What is smart about our Smart Cities scheme? Nothing, really!

The selection throws up a lot of questions What was the criterion? Why these cities?

Bengaluru: It is quite natural to be cynical when one talks about big-ticket government projects, going by the rate of translation of such projects and the track record of the government. The Union government’s pick of Belagavi and Davangere for the first round of Smart Cities programme on Thursday has come as a surprise. In the same breath, one feels thankful for the ministry that two cities from the state have made the cut, because many other states have not even one to reckon with.

The selection also throws up a lot of questions – What was the criterion? Why these cities? Why not Bengaluru, Mysuru, Tumakuru or Hassan? What will the project do to these cities? Has the Union government indullged in politicking in the selection? The choice of two BJP bastions – Davangere and Belagavi, while overlooking promising cities, like Tumakuru, too is suspect. Even the shortlist of six cities, including Shivamogga, Hubballi-Dharwad and Mangaluru, reeks of politics. The performance of municipal corporations for the selection, maintenance and auditing of accounts in these municipalities, utilisation of central funds like JNNURM, implementation of programmes and their achievement levels… all seem fake!

Sources in the secretariat, however, have a different take. While one senior official says all programmes and policies have political overtones, another says there is nothing smart about the Smart Cities scheme. Yet another says any central scheme that brings in the moolah for development of the state is welcome!

Deccan Chronicle spoke to senior bureaucrats, working closely with the project, and some retired officers to get a perspective on PM Narendra Modi’s pet project.

On the selection of six cities, an officer asked how is the performance of a municipal corporation decides whether the city or people deserve development… “It should be market and need driven, and cities should be chosen after carefully evaluating the city’s growth potential, migration and opportunities. China has constructed several cities and today they have turned into ghost cities. So, developing cities should be need based,’’ he said.

Cities like Bengaluru, Mysuru, Mangaluru and Tumakuru are growing rapidly. But there is a big mismatch in the facilities available, both physical and social, and the needs of the population. Cities like Ramanagara, or even Hassan, have a big potential as they are well connected, he says.

“You have picked Belagavi and Davangere which fall in the Mumbai-Bengaluru industrial corridor, which is being developed in collaboration with the UK government. So what is smart about the selection? You have left out Tumakuru which can directly take the stress off Bengaluru. Hundreds of investors are queuing up at Tumakuru as land is cheap and plentiful,” says another officer.

“Is the investment of Rs 500 crore each for Davangere and Belagavi over five years enough to make them smart? You are talking about smart grid, intelligent transport and traffic system, UGD and water supply and Greenfield projects in the periphery of these cities. Such ambitious plans require continuous funding for at least 10 years. A smart plan would have been to create Greenfield cities as offshoot satellite towns around mega metros and move businesses and people there,’’ says a retired bureaucrat.

Another JNNURM?

A careful look at the Smart Cities project proposal will make one realise how it has several layers of bureaucracy and half-a-dozen committees at each step, said a source . “You have municipal and panchayat committees, local area committee, then state-level committee, committee at secretary level and then chief secretaries’ committee, inter-ministry committee and not to forget NGOs committee which will look into ecology, environment and human rights. You need to have a simplified system to carry out mega projects. The Smart City project is tied down by a heavy chain of needless mechanisms. With all these committees holding mararthon meetings, the Union government has set a 5-year road map! Will it even take off? I have serious doubts. It will go the JNNURM way – a good plan failed by the bureaucracy,’’ he said.

( Source : deccan chronicle )
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