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Are ‘Smart Cities’ Really Smart?

Are ‘Smart Cities’ Really Smart?

By Caeret Sood

Edited by Anandita Malhotra, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist

No one would be a stranger to India’s demographic problems. With the ever rising population and the limited space available to accommodate them, there is a very heavy load on the existing cities, which will soon become uninhabitable. The swelling population, however is not the only obstacle. Urbanisation is also taking place at a rapid pace, it stood at 31.6% in 2011 which would reach 50% in 2039. These issues present severe problems, which can have dire consequences. Keeping these things in mind, Narendra Modi, the current Prime Minister, had come up with the ‘100 smart cities’ programme, which was one of the reasons why he had gone to the US and even Japan.

With the world becoming technologically advanced, India should not lag behind, thus there should be special emphasis on developing smart cities. Smart cities are basically areas which is technologically advanced, with high end infrastructure which is environment friendly as well. In the union budget, presented by Arun Jaitely, Rs. 7060 crores have been earmarked for this huge project. Jaitely said that the PM has a vision of developing 100 smart cities to accommodate the burgeoning number of people. This idea has been developed to cater to the ‘Neo Middle Class’ section of the society. These are those people who have risen from the category of poor but are yet to stabilise in the middle class.

So, what differentiates a normal city from a smart one? The answer to it is not very simple and defined. Currently, there might not be any ‘normal’ city, there are always some form of ‘smarts’ in every city. No city is entirely normal. Around 135 to 143 smart cities have been identified globally. Cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Yokohama, Kawasaki, Kitakyushu are well on their path of being ‘smart’. They promote solar energy and have smart waste sector management like segregation, load and emission reductions. When Modi had visited Japan, he signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Shinzo Abe, the Japanese PM, to develop Varanasi into a smart city with the help of Kyoto. The US would also be helping India to develop three cities- Allahabad, Ajmer and Visakhapatnam, as a result of the Modi-Obama meet.

What would be the economic and societal implications of smart cities? Obviously, these would cities depend majorly on technology, which will invariably create more jobs, thus reducing unemployment. There would be an increase in efficiency and effectiveness, there would be better transportation, there’ll be lesser traffic jams, as everything will be close by, a policy of ‘Walk to Work’ will be followed. Thus, there is saving of time and the citizens can become more productive and more planned. There would be an increase in the well being of people. However, it will take time for all of this to take place. Also, there should be Public Private Partnership (PPP), which will help both the complains and the government as well. The companies ensure efficiency and government would take care of the funds.

While there are certain obstacles, as there are in any project, here the advantages are many. Some would argue that Rs. 70 crore per city would not be enough to rebuild it. It would be enough for initial investment. The government has also said that it will allocate more funds once it is in full flow. The government has also allowed more Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). As a result, there will be freer flow of funds, so companies from outside can invest in these cities. The cities will take time to be smart. In the next two to three decades, we’ll have a smart India. The jury is out to decide – whether India should focus on it’s basic problems like poverty, poor sanitation, lack of infrastructure or whether to should adopt futuristic technology to develop more cities. We have to make a smart choice, it is not ‘Or’, it is ‘And’.

Cearet Sood is a first year student studying Economics at Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University. She likes to spend her time by reading books, whose genres range from social drama to thrillers to economics or by brushing up her general knowledge. She is a curious person, who wants to know more and more. She loves to participate in quizzes and paper presentations, where she gets different perspectives and views.  She’s a person who doesn’t talk much. An introvert, who doesn’t quite fit in, but she doesn’t want to.

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