Author : Rumi Aijaz

Event ReportsPublished on May 21, 2018
Aizawl: On a smart city mission
Several urban settlements in India show concentration of large population and clustering of economic activities. This pattern has occurred because it is beneficial. The local and regional population finds opportunities for progress and expressing creativity. It is also an opportunity for governments to address the challenges of regional poverty, unemployment and revenue generation by supporting and facilitating the transformation process. Thus, in many such settlements, efforts are underway to regulate growth, and attend to civic needs. It is expected that planned interventions would lead to greater societal benefits and improved quality of life. Aizawl, Mizoram State’s capital city in northeastern India, shows similar trends. In the post independent era, the hill settlement grew in population size from a mere 6,950 in 1951 to 74,493 in 1981, and to 2,93,416 in 2011. Census data for 2011 show that about 27 per cent of the State’s total population lives in Aizawl, and the city is spread over an area of 129 sq. km. Since 1951, addition of people to the city’s population every census decade has been significant until 1991. Thereafter, a decline in addition is observed. For instance, during 1981-91, the city’s population grew by 108 per cent. Afterwards, this growth rate fell sharply to 47 per cent in 1991-2001, and further to 29 per cent in 2001-2011. This implies that the absolute population is growing, but at a slower pace than before, possibly due to decline in migration to Aizawl. Nonetheless, Aizawl has a large population size when compared with the remaining 22 statutory towns in the State. The town next in the order, namely Lunglei, has a population (57,011) five times less than Aizawl. Aizawl has grown much faster probably because it is the State’s administrative headquarter, and has better infrastructure and opportunities. It is also an indication that urban population in the State is not uniformly distributed, and other towns could be displaying slow or insignificant growth. The growth of the hill city has led to occurrence of problems. Most visible among these are rampant unplanned building construction on hill slopes, reduced green cover and soil erosion, deteriorating built structures and public spaces, large number of motor vehicles, vehicular emissions, traffic congestion and parking woes, and inadequate infrastructure for mobility. These are important challenges of urbanisation that need to be urgently addressed by the existing institutions, namely the State’s Urban Development and Poverty Alleviation Department, the Aizawl Municipal Corporation, etc. There are many on-going State and local planning and urban development and maintenance initiatives aimed at improving city conditions, including the Master Plan (Aizawl Vision 2030) approved by the State government in March 2013, development of an automated building plan approval system, scientific waste management, street vending scheme, protection of cultural heritage, landslide hazard map, etc. The most recent is the inclusion of Aizawl (on 23 June 2017) in the all-India list of cities selected under the Indian government’s Smart Cities Mission. Under the Mission, selected cities are receiving technical and financial support for implementing smart projects. Following selection, a smart city proposal of Aizawl is prepared, the Aizawl Smart City Ltd. is established, and it is reported that work has begun on implementation of smart projects. The smart city proposal offers a vision of Aizawl over the next 5 – 10 years. It calls for: (a) creating a city identity based on Mizo culture and physio-geographic features; (b) promoting social inclusiveness; (c) developing sustainable economic environment by creating opportunities; (d) preparing resilient infrastructure through ICT interventions; and (e) up-skilling human capital. Citizen inputs were obtained for creating the vision, and there is scope for engaging with the private sector in the designing of projects and other activities. Some proposed sectors for improvement using smart features are urban design (façade improvement and streetscaping), affordable housing, landscape, mobility (road carriage & footpath improvement, ropeway), water (smart meters and quality monitoring), waste (GPS & RFID tag enabled vehicles), energy (multi-utility underground duct, rooftop solar panels), safety (CCTV) and environment (increasing green cover, restriction of construction on steep slopes). In the light of above-mentioned developments, a workshop on smart cities was organised in Aizawl on 27 April 2018 by Heidelberg University, with Observer Research Foundation as the knowledge partner. Important contributing partners were Mizoram University, School of Planning and Architecture (Delhi), Indo-German Chamber of Commerce, Gottingen University, and GIZ. The event was supported by Friedrich Naumann Stiftung für die Freiheit. The Governor of Mizoram, Lt. Gen. Nirbhay Sharma (Retd.)  inaugurated the workshop and delivered the inaugural address. Distinguished subject experts, practitioners, and research scholars representing various regional and national institutions participated to share on-going work and experiences. In the inaugural session, Prof. K.R.S. Sambasiva Rao, Vice Chancellor of Mizoram University delivered the special address, and Prof. Amitabh Kundu, Research and Information System for Developing Countries, Delhi gave the keynote address. Introducing the workshop, Mr. Radu Carciumaru, Resident Representative, Heidelberg Centre South Asia, and Dr. Rumi Aijaz, Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi mentioned that the purpose of the event was to understand important development challenges in Aizawl city, and discuss smart ideas for addressing the problems. Some important issues discussed and lessons learned in the workshop are described below. Connectivity: Digital and physical connectivity are impediments to development. The State government has taken steps to improve connectivity, including planning for a second airport (Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Nirbhay Sharma, Hon’ble Governor of Mizoram). Decongestion: Future development must be promoted outside Aizawl in other areas since the capital city is overcrowded. In this respect, adoption of a regional planning and development approach may be useful (Lt. Gen. Nirbhay Sharma (Retd.), the Governor of Mizoram). Satellite towns can be established in suitable neighbouring areas. Further, infrastructural facilities should be developed in tahsil and block headquarters to avoid out-migration that makes Aizawl city crowded (Prof. Vishwambhar Prasad Sati, Mizoram University). Ecosystem: Cityscape of Aizawl is fragile and vulnerable to natural hazards. Slope is steep and rugged. Vertical expansion of city must be stopped, and for horizontal expansion, proper vulnerability analysis should be done to avoid future disasters (Prof. Vishwambhar Prasad Sati). Forests house endangered flora and fauna. For example, in the Rani and Garbhanga reserved forests, which are adjacent to Deepor Beel (a wetland near Guwahati), the State’s southern railroad constructed through the wetland in 2001 fragmented the wetland into at least two subsystems and has segregated the wetland-forest ecosystem. Subsequently, illegal settlements, setting up of factories, construction of highways, etc., have also constantly hampered the wetland in many ways. Thus, as Aizawl plans to transforms itself, it is important to preserve the biodiversity by regulating new development (Dr. Silpirekha Pandit, Guwahati College of Architecture). Public spaces and facilities: Quality of urban life can be improved by reorienting city design towards public realm. People need spaces for social interaction, and interventions can be made by reimagining the spaces to make these better. Smartness is not only about technology and infrastructure, but also of good design and planning, giving priority to place-making concerning the need for places for people (Ms. Lalhmangaihi Hmar, Spire Architecture & Engineering Consultant; Ms. Vicky Lalramsangi, Guwahati College of Architecture). There is also a need for solid waste and sewage management, multispecialty hospital, and supermarket to house all domestic requirements under one roof (Prof. K.R.S. Sambasiva Rao, Vice Chancellor, Mizoram University). Governance and technology: The fourth tier of government – Local Councils a unique system in Aizawl needs to be given adequate funds and staff, and more involvement in bottom-up planning. Further, meaningful and diverse people’s participation should be there. It should not be a one-time activity or participation but a continuous process for which both offline and online modes should be used (Dr. T. Sadashivam, Pachhunga University College, Aizawl). Tribal regions like Mizoram do not have easy access to internet. The government must create ICT infrastructure and initiate public programmes and training activities to make e-learning accessible to all sections of the society (Mr. Christopher Lun, Goodwill Foundation, Aizawl). Finance: The parliamentary standing committee on urban development has reported that no more than 1.8 per cent of funds released have been utilised since the launch of the Smart Cities Mission. The issue of funds lying unutilised by States needs to be looked into (Prof. Amitabh Kundu, Research and Information System for Developing Countries, Delhi). Security: The smart cities initiative has looked at the subject of law and order in cursory terms and ignored the far greater threat that terrorism poses. Infrastructure designs incorporating measures that can mitigate terror threats need to be given the requisite attention. Given the cost factor, such measures are unlikely to be incorporated if they are not given the necessary statutory backing. The smart city initiative must necessarily take cognizance of this issue and tackle it at priority if we are to work towards making our cities not just smart but safe as well (Brig. (Retd.) Deepak Sinha, Observer Research Foundation). Mobility: The demand for urban transport is increasing with growing population. Today, solutions that are not only mobility driven but are also accessibility driven to satisfy need for mobility as well as that of sustainability are needed. Shared mobility solutions fall in former category and can aid maximisation in utility of vehicle km. through higher vehicle occupancy levels. Transport demand management measures belong to accessibility-based solutions, with focus on reduction of urban transport demand through landuse transport integration and use of internet and telecommunication based technologies to minimise need for travel (Ms. Nimisha Pal, Freelance Transport Consultant, Delhi). Cities in hill regions have certain challenges, i.e., multi-level and regional connectivity, and infrastructure being prone to disasters. Smart and sustainable mobility in hill cities can be attained by enabling a digital information integrated system. This would help tourists to identify hotspots and provide them options and details related to reaching these hotspots. This, therefore, is likely to reduce dependency on personal motorised vehicles or cabs thus addressing issues related to parking. Second, disaster response system is necessary that also provides information to the citizens related to exit routes and safe areas when disaster happens (Dr. Deepty Jain, TERI School of Advanced Studies, Delhi). Vocational education and training: The famed “Dual System” of vocational education and training is one of the pillars of the brand “Made in Germany”. It relies on two partners, namely the industry and the vocational schools. Many retired experts from Germany are available for hands-on advice and training in carpentry, football, organic foods, etc. With decades of experience, they help, for example, in practical training, curriculum development and train-the-trainer of vocational training institutes in India. A special scheme enables SMEs, training institutes and NGOs to avail of such an expert at a very low cost and many successful assignments have been completed in India (Ms. Sabina Pandey, Indo-German Chamber of Commerce, Kolkata). Inclusive society: The smart cities proposal of Aizawl calls for creation of inclusive societies. It therefore becomes necessary to identify deprived areas through a deprivation index. The primary economic inputs like land need to be preserved for the lower income group so that they can be part of smart cities rather than getting excluded through increasing price of land. Extensive use of ICT may reduce the gaps in service delivery and increase the supply of services in the deprived areas (Prof. Shipra Maitra and Dr. Arjun Kumar, Institute for Human Development, Delhi). Contributions were also made by Dr. K. Robin, Dr. Benjamin L. Saitluanga, Prof. Lalrintluanga and Ms. Sylvia Romawizuali of Mizoram University; Mr. Vidyadharan, ORF; Prof. Alakh N. Sharma, Institute for Human Development, Delhi; Prof. Lallukhum Fimate, Mizoram Institute of Medical Education & Research; Dr. Sudeshna Mitra and Dr. Brajesh Dubey of IIT Kharagpur; and Dr. Debendra C. Baruah, Tezpur University. The workshop ended with a vote of thanks by Mr. Radu Carciumaru, Resident Representative, Heidelberg Centre South Asia. (This report is prepared by Dr. Rumi Aijaz, Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)
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Rumi Aijaz

Rumi Aijaz

Rumi Aijaz is Senior Fellow at ORF where he is responsible for the conduct of the Urban Policy Research Initiative. He conceived and designed the ...

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