Very unsmart Indian cities

There is nothing smart about our cities. The Prime Minister and his team have a massive task ahead of them if they are going to make 100 smart cities in the time that they have set for themselves. In his address to the nation via #MannkiBaat yesterday, Mr Modi spoke about the ambitious smart city project. He promised homes for all by 2022. Rs 48,000 crore would be spent on creating 100 smart cities across the country. Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) for 500 Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities has been launched. This is clearly India’s biggest urban infrastructure mission.

He has his work cut out: In his address to the nation yesterday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi not only spoke of developing 100 smart cities, but also promised homes for all by 2022. Pic/PTI
He has his work cut out: In his address to the nation yesterday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi not only spoke of developing 100 smart cities, but also promised homes for all by 2022. Pic/PTI

1,000 mayors, district magistrates, state level ministers and experts from all over the country were in Delhi last week for a two-day workshop which the Prime Minister kickstarted with an impressive speech. And he didn’t look in the least perturbed by the media onslaught on his colleagues in the ‘other Modi’ affair.

The event got little media attention even though the issue of urban infrastructure is something that concerns us all. Bijli, sadak, paani. Not for a moment am I saying that the media should ignore or not chase news about corruption, impropriety or misdemeanors by public officials. But the total obsession with the one news story as determined by one channel is totally baffling.

Does the media realise that issues like inner city decay, un-cleared garbage, lack of public transport, electricity outages, water scarcity, poor air quality, inadequate health care facilities plague the urban population? In the next ten years, nearly half of the country’s economic output is expected to come out of cities, and yet there is little attention paid to the crumbling infrastructure.

These are issues that concern people who voted a government into power hoping they change the withering systems. It is the job of the media to bring these issues also to light, so that lawmakers and public officials are woken up from their lethargy.

If politicians are not held accountable they will continue to ignore their primary duty and dabble in things like cricket. That gets them power, money and media attention.

In the next seven years, the government intends to build 2 crore homes at R1-2.5 lakh for each unit. Imagine the scale! Those who are homeless living under flyovers and next to railway tracks might be lucky enough to have a pucca home. And then hope to provide education and a regular job for their kids. A modicum of dignity to life.

I am sure there are cynics who will pooh-pooh this as a bombastic claim by the government that will never be possible. Just like many did when Rajiv Gandhi launched his technology missions in 1988. Millions of phone connections were added every month in the telecom mission. Nobody thought it was possible but the Prime Minister did, and that made it possible.

Similarly the urban rejuvenation programme is getting a push right from the top. Is it possible that the scourge of homeless begging for food, bathing and defecating in public in our cities will be a thing of the past? Isn’t it time to track how and where these projects are headed? Sure Montenegro needs to be covered too, but maybe its time to focus on what matters to more people.

I made my two-day annual trip to Simla last week and am sad to report that nothing, absolutely nothing has changed there. It remains as dirty and decaying as always. There are no walkways for the elderly. Medical facilities remain poor. I can’t take my parents or grandparent to Simla anymore because the hospitals do not have the facilities they need. My children won’t come because there is poor Internet connectivity. The spouse hates it because driving is a nightmare and there is no parking available anywhere.

June is a month when many of us take off to hill or beach towns, to get away from the madness of our cities in the plains. The daily grind of battling traffic, smoke, noise and heat and dust. But it seems as if there are few places left to escape to. Those Incredible India pictures are lovely. But getting to these places is extremely difficult and once you are there, the facilities are crumbling or non-existing. The traditional holiday destinations have begun to resemble the cities we wish to escape from.

Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on Twitter @smitaprakash

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