There is a need for a threadbare analysis of smart city model in the Indian context to build urban infrastructure.
The prevailing notion that planned ‘Smart Cities’ are a substitute for developing infrastructure in existing urban conglomerate is flawed. ‘Smart City’ at best are enclaves planned within existing urban centres, and cannot be compared even with satellite towns, which by themselves have not resolved the infrastructure inadequacies of existing city, said retired civil servant and social activist M. G. Devasahayam.
Initiating the first of a four-part Interaction of Observer Research Foundation, Chennai on Madras Day-2016: Metropolis to Megapolis: Infrastructure Adequacies and Inadequacies, Mr. Devasahayam pointed out how the Smart City concept had been developed by IT sector MNCs from the West without much relation to the Indian urban scene. Expressing reservations about Smart City, he pointed out how they would not provide the required solution to the infrastructure problems of a city like Chennai — one of the 100 urban centres chosen under the Centre’s Smart City scheme.
In the immediate context of Chennai, Mr. Devasahayam put the administrative structural inadequacies at the top of the existing urban deficiencies. In terms of population and area, Chennai is already a megapolis, but still lack even the physical infrastructure required for a metropolis. On the politico-administrative side, the megapolis came under different elected administrative setups, from the municipal corporation, to town municipalities, to town and village panchayats. They had different sets of rules, procedures and staff strength on granting clearances for building construction, drainage requirements, etc. This was among the reasons for the haphazard growth of multi-storeyed buildings across the megapolis, adding to civic problems.
Chennai Vision 2023
Mr. Devasahayam provided a checklist of infrastructure projections set out under the State Government’s ‘Chennai Vision 2023’ plan and also the Centre’s Smart City scheme — and pointed out how they overlapped at places, and left out specific requirements, otherwise. In context, he referred to the road transport sector in particular. According to him, the much-hyped MRTS railway scheme would not suit Chennai’s growing demands and requirements. Nor would the growing number of flyover across the city resolve the problem. Instead, the city’s transport problems could be resolved through a cost effective scheme of bus-based Rapid Transport System (BRTS), which had no takers in the Government, he said.
In this context, Mr. Devasahayam also referred to the non-application of existing rules and regulations while granting building clearances, and political nexus behind the mushrooming of high-rises and other constructions on the city’s water bodies and drainage ways. He referred to the unprecedented December floods of last year, and said, it could have been avoided in the first place. Better still, he said, no lessons seemed to have been learnt from the same. According to him, unlike general perception, Chennai received adequate rains in an average year, but owing to poor storage and drainage facilities, it looked inadequate at times, and flooded on other occasions.
Overall, Mr. Devasahayam said, Chennai as a city was blessed with all natural resources for infrastructure growth and development, but inadequate planning and improper implementation has proved to be the malaise, which was not been rectified by a succession of political leaderships and bureaucratic mindsets at all levels. If and when these issues are addressed adequately, Chennai’s present-day problems would not carry on into the future, he concluded.