Navi Mumbai- A Smart City? by Netra Shirke*

[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]

Navi Mumbai was a planned city. It was conceptualised and built by the City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO) from 1970-1995. It was handed over to the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) in the year 1992 and the first elected body took over in 1995. It has seven nodes, which are in turn divided into sectors. Each sector has a grid network of roads, a garden, a playground, a market and a school. NMMC started with a budget of  Rs184 crores which has increased to Rs 2024 crores today, mainly drawn from  local body taxes on goods and services, property tax and town planning charges.

Facts & Figures:

  1. The city has its own dam (Morbe Dam) and provides 24/7 water to all neighbourhoods and wards.
  2. 99% of the city has underground sewerage pipelines and there are seven active sewerage treatment plants
  3. The Municipal Corporation runs 68 primary and 20 secondary schools and has 38,000 students. It is the only corporation in India to run a special school for children with disabilities.
  4. There are five public hospitals run by the corporation with a total of 800 beds and 24 urban health clinics posts
  5. Approximately 675 tonnes of garbage is picked up everyday using compactors and tippers. Bins with Radio Frequency Identification tags are provided by the corporation to everyone. Segregation of waste is encouraged at source
  6. A scientific landfill site processes the garbage into compost and refuse derived fuel
  7. There are 102 gardens, 22 lakes and ponds, and many playgrounds
  8. Recreational centres have been built for senior citizens in the gardens and a special budget has been allocated for senior citizen welfare programs.
  9. 5% of the budget is allocated for welfare schemes for women and children
  10. The city has its own transport system with 370 buses
  11. 267 CCTV cameras are installed at various junctions and are monitored by the police department.
  12. E-toilets, SHE toilets and public toilets are built on a regular basis
  13. There are tree lined parallel roads and walkable footpaths in all areas
  14. The city has implemented E-governance which enables citizens to register their complaints and pay their taxes

Navi Mumbai as a Smart City?

Navi Mumbai has set a benchmark for all cities through its development projects and won many prestigious awards for water management, education, transportation, cleanliness and public hygiene.

It was selected by the Government as one of the first 100 smart cities based on its performance over the last 21 years. Out of the 24 points mentioned in the Smart City Mission Proposal, Navi Mumbai fulfilled nearly all the criteria required to become a Smart City. The only missing features were:

  1. Open data policy through apps
  2. Parking facilities in all parts of the city
  3. Better transport and mobility
  4. Renewable energy generation projects
  5. E-governance (as this is still in a nascent stage)

On 8 December 2015, the General Body of the Corporation rejected the Smart City Mission Proposal as they found a lot of flaws in the concept and its implementation. This concept seeks to encourage urban development through use of technology and implement projects through Public Private Partnerships or private capital. It was very clear that this concept is essentially for greenfield areas. Since Navi Mumbai has all brown field areas, how feasible would retrofitting be in a city which has seen organic growth over a period of 40 years in the Gaothan (original villages within the city) or Lower Income group areas?

 The smart city mission works on an area based approach by selecting a 500-acre area for development within the city. The emphasis on pan-city based projects is minimal. But Navi Mumbai’s requirement is pan-city based projects, which till date were successfully implemented through the previous Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) schemes.

The Government of India suggested that the Smart City Mission should be implemented through a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) made up predominantly of central government and state government officials and representatives of the Urban Local Body (ULB). The SPV would be a limited company incorporated under the Companies Act .The ULB has to delegate all its rights and obligations with respect to the area being developed to the SPV, including its approval and decision making powers. The key functions and responsibilities, as per the Smart City Mission, of the SPV also includes the determination and collection of the user charges, surcharges and taxes from the notified area of operation. The Government of India give an initial amount of Rs 200 crores and the rest has to be generated by the SPV through financial institutions, banks, loans, and land monetisation. The draft proposal also states that state government/ULB has to ensure a steady stream of funds to be given to the SPV until it is self-sustainable. But the federal and state governments have recently abolished Octroi and Local Business Tax (LBT) which was the main source of income for most ULB’s. So how can they ensure ‘a steady supply of funds’ to the SPV when their own resources are meagre?

The formation of the SPV would mean that the ULB loses its control over the notified areas and this would be in violation of the 74th amendment to the Indian Constitution. The 74th Amendment Act (1992) sought to decentralize and provide a common framework for the structure and mandate of ULBs to enable them to function as effective democratic units of self government. It was brought about when agencies like the Development Authority, Housing Boards and Metropolitan Regional Development Authorities started functioning within the city limits but were not answerable to the local bodies. The 74th amendment changed this by giving more powers and autonomy to the democratically elected local government and transformed the ULBs into vibrant self-governing institutions. This has ushered in a new era of urban governance and urban management in India. ULBs are autonomous bodies and mitigating their power is not good for the democratic spirit of the country. The ULB is answerable to the citizens of the city, whereas the SPV is interested in the profits generated through the use of land and resources of the city.

Challenges to the Smart City

Several challenges can be raised over the SPV and how it would work in the context of Navi Mumbai; these include:

  1. What will happen when the bureaucrats assigned to the SPV are corrupt or are transferred before the project is implemented?
  2. As most of the projects are technology driven and capital intensive, are these feasible to be implemented given that most ULBs are not cash rich?
  3. Where are the specific plans for rpojects related to transportation? Will e-buses and e-rickshaws ensure viability for the local transport bodies which are already reeling under tremendous losses?
  4. Is a time bound schedule possible for such a big development project which involves retrofitting or redevelopment of the area? What if the funds get exhausted? And how will local political will be aligned with the development plan?
  5. The life of our cities is in our culture and every city has its unique identification, history, and social capital created over decades. Can we preserve the culture and the distinct flavour of the city along with its development? What happens to our neighbourhood markets, street life, indigenous habitats, hawkers, and chowks, where the people gather to catch up on the latest happenings of the city?
  6. The citizens of this city expressed their desire to have covered walkways and better mobility, protection of the mangroves and flamingoes, increased green cover and smart governance. Why does the city need a SPV to implement this? The local government can achieve this through project based financial aid from other national development programmes such as AMRUT, MMRDA or loans from financial institutions. This has been done in the past and can be easily done in the future.

We don’t need Smart Cities, we need happy cities. Cities where the happiness quotient is high. Cities are made up of people, not of buildings, bridges and the internet. We want to create smart communities, smart societies, smart citizens, and smart governance – but not smart cities with no souls.

Navi Mumbai is already smart; it just needs to become smarter. This city is self sufficient and confident of achieving this on its own and doesn’t need to get into a rat race of smart cities to prove its worth. The local government body doesn’t need to forego its rights and powers given by the Indian Constitution in order to achieve the utopian city dream.

IMAGES BY NETRA SHIRKE
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

* Netra Shirke is currently in her 12th year as Local Councillor (elected representative) in the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC). She was the first lady Chairperson of the Standing Committee of NMMC for the year 2015-16. She has also in the last 11 years been the Chairperson of the 1) B-Ward Committee 2) Law Committee 3) Water & Sewerage dept Committee and 4) Women and Child Development Committee. She has worked extensively with issues related to women’s welfare and senior citizens and have brought in many landmark policies for their benefit. Ms Shirke is also a business woman by profession, working in the field of Hospitality and providing cable TV and broadband services. She runs a local news channel in Navi Mumbai and is the mother of two children.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Shaban says:

    I have been living in navi mumbai for the last 12 years. Read in news paper and on website that we have 24 hours water supply. But the reality is that we often get 2 hours supply every day. So why do we exaggerate our claims. As chairman ofmy society i put so many notices and reminders with other housing societies to NMMC for helping us to live in the city by supplying water. In summers so many times we get tankers. The situation is still same. The claim on garbage and open spaces is equally exaggerated. But i agree that NMMC should not surrender its power to SPV.

    Like

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