The Union Ministry of Urban Development’s list of smart cities is almost complete. Last week, the ministry released its fourth list under the Smart City Mission, taking the total number of cities picked under the Centre’s flagship project to 90 — 10 more cities will be included in the project. The ministry claims that the selected cities will develop systems that will enable them to become world class cities. A report in this paper, however, points to an important concern relating to the project: A lion’s share of the Centre’s investment in the Smart City Mission will flow to well-developed pockets that account for less than 3 per cent of the cumulative area of the cities.
One of the stated objectives of the Smart City Mission was to act as a corrective to a lopsided developmental pattern. The mission intended to “create employment and enhance incomes for all, especially the poor and disadvantaged leading to inclusive cities”. This emphasis on inclusive development has been diluted. Only 26 of the cities selected last week have plans to provide affordable housing, education and medical facilities.
The city development plans should have been aligned with some of the government’s employment-generating initiatives, such as Make In India. Sensor-based public lighting and road redesign schemes seem to have caught the government’s fancy, instead. The government does have plans to promote start-ups and infrastructure projects. But these projects are concentrated in tiny pockets in the selected cities — nearly 80 per cent of the Centre’s funds are skewed towards them. For example, in Pune, from where Prime Minister Narendra Modi flagged off the Smart City projects last year, around 75 per cent of the investment will be used for the development of a 3.6 sq km area in the Aundh-Baner-Balewadi pocket, which comprises a little more than 1 per cent of the city’s total area.
Smart city plans have also not found a way to deal with recurring problems. For instance, Aizawl, which found a place in the urban development ministry’s latest list, was in the grip of a severe water crisis in the third week of this month. The shortage was caused by damages to water pipelines by floods — a problem which the city has not yet addressed effectively. Guwahati, amongst the earliest to be included in the smart city list, also has no effective plan to deal with floods that ravage it every year.
As it finalises the list of cities, the Centre will do well to further finetune the definition of “smartness” and to re-think its priorities in terms of funding. It needs to remind itself of the original goal of the Smart City Mission — making cities inclusive.