Hardeep Singh Puri, union minister of state for Housing and Urban Affairs (MOHUA) had said that “money spent on urban rejuvenation during NDA’s tenure is six times higher than the UPA government,” while addressing the ‘Second National Apex Conference of CEOs of Smart Cities’ in February 2019. But what remains unanswered is if spending more money also means that missions and goals are achieved at the ground level.
To transform Indian cities, the central government had launched a flagship program ‘Smart City Mission’ about five years ago, with a focus on bringing the required infrastructure to the cities using technology. Of the 5155 initial projects, 3629 are actively pursued, and 917 (25%) have been completed across 100 ‘smart’ cities.
In Gujarat, the Vadaj slum area, with 8,000 households was planned for redevelopment under the Ahmedabad Smart City mission to create more public spaces through a public-private partnership (PPP) model.
Around 10.66% of Ahmedabad’s population is recorded as belonging to Scheduled Castes (SC), higher than Gujarat itself (6.96%). The Rama Pir No Tekro area in Vaadaj is one among them, with a concentration of people from the Dalit Community. I observed that more than 200 houses were bulldozed by the builder.
However, renting an apartment for the affected slum-dwellers is a big challenge as there is a high level of discrimination against people belonging to marginalised castes in the city. For transitional accommodation, spanning 18 months, the affected family is to get ₹1.10 lakh (₹6,111 per month), which is not enough to secure accommodation for a family in the city. Though the builder has also promised to give them shops along with the housing unit, how they will survive till 2021, which is when the project, officially, is to end. Also, the ULB has 50.56% of its population falling under the self- employed category.
In Indore, where a heritage restoration project is in progress around Rajwada under the smart city project, more than 200 street vendors have been shifted to a place two kilometers away from the sidewall of Rajwada. This was done just 12 hours after the notice was served by the municipality. All the affected vendors suffered a huge loss, and many have been forced to come to the footpath to survive.
In the country’s capital’, New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) area has been chosen for the smart city project, which represents just 1.3% of the total population of the city. Places like Rashtrapati Bhavan, India Gate, Parliament, Connaught Palace, etc, which are already well developed, fall under this area. In the current proposal, issues surrounding homelessness, a major issue that Delhi faces, is not even mentioned.
However, this is the ground reality of the money spent under the smart city project as claimed by authorities, and there are many more such instances that are yet to be undiscovered. Thus, I feel that the government’s vision of driving economic growth and improved quality life in cities will remain unaccomplished even if they spend six times more than the previous government.
The government should immediately undertake a social impact assessment of the money spent on urban rejuvenation so far, and look to building sustainable cities instead.
The author is an urban researcher working with the Indo-global Social Service Society in Delhi.