Building Smart Cities

By Sunil Kumar

Narendra Modi‘s vision of smart cities has an outlay of 75,000 crores($12.5 billion); stated Ravikant Malhan; Schneider Electric in a technology forum. Independent India has only two examples of planned cities; Chandigarh and Gandhinagar.

In a 2015 context; most of us believe that the smart quotient in cities would be largely due to the use of technology. However; a holistic approach involves a more comprehensive look at urban planning, living spaces; education and healthcare.

English: Hong Kong from Western District overl...

Visit English: Hong Kong from Western District overlooking Kowloon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A lot of pessimism is expressed frequently in an Indian context when it comes to any new initiative; whether it’s land acquisition; cleaning the Ganga or “smart cities” initiative. Without being an advocate for any political ideology; PM Modi should be given credit for some out-of-the box ideas an effort to implement it. Public memory is short and self-serving; and Modi’s ideas would be easily discarded if he suffers a reversal in 2019.

Building sustainable cities is crucial for India’s survival. In the next few decades; more than 70% of the world’s population will live in cities; Mumbai and Delhi set to become the most populous urban agglomerations on the planet. In a collective setup; most of us are reconciled to politicians making decisions that have huge ramifications.

Although freedom of expression is an admirable trait of this democracy; there seems to be no foresight on bigger issues such as a development agenda. I’m used to the cliche of future generations; so this is a a trope that shall not be used. The greater good is often an elusive concept; couched in the mirage of individual expectations.

Frequent comments on Modi’s swagger or sartorial sense do not seem to serve any purpose; except stoking individual egos. This government should fast-track sustainable development; building seamless digital and physical infrastructure that will be shared efficiently and optimize cost-saving. Most of us have pertinent doubts over tall claims when realistic progress often happens very haphazardly.

In a nod to Modi’s home state; which he remembers very often; M.K Gandhi’s vision of sustainability should also be adopted; albeit in a modified sense. India is a country of sentiment and tradition; or so some very verbose commentators often remind us. But I firmly believe that there is an underlying frustration with the system; and a collective aspiration to change the status quo.

Globally; the smart city push is in full swing; with nearly 200 cities being planned in China. Europe and Latin America already have a few projects operational; and India would be missing out on a colossal business opportunity and a criminal waste of our national talents; if we were to remain bogged down in pointless negativity and political sparring. The smart city needs to have “desi” characteristics; sans the tardy neglect; with a focus on sustainable; eco-friendly; holistic development.

The government should develop a rational blueprint for this; after taking inputs from every possible stakeholder. Recent lacunae in Mumbai’s Development plan show that our official agencies still have a lot of ground to cover. Summing up; as a citizen; if Modi really has a 56-inch chest for getting this off the ground; he would be remembered as a truly visionary leader for a long time.


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