Urban planning experts doubtful about Govt’s smart city mission

New Delhi, Feb. 9 (ANI): While the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Government has set in motion the process of building smart cities with the selection of 20 cities in the first phase, experienced urban planners and experts doubt the likely success of the government’s ambitious programme given its present approach.

They think that the government’s “consultants-led approach” is unlikely to take the prestigious project to a successful completion.

The experts were participating in a two-day international conference on “Future scenarios for urbanising India: Governance, Security and Environmental Change”, jointly organised by Observer Research Foundation (ORF) and Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO) here on Monday and Tuesday.

The Conference was an important part of a collaborative project funded by the Research Council of Norway.

Vinod K Tewari, a former IIM Bangalore professor and former director of the National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA), said the Modi government’s smart cities programme was not much different from the last government’s schemes like the JNNURM which could achieve only 20-30 percent success.

“There are some changes in the programmes but the approach is the same as that of the last governments,” he said.

Criticising the consultants-driven approach of the government in building smart cities, Tewari said retrofitting on a large scale is very difficult.

He said what is needed is changing the system in place. “Unless that is done, the goals will not be met,” he said.

Tewari said unfortunately all the urban programmes are politically motivated and hence with short term perspective.

He said instead of consultants driving the programme, it should be the country’s institutions which should be driving these schemes. He also stressed on the need to build more institutions which could produce more efficient municipal cadres.

He noted that there is no professional management in the municipal corporations and they are not addressing the real issues.

Prof. Om Prakash Mathur, formerly director NIUA, pointed out a recent World Bank report had described India’s urban development as “messy”. He said unlike claims by many, the country’s urbanisation is moving very slowly, with an 8.7 percent urbanisation deficit when compared with 22 largest countries.

“What is large is the scale of urbanisation and not the pace of urbanisation,” he said.

He said India’s smart cities mission is not dealing with the kind of urbanisation India is looking for.

Earlier, Sunjoy Joshi, ORF director, during his welcome address, said that if not managed well, India’s demographic dividend will turn into nightmare. He said urban plans also should take into consideration environmental challenges and security threats while tackling other issues.

Prof. Chetan Vaidya, director of School of Planning and Architecture, said urban planning should mainly focus on public health as done decades earlier, and the planning process should also address the issue of disaster management. Other areas of focus should be infrastructure and governance, he said.

Prof. Vaidya also stressed the need for producing good urban development officers to improve efficiency of the local governments.

Another School of Planning and Architecture professor, N. Sridharan said urban planning and development is nothing new as the Harappa civilisation had witnessed such development. He said in fact, we are going back as during the Harappan times, trying to develop urban centres along waterways. He pointed out that only a miracle can help us in our new urbanisation efforts.

Prof. V.N. Alok of the Indian Institute of Public Administration underlined the need for district planning bodies.

Rajiv Prakash Saxena, advisor to many governments, said what is needed for safety and security of urban people is “locally appropriate plans and technologies and not globally accepted technologies”. He blamed global tech companies of trying to sell their ICT products in the name of security.

Pointing out that 20 percent of people in Delhi live in slums, Jayshree Sengupta, Senior Fellow, ORF, focused on the need to include the excluded category of poor, especially women and children, in the planning while Renu Khosla of the Centre for Urban and Regional Excellence stressed the need for access to affordable housing.

Dr. Bhawna Bali of TERI University also felt that no space had been given to the poor, pointing out that ‘inclusion’ was not new and it was practised during the time of Kings. She said that not a single city has implemented the 74th Amendment Act fully, though 14 years have passed after this legislation.

Dr Pawan Kumar of Town and Country Planning Organisation, said instead of depending on a particular brand, a variety of public transport should be used. And also the focus should be on efficient use of transport rather than on lessening fares. He cautioned against blindly going for brands like Metro in every city while many other brands with much less capital investment could do the job better.

Suneel Pandey of the TERI said urban planning should be redesigned to tackle climate change impacts, use green energy and reduce carbon prints while Shyamala Mani of National Institute of Urban Affairs wanted better plans to efficiently manage solid wastes.

Dr Elisabeth Gilmore of the University of Maryland, USA, explained how climate change can lead to vulnerability among poor, which in turn leads to migration and even social unrest.

Prof. Halvard Buhaug of the Peace Research Institute Oslo, presenting his research on environmental changes experienced in India, said that climate-induced rural insecurity is an important contributing factor to the strong rural to urban migration witnessed in India.

“The urban sector is vast, complex and has many dimensions”. In this context, Dr. Rumi Aijaz of the ORF said that “all future planning and governance must be done by taking into account the diversity that urban areas display”. (ANI)

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