Event ReportsPublished on Dec 26, 2018
How ‘smart’ should be Ranchi city?

It is more than two years now that the government has begun its efforts to construct a Smart City in Ranchi. On 30 September 2016, the Jharkhand government set up the Ranchi Smart City Corporation Ltd. (RSCCL) as the SPV to set up the smart city. Then on, momentum to build a smart city based on Area Based Development (ABD) model has picked up steam.

Even as the government and its agencies are working in tandem to achieve the goal, the questions being asked by stake-holders – civilian planners, architects, social workers, experts, academics, people’s representatives – are what kind of city it should be? Whether it should be a replica of smart cities abroad or as planned in other Indian cities or it should be city with the characteristics of Ranchi and the State.

This question came up prominently in the Indo-German Smart Cities Workshop on ‘Sustainable Urban Development’ organised in Ranchi on 19 and 20 November. The workshop, in which top policy-makers as well as stake-holders participated, was organised by Heidelberg University, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Delhi, School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi and Council for Social Development, Delhi. Urban Development and Housing Department and Government of Jharkhand, Ranchi Smart City Corporation Ltd., the Central University of Jharkhand and the Indian Institute of Management, Ranchi collaborated with the workshop, which was supported by Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.

The government mission states: “The focus of this ABD area shall be to create a city with latest state of art infrastructure to create a vibrant economy while addressing the socio-economic needs of residents and Ranchi city as a whole. The solution shall aim at moving people and not vehicles, improving the livability by leveraging ICT. The smart features executed successfully in the ABD area shall be replicated to the rest of the city in phased manner through strategic projects taken up by the Ranchi Smart City Corporation Ltd., the SPV formed to implement Ranchi Smart City Project.”

“Ranchi aspires to be a learning & knowledge hub of Eastern India that provides sustainable and vibrant environment to its citizens, by addressing their socio-economic needs by leveraging its knowledge institution ecosystem,” according to the government.

At the two-day conference, stake-holders raised serious concerns at the style in which the government agencies are working to set up the smart city. They asked for more transparency, more understanding attitudes and a consultative approach in which the people’s voices are heard and concerns addressed. Almost all speakers wanted the smart city to have the characteristics of Ranchi.

Inaugurating the first of a kind workshop in the state capital, Minister for Urban Development, Housing and Transport Department, CP Singh said the Government of Jharkhand was working hard to build Ranchi as a smart city and realise the dreams of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The minister said he was keenly looking forward to receiving inputs from the conference which he hoped would help the government in its mission of building Ranchi as a smart city.

Chief Secretary Sudhir Tripathi delivered the special address. He said while the government was keen to build the cities as engines of growth, it would also give special attention to maintaining environmental balance. “Concrete structures will have to be balanced with environment,” he said. Noting that Ranchi is a greenfield choice, Tripathi said environmental concerns will be kept in mind while building the smart city.

Saying building the smart city is a “multi-dimensional exercise with multi-stake-holders”, Tripathi said it is a big challenge and it is easier said than done. Quoting the chief minister, he said “the USP of Ranchi smart city has to be Ranchi itself. It should have all the characteristics of the city.”

Principal Secretary, Urban Development & Housing Department, Ajoy Kumar Singh, explained the work being done now. He said the city would be built in an integrated way with all the digging, construction and infra works being taken up together to avoid repeated constructions and diggings. He said the government has adopted a model tried successfully in Pune, the area side approach model to develop cities.

Ranchi Mayor Asha Lakra promised that the city, though selected by the Centre in its last lot in fast track category, will become the smartest Smart City within four years. “If you come again here in 2022, you will find a totally different city. You will wonder if it is the same city.”

Deputy Mayor Sanjeev Vijaywargiya also addressed the workshop. He hoped the inputs of the conference would help the city government in building an inclusive, smart city.

Dr. des. Radu Carciumaru, Resident Representative of Heidelberg University Branch Office in Delhi, delivered the opening remarks. He said the workshop series were started three years ago and so far such workshops have been organised in many parts of the country – 14 cities like Kolkata, Shimla, Bhubaneswar, Coimbatore, Aizawl, etc. More cities will be covered in future, he added.

Dr. Rumi Aijaz, Senior Fellow, ORF, and co-architect of the workshop series with Dr. des. Carciumaru, gave an overview of the Smart City Mission and the progress achieved so far, especially looking at the work done in the proposed New Delhi smart city. He explained the smart centres being developed in some areas, which have basic diagnostic facilities, cash ATM, water ATM, toilet complex, etc. He said this centre is being used widely by all sections of people.

Prof. Amitabh Kundu, Distinguished Fellow at Research and Information System, delivered the keynote address, and lauded the government for Ranchi doing better than other cities in some parameters like health. But he stressed on the need to make the growth inclusive, benefitting all sections of the people, especially the local tribal population.

Ranchi Smart City Corporation Ltd. CEO, Ashish Singhmar, said the best and smart practices being followed by his team would also help in improving the governance practices of other government agencies, not only in Ranchi but other cities as well.

Dr. Sandeep Chachra, Executive Director, ActionAid India and Co-Chair, World Urban Campaign, UN-HABITAT, Dr. Rumi Aijaz (ORF), Dr. Arjun Kumar and Dr. Simi Mehta (IMPRI) also spoke in the inaugural session.

There were five technical sessions, spread over two days.  The first one was on ‘Governance and Inclusive Cities’. In this session, moderated by Prof. K.B. Saxena, Distinguished Fellow, Council for Social Development, Delhi, Dr. Uday Shankar (IIT Kharagpur), Prof. Satyaki Sarkar (BIT Mesra), Praveena Anand and Madhu (Jagori, Delhi), Dr. Firoz Ahmad (BIT Ranchi) and Laxmi Goparaju (JNTU Hyderabad) spoke.

The most important question raised in this session was whether the current laws are sufficient to safeguard the rights of the citizens when the data in a smart city will be handled by private players. Dr. Uday Shankar said the main issue will be who will be accountable for the data. He said technology should not be at the cost of citizens’ rights. He said there is a big legal gap in the smart city governance rules.

The second and third technical sessions were on “Infrastructure: Planning and design; Housing and Infrastructure”, and ‘Resource Management-I’. The speakers included Subha B. Roy (PMC Team leader), Priyanka Sharma (Ekjut, Ranchi), Anjor Bhaskar (IMPRI, Ranchi), and Ismail Haque (Senior Research Fellow, JNU and consultant IMPRI), and Dr. M. Dinesh Kumar (IRAP, Hyderabad). Dr. Ramesh Sharan (Vice Chancellor, Vinoba Bhave University, Hazaribagh) delivered his remarks during this session.

The second day began with the special address by Dr. Gurjeet Singh, Coordinator, Social Audit Unit of the Government of Jharkhand. He called for shifting the focus from infrastructure to people centric approach. He said the development of peripheral areas of the city was also important as the development of the smart city. He also said “a city which is not inclusive cannot be a smart city”. He also stressed on the need to have Jharkhand characteristics with the new city.

The following technical session was on ‘Mobility’. Prof. B.G. Tilak (Distinguished Professor, CSD, Delhi) chaired the session in which Dr. R.B. Bhagat (IIPS, Mumbai), Dr. D. Dhanuraj (CPPR, Kochi), Sandeep Jha (IIA, Jharkhand), and Rajiv Chadda (Chadda and Associates, Ranchi) presented their views. Dr. Bhagat pointed out that formation of cities were not a new phenomenon as it existed even in ancient times. He said the urbanisation was expected to double by the mid-century and hence stressed on democratic momentum to solve problems. Dr. Dhanuraj wondered whether expensive metros are the right medium of transportation to deal with traffic and congestion issues. He thought local modes of transport should be given proper importance while planning cities. Sandeep Jha said there is a need for smarter planning in cities while Mr. Chadda, bemoaning lack of planning in the city, said we should plan for at least 20 years.

Prof. Ashok Pankaj (Director, CSD) moderated the final session on ‘Resource Management-II).  Dr. Brajesh K. Dubey (IIT, Kharagpur), Dr. Amit Kumar and Diksha (Central University of Jharkhand), Sunil Kumar Aledia (Director, Centre for Holistic Development, Delhi), Rajeev Gupta (CEO, Ranchi Mall-A), Suranjeen Prasad Pallipamulla (JHPIEGO), and Dr. Soumyadip Chattopadhyay (Visva Bharati University, Santiniketan) spoke in this session. Dr. Dubey spoke about the need to deal with solid waste in a smarter way. He said the economics of the solution was also very important. Sunil Kumar spoke about the need to accommodate the poor and shelterless people while Gupta stressed that we should go for that technology which will help the people. The voice of the street vendors and roadside marketers were raised by Suranjan who wanted this aspect to be taken care of while building the city. Soumyadip said finance is a big challenge for urban bodies and options of these bodies to increase resource mobilisation must be identified.

The valedictory address was delivered by Dr. K.B. Saxena, a teacher-turned retired bureaucrat. A former additional chief secretary of Bihar and advisor to Planning Commission, he wondered if the smart city is a replicable model. Criticising the top down planning methods, he said smart city mission is exclusionary by imperatives and would create more sociological problems. He opined that smart cities would turn out to be techno-managerial cities with caste-based categorisation. He complimented the organisers for titling the conference “sustainable urban development” and not smart city.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.