If the government takes a ‘disruptive’ decision, there are many cynics in India who make it a point to mock it or express scepticism. They say that Smart City is just a new name for an old idea. They doubt whether this idea will work in India.
One advantage of making such a comment is it is easier to capture headlines. But often such detractors do not see what is happening currently in the world. Or if they know that it is the current trend that India should follow to leapfrog to a higher level of development through inclusive growth, the mindset of such people is that the country cannot do it.
When the Smart Cities idea was floated in August 2014, there is global interest among tech companies to become part of it. There is a huge business opportunity that is emerging in India and obviously such companies would want to be part of it. Global tech powers such as CISCO and IBM are enthusiastic about the new possibilities that India offers.
For the aspirational Indians, Smart City is welcome. It would ensure that besides new jobs there will be assured electricity and water supply, sanitation, efficient public transport, security, health and education and affordable housing.
When Minister of Urban Development Venkaiah Naidu announced the first list of 20 Smart Cities, it triggered a new phase in governance. It not only created disappointment among mayors who could not make the cut, but they had expressed determination to rework their proposals.
Some cynics, however, say it is no different from JnNURM, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission. They question whether the first batch of 20 winners could actually put out more affordable housing, one of the core elements of the Smart City infrastructure.
Although tech giants such as CISCO and IBM are enthusiastic about the possibilities in a new market like India, they would want basic pre-requisites are in place: India is still not ready for technology-enhanced infrastructure, the critics say.
If there were to be sensor-led water metres – one Smart City idea — shouldn’t one have water in taps to begin with? And if your smartphone were to tell you that there is an empty seat in the next bus, shouldn’t there be a bus there in the first place?
Smart City critics say that it would take away spontaneity and incremental growth of a city. Cookie cutter glass and steel buildings are everywhere, taking away the character of a city, leaving behind the people and their relationship with the street.
It’s certainly true that Smart Cities need ‘smart citizens’. If Delhi metro is taken as an example, it demonstrated that when the right environment is created people tend to willingly accept modernity. The metro stations still remain clean and swanky after years of operations.
Critics of Smart City should realise that people, particularly the young, are confident of their future and that of India.