Why insist on fulfilling the desire of ‘Smart City’? by Chhaya Deo (Translation by Shilpa Dahake)

[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]

(Original article in Marathi was written by Chhaya Deo, member of Moolbhoot Hakka Andolan Nashik and was published in Nashik edition of Maharashtra Times in three parts in the November 2015. Translated by Shilpa Dahake)

In recent times, the ‘smart city’ has become a catchphrase. Every well-aware citizen feels that their active participation is needed if they want Nashik in the list of first 100 smart cities and if they want Nashik to win this challenge. But the question is, how many among the 14 lakh citizens of Nashik must have reacted over information on Nashik Municipal Corporation’s website or 43 pages of guidelines circulated by the central Government?

If Nashik becomes ‘Smart’, what type of changes will take place in its quality of life? Will all these changes be welcomed? Nashikkars rejoiced seeing the millions of money that came under Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission, but this money came as a loan, and we had to raise huge amounts of funds. Even after all these efforts many policies remained incomplete and now to complete these, we only had to invest. Will the Smart City scheme face the similar fate?

Such situations raise many questions. Is there any ‘smartness’ in competing only because we are getting funds? What if we pause and take the decision after considering it carefully?

There is no single definition of ‘smart city’ to be found, but such city will be environment friendly, technologically integrated and carefully planned. Various definitions suggest the use of digital technology in such cities to make citizen’s life healthy, safe, and happy.

The definition of Smart City referred by the Central Government suggests, “Smart Cities are the cities designed specifically to attract new investments. Every infrastructure in the city will also be planned accordingly”. The new capital investments and the capitalists making such investments will be the focus of such cities.

We need such smart cities (or glossy cities) because, according to McKinsey Global Institute, today in India about 30% of the population is living in the cities and in 2050 this figure will reach above 50%. About 70% of new employment will be in such cities and about 70% of country’s revenue will come from here. The increase in urban population will increase the country’s per capita income by four times (That is, on average a corporate counsel will earn billions and a general farmer will earn very less). Rapid urbanization is producing various challenges, resulting in such an urgency in the urban planning.

To make a smart city, about 500 acres of the area from the existing city will be developed under Retrofitting scheme. About 50 acres of an area will be redeveloped, and about 250 acres of the area will be newly developed under Greenfield scheme.

According to statistics, the management of water, electricity, sewage, sanitation, and transport for 20 years requires around Rs 43,386 per person. If we assume, the population of a city is ten lakhs, then for 20 years around 7 lakh million will be needed. Meaning, every smart city requires around 35k million per year. The central government will provide 100 million per year. What a contrast this is! Now, how the individual state and the city will arrange for the rest of funds required? The following are some sources for acquiring funds:

  • Funds from various schemes of central government like Swachh Bharat, AMRUT (Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation), HRIDAY (Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana) can also be invested in this project. In the 14th Financial Commission, there only Rs 87,144 million allotted for all the Municipalities in the country.
  • Municipal Corporation will have to take new loans from organizations like World Bank (country’s previous debt US $ 25 billion), Asian Development Bank (country’s previous debt US $ 27 billion), New Development Bank, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, etc. (This will increase the country’s debt to billions of dollars)
  • Urban Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu said that the United States, Germany, Japan, Australia, France, Sweden and many countries are eager to participate in this development. What will be the kind of involvement of these countries? Will the dowry of our land, natural resources to these countries lead to the development of our country? (Should we trust the government of a party which is focussed on ‘Swadeshi’ to take into consideration all the factors and then make a decision?)
  • Municipalities can also raise funds through bonds.
  • Most of the schemes in Smart City Project are expected to be implemented through PPP. Extracting profit from the invested money is the underlying foundation of PPP. And from where will this profit come? Obviously, the citizens. We are the ones giving money even today, but Municipal Corporation is not doing anything to raise profits. Citizens do take advantage of this which often affects the Municipal Corporation’s performance. Instead of making Smart City and giving the control of our lives in the private contractors, isn’t it better correct our mistakes? Aren’t we experiencing the exploitation in the Mumbai Metro train from the Reliance PPP, Power supply, or rising costs of toll?

GIFT (Gujarat International Financial Tec-City) can be called as country’s first city. In 2008, in Modi’s ‘Vibrant Gujarat’, a joint venture of Gujarat Government and Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services which is around 880 acres and 78,000 million is underway about 8 km from Gandhinagar along the banks of the Sabarmati on the highway (On the land forcefully acquired by pressurizing the farmers or from the surrounding villages in the suburbs). Barren since past seven years, this land will become crowded tomorrow, but the lives of these displaced villagers have become arid forever. International Service Center will be built here. This will act as a money exchange center for the world and which will give fame and money to the country. There is no kind production is going to happen here, even though legislations of SEZ will be applied here. Many banks and stock exchanges have acquired land here (Not sure if they bought or acquired on lease). Mumbai’s Hiranandani builder (the same builder who acquired land for free in the name of slum rehabilitation and built flats on that lands and sold them for millions of rupees) is building a commercial complex by investing 125 million and Bangalore’s Brigade Group is constructing commercial and residential space, the malls and hotels by investing 500 million.

Here, there will be 24×7 water (which will be snatched from the surrounding villages) and electricity, air conditioning everywhere, everything will be done to make inhabitants lives pleasant and safe. The cost of this land acquired on retail prices or without permission of Gram Sabha is touching the sky, and the original owners are dying of hunger. Similarly, everything will happen in these 100 hundred cities and such future cities. These cities will be expensive, resulting in the automatic exclusion of the poor. They will only come to the cities to perform the inhabitants’ ‘unwanted’ work. In 2007, Arundhati Roy said, “Western countries robbed our natural resources and labor by exploiting our settlements to fulfill their luxurious needs. But here, we are consuming our parts to fulfill our luxurious needs. By robbing lands of the poor, water, and their labor, we are keeping them away from such privileges”. Can this be called as ‘development’ in a democratic country?

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