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India Might Be Building Smart Cities, But Is Their Governance Going To Be Smart As Well?

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Cities are expected to house almost half of India’s population and contribute three-fourth of India’s GDP in the coming years. There is no denying that the insufficient water supply, public sanitation, education, health care and lack of other urban infrastructure, combined with local governance deficits, seriously undermines their growth potential as well as make them unlivable.

The Smart Cities Mission (SCM) was launched in India in 2015 to deliver livability, economic stability and sustainability to its urban residents through the adoption of context-specific solutions supported by robust IT connectivity, digitalisation and improved governance in 100 cities. After 2014, the idea of the Smart Cities Mission experienced a marked shift in focus from greenfield development to brownfield development, and the orientation moved from the construction of 100 new smart cities to making the existing cities smart.

The smart cities are envisioned as exclusive spaces in the form of residential townships, business improvement districts and special economic zones that will attract global capital investment and also offer a higher standard of living with amenities comparable to affluent cities of the developed world. The Smart Cities initiatives now involve a growing number of stakeholders, but the actual implementation of the missions are contingent on the very complex interplay between these various stakeholders. There is one major criticism of the smart cities around the world as well as in India, and that is these cities are failing to put the people at the centre of planning because of their technocratic approaches driven by professionally managed bodies like the SPVs.

The Smart Cities initiatives now involve a growing number of stakeholders, but the actual implementation of the missions are contingent on the very complex interplay between these various stakeholders.

In India, 45 cities have operational integrated command and control centres (ICCC) set up under the SCM. The smart cities project in India has gathered both appraisals as well as criticism. Despite the mixed response, it has successfully transformed the very image of the city making in India, but the central question is: What are smart cities if they cannot help us live a good healthy life?

Prof Tathagata Chatterji, in #CityConversations E3, talked about the smart city governance paradigm through the lens of the smart governance framework. He said, “India is going through a momentous urban change. In percentage terms, India’s urbanisation level is still well below as compared to its other neighbouring countries, but in absolute number terms India’s urban change is astonishing.”

In 2011, India’s urban population was 377 million and now in 2020, as per the projections of the world population by the United Nations, we are already about 35%, which is approximately 483 million. By 2030, India’s urban population is expected to reach a 40% benchmark or about 606 million. These odd 124 million people who would get urbanised between 2020 and 2030 is equivalent to 15 cities the size of Bengaluru, but we are not making 15 new Bengaluru cities.

In India, we have a dichotomy in the urbanisation process. On the top, we have large metropolitan regions, which are the real drivers of the growth as we recently saw in the case of the lockdown. Covid-19 is very much an urban phenomenon and our inadequate understanding of the urban-ness of the pandemic created a problem in the decision-making process.

Prof Chatterji further said: “In India, people tend to think of urban and rural as two opposite poles, but in reality, there are various strong interrelations between urbanisation and the rural economy. Not enough jobs are available in the city, so we have a large informal sector in the cities.” However, India is urbanising at a steady rate, as both the urban and rural are moving simultaneously. Yet, India is also unfolding a very complicated pattern of urbanisation where, instead of a wholesale manner shift of the population, it is happening in bits and pieces.

Since the 90s, the government in India had been quite active on the urban front. In 1992, the 74th Amendment Act was enacted, which, although empowered the city governments, made the unfolding and implementation of the Act hugely uneven. A significant change happened in 2005 when the JNNURM programme was launched, which was the first substantial investment by the Central government in the urban sector.

It was a reform that sought to bring in certain changes in the way the cities are functioned and was invoked until 2015. In 2015, with the new government in power, several new urban-centric schemes/programmes were launched. One was AMRUT, which carried forward what began under JNNURM. And, the other big program was Smart Cities, a very ambitious plan that sought to make the quality of life comparable to the global standards.

Prof Chatterji said:

“While looking at the performance of the smart cities, there are three important aspects that need to be looked upon – funds, functions and functionaries. Indian cities are somewhat deficient in all three aspects. Funding of the city governments is one of the major problems as the cities are facing huge internal revenue deficit even though large powering cities such as Mumbai, Gurgaon, Noida have large property tax bases. On top of that, the external sources of funds are problematic too. In India, the municipal revenue as a percentage of GDP is only 1% whereas in other BRICS countries including Brazil and South Africa it is 6-7%.”

Governance Of Smart Cities Or Smart Governance?

While talking about the smart cities notion at a global scale, Prof Chatterji classified this notion into three broad trajectories: technology focus, human resource focus and governance focus. He further said, “The role of the government in smart cities has different notions, so within the smart city governance domain, there are three broad areas of focus: one is the decision-making aspect, second is the smart administration aspect, and the third one is the smart urban collaboration aspect.” He illustrated his point by giving an example, “In New York, Amsterdam, Vienna, Barcelona or other major smart cities, the smart cities notions has been driven by the city governments whereas, in India, we have a different process in which the Central government is the driver behind the smart city notion.”

Indian smart cities have a top-down as well as a bottom-up vision. The funding pattern of the Smart Cities Mission in India is decided both by the state and the Central government. Smart cities, as of now, according to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, serve about 25% of the urban population. The total project cost, as of now, is about Rs 205,000 crores and divided into two components. One is area-based development with an 80% share focusing on the urban renewal component. The pan-city component with a 20% share aims at improving the infrastructure of the city through technological innovation.

The Smart Cities Mission has brought in a new institutional architecture of governance, the ‘Special Purpose Vehicles (SPV)‘ to overcome some of the deficiencies in the urban governance system in India.

Prof Chatterji further raised his concerns: Are our smart cities meeting our priorities?

Covid-19 provided some critical lessons for the Smart Cities Mission. It underscores the importance of a city-level platform for integrated data governance, which would facilitate evidence-based decision making at an urban scale, bring data integration between multiple sources and agencies and, at the same time, make data accessible and focus on wide dissemination so that data can be a way to engage with the citizen of the country.

“The need of the hour is to relook at the mission and its priorities. The smart city plan is only one of the components of the overarching planning process of the city. The SCM sought to bring in smart governance like the SPV, but even SPV too did suffer from certain deficits,” added Prof Chatterji.

In his concluding remarks, Prof Chatterji emphasised that there are a lot of questions of smart cities that need to be looked at from the angle of good governance: “This is the time now to rethink the Smart City Mission and link it up with the Sustainable Development Goals in order to help in evidence-based planning and to have a more integrated vision for planning at the city level. We need to move away from the vision of a smart city to smart city governance. Unless we improve the governance system of the city, we really cannot have a smart city which is effective, efficient, participatory, consensus-oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, equitable and inclusive.”

YouTube Video for ‘Governance of Smart Cities or Smart Governance?’

Soumyadip Chattopadhyay and Arjun Kumar

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

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campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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