Millennium Post

Smarting subcities

While the grand announcement of building 100 ‘smart cities’ was rattled off by the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in his maiden Union Budget speech on 10 July, the allocation of Rs 7,060 crore made, there is need to distinguish between efficient conurbations and really democratic, egalitarian urban spaces. Inasmuch as urban poverty, slum-formation and village-to-city migration are at all-time highs, it is important to understand that economic visions must also encompass and give blue-prints for greater socio-political inclusiveness. While smart cities are intended to urban spaces that are well-planned, environmentally sustainable, technologically advanced and fuel/cost efficient, they must also be the substratum that would support the ever-widening streams of urban migrants looking for employment options in these emerging zones of socio-economic activities. Whether high-tech or ultra-green, cities with ‘sensors’ must not become cities on autopilot, with technology outpacing human intelligence and compassion as the ultimate arbiter of smartness. Evidently, the smart cities are being ideated as nodes on a grid of connectivity across food, fuel and services axes, with power, transport and freight networks meticulously taken care of. But optimising energy and information superhighways cannot overlook the millions of daily wage labourers and other seekers of low-wage jobs, such as in construction, ground operations, who are the seamy underbelly of the growth story that is urban India. While cities are the way to go, they need to be both smart and sensible.
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