By Chandan Chawla, Independent researcher on Urban issues
The General Election mandate of May 2014 in favor of single political party has led to articulation of ambitious urban agenda for India that sets forth global aspirations. The smart city terminology occupies a central part of this national urban narrative. It intends to woo neo middle class looking for world class services and instant remedies to existing inefficiencies. In the maiden budget speech in July 2014, the Government pledged an allocation of Rs 7,060 crores for developing 100 smart cities in the country. The announcement has quickly transitioned in local action with several States showing interest to explore the idea further. The link on the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) website for smart cities has put together an assortment of concept note, news items and other happenings on the subject. The concept note (carrying a tag of work in progress) lists various definitions of Smart cities used by different organizations and defines its key features. The national agenda for smart cities is quickly percolating in to local politics with enthusiasm. A bit of tweaking would have done some justice to the local context and put aspirations in perspective, but local politics seems to be in a hurry to serve the same menu in the backdrop of national hullabaloo.
In November-December2014, elections were held in 278 civic bodies in two phases in Madhya Pradesh. Continuing with its national narrative, the BJP manifestos assured the fulfillment of smart cities with light metro rail, increased coverage of basic services and houses for urban poor. Of 278 civic bodies, the BJP won in 167 urban bodies.
Bhopal Municipal Corporation (BMC), reporting a population of 1798218 of which 26% resides in slums went to polls on January 31, 2015 for electing new mayor and 85 councillors. There were 17 candidates contesting for Mayoral position and 456 for councillors in 85 wards. The direct contest for Mayoral position is assumed to be between Kailash Mishra of the Congress and Alok Sharma of the BJP. Continuing with the subsequent victory momentum, the Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, has focused significant energies on the mayoral and municipal polls in Bhopal.
Active involvement of important State and Regional leaders pepped up the campaign. Development has been the overriding theme in this local election. Both the Mayoral candidates have tried to woo the voters through their intensive “jan sampark” (public contact programmes) and regular updates on face book pages. In the last week to the elections, a detailed manifesto was released by both parties. Although the manifestos were not widely available with the candidates or local party offices, the salient features were shared through local newspapers as well as on social media. The promises in manifestos were mentioned occasionally by candidates in their public speeches, but not widely distributed to voters, rendering them an object of academic analysis than public debate. However inspite of animated campaign, voters in Bhopal registered lowest turnout amongst 9 civic bodies at 56.70% on 31st January.
Image 1: Advertisement posters displayed by Congress and BJP Mayoral candidates (Source: https://www.facebook.com/bjpaloksharma ; http://kailashmishra.com/)
The dialect resonating in the local elections in Bhopal Municipal Corporation has been “smart and digital”. The candidates in their advertisements flaunted collages of flyovers, high-rise buildings, metro projects, multi-level parking and spic-span pedestrian paths against the backdrop of beautiful lakes. They promised world class services in background of substandard or nonexistent infrastructure. The election manifestos for both parties were similar in the sense that they listed ambitious capital intensive projects but offered little insights on improving existing systems, looking at financial prudence or plugging the gaps to make basic level of services universally available. 
Image 2: A Jan Sampark Sabha by BJP Mayoral candidate at Chowk- Old Bhopal (Source: Author).
Clean and Green City commitments were common to both party manifestos and promise citizens toilets, sewerage, better waste collection, treatment and disposal. As per Service level benchmarking (SLB) data gazetted by BMC in 2013-14, only 47% of households in city availed door to door collection service for solid waste. About 81% of households had access to toilets, while only 35% had access to sewerage network. Census 2011 data showed only 40.3% households in BMC had access to sewerage network. The MoUD sanitation ranking for the year 2009-10 designated Bhopal (with a score of 32.497) in red category which indicates “ Cities on the brink of public health and environmental ‘emergency’ and needing immediate remedial action”. The National Green Tribunal has been repeatedly alerting the city as the solitary river Kaliyasot is battling serious pollution by growing encroachment and disposal of sewage from nearby residential and commercial establishments. Recent agitations by people in newly merged areas of BMC related to proper collection and disposal of solid waste have also reached National Tribunal.
Both parties have promised adequate water to all citizens as per requirement and making Narmada water available to every household. As per 2013-14 SLB data, only 58% of households in the city had a water supply connection and they received 150 LPCD (liters per capita per day) of water for 1-2 hours in a day. Only 15% of water connections were metered and non revenue water accounted to 28%. The cost recovery for water supply charges was found abysmally low at 40%. The gap in access to water supply was also confirmed by Census 2011 results, which showed BMC with 65.9% of households connected to treated tap water supply. For Kolar Municipality (recently merged in BMC) the number was abysmally low at 5.3%. In both cases, less than 55% of households had water supply source located with premises. Within this context, it is interesting to note the Congress manifesto which promises 24×7 water supply. Benefits of the ambitious Narmada Water Supply project, constructed under JNNURM have been delayed in Bhopal and witnessed protests due to higher water charges. For the newly merged rural and urban areas, the political parties promise access to adequate water without detailing out the blue print. Kolar Municipality (comprising of wards 80 to 84) has added 77,424 new voters who were promised adequate water, sanitation, solid waste collection and public transport services on the brink of elections.
Both manifestos placed high importance of transportation and have ensured commitment to model roads, flyovers, foot over bridges for the next decade. Global aspirations like light metro rail figures in commitments of both parties. To cater to needs of commercial areas, contestants have offered solutions like individual multilevel parking projects while the city still lacks a comprehensive plan for parking that can consider long term planning, land requirements and work out a feasible model to recover costs. On the front of urban poor, the solutions offered are age old. Housing for urban poor under CMs housing scheme, basic services to all slum settlements and Public Private Partnership (PPP) mode for slum redevelopment are offered by BJP manifesto. The Congress manifesto offers to simplify rules for regularisation of 1000 illegal colonies to be able to reach them with basic infrastructure services. On employment opportunities, there are unexciting ideas like market spaces for unemployed youth who can initiate small business in these areas in one and generic commitments to establishing urban resource centers and skill centers in other. City wide Wi-Fi has been proposed by both parties as a pre requisite to Global infrastructure.
Wait to watch
One will have to wait and see if and how fast the ambitious manifestos and charged terminology actually translate in to local action. In the process, it may be useful to consider that successful smart cities will owe far more of its success to finding new ways of doing routine things like managing water, waste, street lights, vehicular traffic and existing services with minimum resources. It will not necessarily benefit only from building new infrastructure or expanding our cities endlessly, but will have to look at new ways and arrangements of providing old services. While good gadgetry and digitisation may help achieve efficiency, it will not replace the need for good governance, equipped staff, institutional accountability and prudence of the citizens.
 For instance, the newly formed Telengana State has already started talks with Dubai for establishing smart city in Hyderabad. India and United States recently signed three Memoranda of Understandings (MoUs) to develop Allahabad, Ajmer, and Visakhapatnam as smart cities. Several countries like Japan, Germany, Sweden, Singapore, Israel, UK, US, Hong Kong and the Netherlands besides MNCs have expressed interest in building smart cities in India.
 The concept note defines Smart Cities as those which have smart (intelligent) physical, social, institutional and economic infrastructure while ensuring centrality of citizens in a sustainable environment. It expects a Smart City to generate options for all residents to pursue their livelihoods and interests meaningfully and with joy.
 Congress Mayoral candidate, in his election campaigns flaunted vision for clean, green and hi-tech Bhopal. BJP Mayoral candidate pitched for making Bhopal a world class city. The BJP manifesto had distinct sections on clean, green, smart, lake, heritage, digital and light metro city. It also had separate commitments for each of 6 Vidhan Sabha Constituencies.
 The design prepared for light metro published in a local newspaper in December 2014 included 80 km track with a mix of underground, surface and elevated tracks. A detailed report is expected to be ready by January 2015.