How smart is the Smart City Idea !! A Thought on World Town Planning Day

Indian Towns sans planning!

by Ananta Prasad

The main challenges of urbanization in India are shortage of housing which is 18.78 million according to the 2011 census which Mr Venkeya Naidu, also stressed at the Plenary Session of Asia Pacific Ministerial Conference of Housing and Urban Development (APMCHUD) in Seoul recently.

The official statement of Minister emphasized stating that though accommodating slightly less than one third of the total population, the urban centres in India contribute a substantial part of the Gross Domestic Product already with 63 per cent in 2007 and the same is expected to increase to 75 per cent in 2021. However, the new Modi govt has their vision of Houses for all by end of 2012.

It is expected that by 2050, almost 50 percent of Indian population will constitute the urban areas and the Government of India is charged up with comprehensive urban up-liftment through improving quality of public transport, providing drainage, sanitation, waste management, water recycling and wi-fi facilities for public and commercial areas, added in the official note.

It is noted that World Town Planning Day is being celebrated in 30 countries of four continents on 8th November. It is a special day to recognize and promote the role of planning in creating livable urban communities. For fast growing countries like India the scenario of Town Planning is a myth. Sadly the town planners are yet to bring inclusive city planning. It has been a major issue in Indian cities that the urban planners have continuously ignored urban slums and the children in specific. Children and adolescents living in slums have been ignored as active stakeholder of urban renewal policies and programmes.

 According to HUPA, in India, 70.6% of urban population is covered by individual water connections while in china this is 91%, in South Africa 86% and in Brazil 80%.  Duration of water supply in India cities is between one to six hours. According to 2011 census, 13% of urban population defecate in the open, 37% are connected by open drains and 18% are not connected at all. 7.6 million young children living in urban poverty in Indian sufferer due to improper town planning in the country.The air quality has also deteriorated sharply carrying with it concomitant health costs. It has impacted directly to the children causing several diseases.

 Strategy to integrate networking of slums to city infrastructure and developing investment plans for slum infrastructure should be given priority as facts shows that slums have 20-25% of population but use less than 3 percent of land. The poor especially the children do not have any formal stake over land and hence are not a part of the planning process indicates the gap between the planners and the reality. Time has come for the planners to visioning the world class cities with proper inclusion of urban poor and young children living in it.

  It is noted that the central government has two major policies such as JnNURM and RAY for urban development where there has been plans to redevelop slums and to make India free from slums. But civil society members across India are now advocating for an inclusive development for all where women and children have equal share in the planning process and ensure a safe living condition for all.

 Keeping in mind the above statistics and information, if we analyse the statement by Naidu at Seoul things are very much superficial. The government has plans to adopt modern scientific methods of town and country planning practices based on Geographical Information System (GIS) in urban development. It is worth mentioning here that many programmes such as RAY and BSUP is facing issues like ownership of land as many slums in India are in forest lands or having such dispute. Any such relocation of people from existing set up to a farer place is simply not solving the issue of achieving Slum free India.

Again plans of extension of metro services to important and major urban centres, development of twin cities and creating infrastructure in satellite cities are other priority areas where now the new government is focusing on which is in other way ignoring the middle class which constitutes more than 40 percent in any urban settlement.

While the last budget it was announced for 100 new smart cities, now many civil society organisations have been questioning on the smartness of this smart city idea. However, every single day poor living condition is forcing most inhabitants of urban India to a unhealthy and unsafe well-being. Despite strengthening the existing plans in terms of hassle free execution of Urban Developmental plans, the new idea of smart cities seems very unreal in terms of implementation as the budgetary allocation is not sufficient.

The existing issues  that every urban set up in India is facing is going to be doubled of these smart city plans execute because of the obvious reason of non inclusiveness of such an idea.

(The writer is a Bangalore based development journalist and researcher on Urban Planing and Slum Development in India)

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