By Rajiv Shah
A new study of by well-known Delhi-based civil rights body, Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN), has said that only 8% of India’s total population or 22 per cent of its urban population is likely to benefit from the Government of India’s Smart Cities Mission (SMC) project, which has been initiated in 99 cities from whom proposals have been received.
Pointing towards a clear bias against the marginalized communities, the report states, “Of the total proposed investment of Rs 2.04 lakh crore (2,039 billion) in ‘smart cities,’ 80% will be spent on Area-based Development (ABD), i.e. only on specific areas in each city, with only 20% of funds being devoted to ‘pan-city development’.” In fact, it says, “The city area covered by ABD is less than 5% for 49 of the 86 cities for which information is available”, even though it would lead to forced displacement in the name of development.
Further noting that most of the capital outlay would be coming the private sector “through a variety of Public Private Partnership (PPP) models with large companies, including several big multinational players”, the report states, despite this, the progress of the implementation of the project, begun in 2015 and likely to end in 2022, is extremely slow.
“As of May 2018, PPP projects worth Rs 734 crore had been completed in 13 cities while projects worth Rs 7,753 crore were under the implementation/tendering stage in 52 cities”, it states, adding, its analysis suggests that “as of March 2018, projects worth Rs 4,583 crore (3%) of the total cost of identified projects (Rs 139,038 crore), or 8% of the total identified projects (3,008) under the Mission had been completed.”
Pointing towards discrimination towards vulnerable groups, the report, titled “India’s Smart Cities Mission: Smart for Whom? Cities for Whom?”, states, “While women are mentioned in almost all Smart City Proposals, most references are limited to check marks on women’s safety and, in some proposals, to the provision of women’s shelters and working women’s hostels.”
It adds, “Other cities like Raipur, Karimnagar, Bengaluru, Bilaspur, and Allahabad have mentioned ‘gender equality’ as a key priority in their proposals, but projects are restricted to the provision of women’s hostels, toilets, and skill development.”
Coming to the scheduled castes (SCs), the report says, “With the exception of Bhagalpur, Gwalior, and Ranchi, there is no mention of SCs in any of the proposals, thereby ignoring not just their rights but also the pervasive discrimination that they face, at multiple levels, in urban areas.” It regrets, “adequate” waste management and sanitation mechanisms have not been discussed in the context of “manual scavenging” in most proposals.
The report says, “Some of the proposals — Kavaratti, Kohima, Bhagalpur, Gwalior, Ranchi, and Rourkela — mention Scheduled Tribes, while describing the city demographic, while others such as Dahod, Jabalpur, and Silvassa mention ‘tribals’ and list some projects to be undertaken for them.”
It adds, “The Smart City Proposals of Dahod, Jabalpur, Kohima, Rourkela, and Silvassa mainly focus on providing livelihoods through tourism, promoting tribal identity and culture, building tribal museums and exhibitions, and showcasing tribal art and handicrafts.”
The report underlines, “While migrant labour is discussed in several proposals, the approach envisaged by cities is not uniform. Jhansi, in its proposal, identifies the construction of shelters and community kitchens for migrant workers. Its proposal also recommends that any ‘encroachment’ by the migrant population engaged in street vending may be removed by developing vending zones and gaining their ‘prior willingness’ to shift to these zones, through incentives.”
Worse, the report states, “The Smart City Proposal of Vadodara refers to migrant workers as a ‘threat’ to the security of the city: ‘The emergence of the city as transport and tourism hub can also attract large number of migrant population which would include unskilled workers from outside the state. This