Is Guwahati ready and smart?

By Dipanjon Konwar

There is no universally accepted definition of a smart city. According to the GOI Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) Smart City Mission: “In the imagition of any city dweller in India, the picture of a smart city contains a wish list of infrastructure and services that describes his or her level of aspiration. To provide for the aspirations and needs of the citizens, urban planners ideally aim at developing the entire urban eco-system, which is represented by the four pillars of comprehensive development— institutiol, physical, social and economic infrastructure. This can be a long term goal and cities can work towards developing such comprehensive infrastructure incrementally, adding on layers of ‘smartness’.”

On 28 January 2016, Guwahati with rank of 17th and a score of 57.66 % made it to the first list of 20 cities of India selected by the Union Government to be developed as “smart cities”. It is envisaged that Rs. 50,820 crores will be invested in the next five years to develop these cities. The cities selected will also mobilize resources by forming special purpose vehicle (SPV) with public-private partnership (PPP). The MoUD used the “Challenge” or competition method to select cities for funding and using a strategy of area-based development. The idea of this competition is to capture the spirit of “competitive and cooperative federalism”. To participate in the “City Challenge”, Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) roped in New Delhi based public sector consultancy firm Wapcos Ltd. in association with Oasis Design Inc. to prepare the fil proposal.

The objective of Smart City Mission is to promote cities that provide core infrastructure and give a decent quality of life to its citizens, a clean and sustaible environment with application of “Smart Solutions”. The focus is on sustaible and inclusive development of the selected cities.

The core infrastructure elements in a smart city would include: i) adequate water supply, ii) assured electricity supply, iii) sanitation, including solid waste magement, iv) efficient urban mobility and public transport, v) affordable housing, especially for the poor, vi) robust IT connectivity and digitalization, vii) good governce, especially e-Governce and citizen participation, viii) sustaible environment, ix) safety and security of citizens, particularly women, children and the elderly; and x) health and education.

The “Smart Solutions” that can be adopted include: i) E-Governce and Citizen Service including Public information, grievances redressal, video crime monitoring; ii) Energy Magement, smart metering, renewable sources of energy, Green buildings; iii) Waste Magement including waste water treatment. waste to compost, waste to energy and fuel; iv) Water Magement including smart meters, leakage identification and preventive maintence, water quality monitoring, v) Urban Mobility which include integrated multi-modal transport, smart parking, intelligent traffic magement; vi) Other solutions includes Incubation/Trade Facilitation Centers, Skill Development Centers, Tele-Medicine and Tele-education.

It is clear that for realization of this Smart City Mission it will require smart citizens, smart civic officials and the Municipal Corporation working on a mission mode with planning and goal setting which is SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound). The Mission requires citizens actively participate in governce and reforms. Citizen involvement is much more than a ceremonial participation in governce and few consultative meetings held just for record sake to show as evidence of “citizen engagement” to the MoUD. A sincere approach by the civic authority is necessary to involve the citizens of each Ward of the city in the planning and ideation. It is envisaged that citizens will involve themselves in the definition of the Smart City, the planning, decisions on deploying the Smart Solutions, implementing reforms, surveillance during implementation and involvement in designing post-project structures in order to make the Smart City developments sustaible. For a city like Guwahati involving people, where nearly fifty percentage of the population is floating, it is not their home and stays in the city for economic reasons; aloof and ignorant about the history and geography of the city, the process of “citizen engagement” will be a challenge. It will be tough to make the pan-city proposal “socially inclusive”. Also, the public of Guwahati are still not aware of the suggestions and key insights received by the GMC during the competition proposal stage. The “Vision Statement” of Guwahati highlighting its economic, social, environmental components emerging from such consultation is not available in the public domain. The civic authority will need prioritize the solutions and initiatives with qualitative and quantitative outcomes to realize the “Vision Statement”. Already the MoUD have issued an advisory on 9th March that the project implementation of at least one module should start by 25th June, 2016.   

Some targets and programme to achieve the Smart City vision will include:  24X7 electricity supply (with minimum 10% solar energy requirement); Smart metering and demand magement; Energy efficient street lighting; 24X7 Water supply, waste water recycling, Rain water harvesting; Solid waste magement; Robust IT connectivity and digitalization; Visible Area based development—overhead wires, hoardings, railings, paving, rivers and lakes sides, drain edges; Enroachment-free public areas; Intelligent traffic magement; Smart parking; Non-vehicle streets/zones; Encouragement to non-motorised transport (walking and cycling); Pedestrian friendly pathways; Ensuring safety with CCTV monitoring.

Considering the reality check of the Guwahati city’s infrastructure and organizatiol structure of the two urban local bodies, the achievement of the Smart City Vision looks to be an uphill task. Consider the operatiol efficiency of the GMDA and the GMC, while on paper everything is fine. According to the Guwahati Building Construction (Regulation) Act, 2010 published on 20th February, 2014 the application for Planning Permit will be disposed within a period of 30 days by GMDA and the Building Permit will be disposed by GMC within 45 days of receipt of the application. In reality to get a Building permission it may take more than a year.  With such a complicated and lengthy process in place, we cannot imagine how soon the vision of affordable Housing and inclusiveness will work out with housing opportunities for all.

Another essential for increasing a city’s livability is adequate supply of water. How can the citizens be optimistic when the GMC failed to supply drinking water for several days in many Wards during the recent Rongali Bihu holiday? At other times the supply is intermittent and on alterte days. Majority of the citizens has to buy water from private operators. Is the civic authority ‘test marketing’ its PPP mode water supply scheme?

Regarding the smart solution of using IT for e-Governce and Citizen Service, the GMC portal has been readied for collection of property tax and assessment. However, the online tracking of building permission is not available. The toolbar to receive “suggestion” has not been activated. Further there is no online facility to submit grievances. Seems, it will take some time for change to arrive and make governce citizen-friendly

The purpose of the Smart Cities Mission is to drive economic growth and improve the quality of life by ebling local area development and harnessing technology that leads to ‘Smart outcomes’ that is sustaible, which creates employment and enhance incomes for all, especially the poor and the disadvantaged, leading to inclusive Cities. It is hoped that the smart cities do not become too smart that the poor and the middle-class are driven out with the housing and the basic amenities becoming uffordable. It is hoped that in the future an ‘Elysium’ like city is not created where only the rich and powerful can reside.  

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