Only 8% of PM’s ₹2.3 lakh cr Smart City Mission complete; Only 8% Indians will benefit from mission

Only 8% of the 3,008 projects under PM Modi’s pet Smart City Mission has been completed. The government will spend ₹2.3 lakh crore on the project which will benefit less than 8% of the population

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Smart City Mission’ just added the 100th city Shillong in Meghalaya to the list of Indian cities it will give funding to, having evaluated its proposal. However, all is not well with the PM’s pet mission.

Like many of the current government’s flagship programmes, the Smart Cities" programme used just 1.8% of the funds released to it, stated a Parliamentary standing committee report. Thats not all. According to a report, ‘India's Smart Cities Mission: Smart for Whom? Cities for Whom?’, recently released by Housing and Land Rights Network in Delhi, only 8% of the 3,008 total identified projects under the Mission has been completed, despite the deadline 2020 being just two years away.

Three years after its launch on June 25, 2015, reports reveal that the Smart Cities Mission is progressing at a slow pace. Many projects were still in the preparatory phase of implementation, with cities still developing detailed project reports (DPR) and inviting tenders. In March 2018, of the identified projects, 1,908 projects (over 69%) were still preparing their DPR.

According to the data released by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, ₹2,03,979 crore is being spent under the Smart Cities Mission on only 99.5 million people, which accounts for 22% of India’s urban population and less than 8% of India’s total population.

Some of the Smart City projects are also being implemented under and governed by several other schemes: Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), Swachh Bharat Mission, the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) or Housing for All-2022 scheme, and the National Urban Livelihoods Mission (NULM), among others. According to the study, a review of these schemes reveals a multiplicity of targets and overlapping areas of intervention. At least 92 of the 99 selected ‘smart cities’ are also covered under AMRUT, while most of the housing projects in ‘smart cities’ are PMAY projects and shelters for the homeless are being funded by NULM.

According to the data released by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, ₹2,03,979 crore is being spent under the Smart Cities Mission on only 99.5 million people, which accounts for 22% of India’s urban population and less than 8% of India’s total population

In several of the 100 selected ‘smart cities’, there has been severe resistance from affected residents and other challenges related to implementation.

Davangere in Karnataka is home to 1,027 small and medium-sized enterprises, such as bamboo, textiles, and puffed rice. Its ‘Smart City’ proposal discussed improving these enterprises, with a special focus on revitalising the mandakki bhatti’ (puffed rice) industry. However, local groups fear that the redevelopment model that has been adopted, which involves private players, could be a move to grab land occupied by the traditional household-based production centres, with years of history and market linkages with surrounding villages. Moreover, though Karnataka’s puffed rice manufacturing units were promised over ₹300 crore as part of the Smart Cities Mission, they have only been granted ₹18 crore.

Pune, also the site of a ‘smart city’, has seen protests by citizen groups because the project in the Aundh-Baner-Balewadi zone had issues related to traffic lights and pedestrian crossings, which required immediate fixing. In Jaipur, issues of substandard construction and corruption have been reported in the implementation of ‘smart city’ projects.

Of the total 964 projects (worth ₹46,800 crore) announced in the “lighthouse” list (20 cities shortlisted in the first round), only 83 projects, or 8.6% of the total, had been completed by January 2018. Of the total 2,864 projects identified in the first 90 ‘smart cities’, 148 projects (about 5 % of the total identified projects) amounting to ₹1,872 crore had been completed, while 72 % of the projects were under the preparation stage, as of January 2018.

The per capita investment on area-based development varies from city to city, with ₹32,159, reportedly, being spent per person in Bengaluru and ₹43.3 lakh per person in Naya Raipur. The Mission thus lacks consistency and a clear rationale in choice of projects and investment decisions, states the report.

In Chennai, which was selected in the first round, implementation of SCM projects is reportedly slow. The city has faced various challenges, including insufficient funding, delays with creating the Special Purpose Vehicle, and lack of interest among different stakeholders. The Tamil Nadu state government, however, says that projects in all the 11 selected cities would be completed by the 2020 deadline. One can only wonder, given its recent record, if it is going to strong-arm its way into completing these projects.

Of the total 2,864 projects identified in the first 90 ‘smart cities,’ 148 projects (about 5% of the total identified projects) amounting to ₹1,872 crore had been completed, while 72% of the projects were under the preparation stage, as of January 2018

Gender Blind Smart Cities?

Not so surprisingly, there is a lack of a gender equality and non-discriminatory approach in the Smart Cities Mission. It has mostly adopted a gender-neutral approach with most references to women’s issues limited to women’s safety through increased surveillance and the installation of CCTV cameras, and the creation of women’s shelters and working women’s hostels. There are, however, no concrete plans to create safe public spaces and public transport options for women or to address concerns of marginalised women such as homeless women, migrant women, domestic workers, women of low-income groups, and single women, states the report.

“While the Mission claims to revolutionise urban development in India, the premise of developing as ‘smart cities’ only 100 of India’s over 4,000 cities and towns appears to be discriminatory and exclusionary. Since the problems of inadequate housing, absence of basic services, acute water crises, poor health and nutritional levels, unemployment, and stark levels of inequality are ubiquitous across India, a more holistic approach aimed at country-wide development would have been more equitable,” said Shivani Chaudhry of HLRN.

Partha Mukhopadhyay: “The slow pace of the project is something to rejoice as there are many human rights violations in the conceptualisation of the smart cities project, according to the report”

By failing to address rural-urban linkages, the Mission grossly overlooks serious issues related to forced migration from rural to urban areas. “It also reinforces the erroneous policy assumption that ‘urbanisation is inevitable’ without taking concerted measures to reduce forced population transfer to urban areas by investing in the needs of rural people,” pointed out Chaudhry.

“The slow pace of the project is something to rejoice as there are many human rights violations in the conceptualisation of the smart cities project, according to the report,” said Partha Mukhopadhyay of Centre for Policy Research, at the launch of the HRLN report.

In 2017, HLRN documented forced evictions and demolitions of homes in 32 of the 99 ‘smart cities.’ “While some evictions were directly linked to ‘smart city’ projects, others were carried out for reasons ranging from ‘city beautification’ to ‘slum clearance.’ Eight of the 99 cities have proposed greenfield development. This could increase land acquisition, resulting in the loss of farmland and the displacement of farmers and other rural communities,” pointed out Chaudhry.

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