small businesses and industries. On the contrary, Dalits have almost nil or very less land ownership. For example, in Punjab state the population of Dalits is approximately 32%, but they owned just 1.5% of the land. So this is the case of other states too. So Dalits have no farms in rural feudal setup, they have just one or two room house and that too in the outskirts of the village.

The Dalits in India overlap with the majority of the working class. No doubt that due to the neo-liberal onslaught, the upper caste people are also coming under the working class category day by day. The city also exploits the migrated people by appropriating their surplus value through various means. But the irony of the situation is that the cities are also not able to absorb the rural-migrating population because of the lack of manufacturing sector. That’s why the jobs in the unorganized sector are increasing day by day where in the people are ready to do the works on meagre wages which throughout life doesn’t allow them to purchase a little house in these cities. And even due to their small wages they can’t even live in the rented houses. So they started living in the slums. So this is how the working class settle in the slums in the cities.

The Case of Chandigarh: If we look at the case of the smart city project in Chandigarh, there are many aspects to consider. First, the Chandigarh administration had underestimated the slums population of the city. According to National Building Organization (NBO), 208057 lakh population was living in Chandigarh slums in the year 2001, (Till 2017, the estimation of slum population was about 4 lakh) and the administration had a plan to rehabilitate just one lakh population. Under the Chandigarh Housing Board’s (CHB) small flat scheme of 2006, 25728 houses were to be constructed. But CHB had built only 12864 houses and they declared in the year 2014, that they have no further funds for this scheme. All the rehabilitated houses were constructed on the outskirts of the Chandigarh city. The former Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Chandigarh had said that the city would be made slum free till March 2015, however it did not happen due to certain objective (below mentioned) conditions. The data of CHB clearly mentions that there were 18 colonies/slums in the city but they have not included two or three colonies in their biometric survey list. In the race to become a smart city, twelve labor colonies have already been demolished from 2009 to 2016. 7 out of these 12 colonies were demolished in just 20 months. The colony No.5 was the largest colony, a living place for approximately 60 to 80 thousand people and it was demolished in the cold month of November 2013. In this colony just 6925 units were covered under the biometric survey out of the total 15 to 20 thousand dwelling units.

The reality of fair biometric survey is also under questions. How and when was the survey conducted? Before the demolition of colony no.5, the administration had just allotted houses to just 2500 families. Later on, out of the 6925 biometric surveys, nearly 4200 families were rehabilitated. After six months, five more colonies namely Pandit, Kuldeep, Mazdoor, Kajherhi and Nehru colonies were demolished. The rehabilitation ratio in these colonies was even worse than colony no.5. The timing for the demolition of these colonies is very important to discuss. The demolition happened when the parliamentary elections were held on 10th of April, 2014 in Chandigarh and the people had cast their votes to different parties but the result of the election was still awaited (it was declared later on 16th May). These colonies were demolished on 10th May, 2014.

These slums were demolished after the citizens had exercised their right to vote, but later on they were re-termed as the unauthorized citizens of the ‘smart city’. This act exposed the vote bank politics of the Chandigarh administration. No political party came in their support except the Ghar Adhikar Sangharsh Morcha (GASM) organization. They have organized many protests, marches and blocked the roads in the city. Their continuous struggle and resistance helped in increasing the rehabilitation number in different colonies. But still the administration has not rejected the plan to demolish and displace the people.

The dwellers of these slums have also resisted continuously and it has made clear to the Chandigarh administration that the demolition of slums will not be an easy task. After the demolition drive on 10th May, the administration again issued a demolition notice to another nine colonies, but the large protest was organized by GASM again, but this time Chandigarh police adopted the strategy for not even letting the people to reach the protest site of sector-17. The protesting slum dwellers were lathi-charged. The police adopted brutal methods to stop the people who tried to reach the protest site and in this attempt, around 100 inhabitants of the colonies were picked and arrested. Due to the resistance and pressure, the newly elected MP Kiran Kher had to intervene in this issue and she decided the demolition drive on hold. The BJP that opposed the demolition drive earlier carried on with the same policies that the previous regime had adopted. After the people expressed their resistance and aggression, the administration has started building approximately 5000 houses in Maloya. But they are still not constructing the complete houses as mentioned under the Chandigarh small flat scheme-2006.

However, after three months, the demolition notice was sent to the Madrasi colony of sector 26. The members of GASM along with the residents met the MP Kiron Kher, but this meeting has exposed the cruel face of Chandigarh MP (Kiron Kher) and DC (Mohammad Shayin) when they took a sharp U-turn by confusing the colony residents that they won’t demolish their colony. But ultimately the colony was demolished on 12th of September 2014. The police picked up the two leading members of GASM from the Madrasi colony on 11th of September, who were planning for another protest. And they were sent to Budail Jail on the same day, they were booked under the section 107/151 of IPC. After the demolition they were released.

On June 25, 2015 another notice was published in the newspaper that the Dhanas’s Kachi Basti would be demolished on 30th June. Earlier, this colony was not on the list of Chandigarh administration because it was built on a semi-public, semi-private land. The notice did not even cover the legal procedures required for the step. On June 29, people of Dhanas colony gheraoed the DC office in sector-17. The protest was mainly organized by CPI (ML) (Liberation). But when DC refused the cancellation of the demolition notice, the police also started the lathi-charge on the inhabitants. The police fired the rubber bullets and tear gas on the people which led to the serious injuries to many people including women and children. Nearly 40 people were arrested from that protest. They were booked under various sections 147/148/149/332/353/188 of IPC. Next day, they were sent to Budail Jail of Chandigarh. After this violent struggle, the DC decided to put the demolition on hold and the protesters were released from the prison after a week. Before their release, GASM along with various democratic people of Chandigarh organized a protest for their release on June 30 at sector-17.

The demands of the protest were: release of all the slum inhabitants and cancellation of all the fake charges, the administration must arrange for the treatment of the injured and the demolition drive in Chandigarh should be stopped immediately, and the colonies should not be demolished until people get the houses.

In December 2015, the administration had demolished three more colonies named Kabarhi, Kalyan and the Ambedkar colony. You will be surprised to know that the Ambedkar colony was demolished just two days before the Ambedkar’s death anniversary (6th of December) i.e. on 4th of December. This incident of the demolition of Ambedkar colony exposes the hypocrisy of the Indian government too. On the side the Indian government is going to celebrate the 125th birth anniversary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. And on the other side it demolished the single Ambedkar colony of the workers in the city. The administration had demolished Kabarhi colony and Ambedkar colony on 4th December and latterly on 14th of December they demolished the Kalyan colony.

An another colony was going to demolished on 10th of December, but then Ghar Adhikar Sangharsh Morcha (GASM) and CPI (ML) Liberation jointly struggled to stop the demolition drive. A huge march of approximately 700 people was carried out on 10th of December, which compel the Chandigarh administration to stop the demolition of Sanjay Colony. Then both organisations had exposed the city administration’s hypocritical face which is on the one side was establishing the Rehan Baseras in the city to show his love for the poor people who are living on footpaths. On the other hand, the administration is demolishing the colonies in the winter season. Although the Supreme Court’s ruling is saying that no single person should be live on the roads in the winter season.

On 11th of December, D.C. said that there will be no demolition in the winter season. But latterly on 14th of December, the administration again took a sharp U – turn and demolished the Kalyan Colony in the winter of December. Still there are six colonies in the city to whom the administration wants to demolish in 2016.

This is the story of just one city that will be made a ‘smart city’ by crushing its real inhabitants (i.e. slum dwellers) who have contributed immensely in building this city. The administration however, claims that they are not the citizens of this city, and that they are the ‘illegal’ inhabitants who have acquired the public land. Human beings, on the one hand, making wildlife centuries to save the animals and on the other hand, the government is implementing the brutal projects of building smart city by crushing its own people.

The slogan of smart cities seems to be quite advanced, and in one sense it is. But the question arises that for whom these smart cities will be made? The question arises that if the land in the smart cities and other cities (where these slum dwellers are living) is public land then what would be the land of these workers which they can say is their own land? In the rural setup they are not the owner of the land and here too in the cities the cities administrations are saying that they are living on the public land – then where they will go? In this sense this earth doesn’t belong to the working class people. Are they living on earth just to do the labour for making these smart cities for the elite?

Sachinderpal ‘Pali’ (M.Phil Economics)

& Convener of Ghar Adhikar Sangharsh Morcha

Chandigarh

Email: sachindersidhu@gmail.com

Contact – 9814507116

TEXT BY SACHINDERPAL ‘PALI@’
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
IMAGE BY JEESU JASKANWAR SINGH.
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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