After our beloved city was selected to be converted into a smart city, one of the first 20 cities in the country, a frequently asked question is, “Can Guwahati be transformed into a smart city at all?” Smart is one who looks, behaves and delivers ‘SMART’; and a smart city is expected to be just that. The Union Ministry of Urban Development is not absolutely clear about the ingredients of an ideal ‘smart city’, because, ‘there is no universally accepted definition of a Smart City’. ‘Smart City Mission’ is an urban renewal and retrofitting program projected to be equipped with high quality infrastructure to offer good quality life to the citizens through smart solutions. As envisaged in the vision document, assured water and power supply, scientific sanitation and solid waste management, efficient urban mobility and public transport, robust IT connectivity, e-governance, safety and citizens’ participation in implementation and operation are some of the attributes of a smart city.
Mankind always aspired to live in decent citizen-friendly environs. More than 4,500 year-old relics of Mohenjo-Daro, Harappa, Lothal, etc. are few cases in point. Albeit, the structures of those earlier cities were different, the basic concept of citizen friendliness remains the same. Guwahati is the only major city in the entire Northeast and the gateway to the land-locked region. With a population of around 10 Lakhs as per 2011 census, today it sure to be inhabited by more than 15 lakh people as the city has a whole lot of floating and unaccounted population who increasingly exert pressure on the inadequate civic amenities. In terms of population, it stands at 34th position among 50 other major Indian cities. The projected population in 2025 will be 23 lakh plus people. With over 8 percent of annual growth rate, Guwahati is one of the fastest growing cities.
Guwahati, like any other city, has grown through in-migration during different periods of history. The growth of Guwahati city was accelerated after shifting of the capital in 1972. Being the only ‘city’ in the entire State in true sense of the term, job-seekers, students, retirees, business entrepreneurs, media personnel, people involved with art and culture and so on from all parts of Assam tend to move towards the city and finally settle down making the city fully saturated. Among 50 top Indian cities it ranks 29th on job openings, 18th on consumption index, 41st in terms of financial penetration with quarterly average income of Rs. 70,000 per household against country average of Rs 50,000. It is also one of the most polluted cities with high rate of crime.
Being a very old city, Guwahati is un-planned and remains almost so without any visible town planning with long time perspectives. Town planning, if any, had always been at best casual with short-term myopic visions. Except two major roads, not a single road in the whole city conforms to urban road standards of IRC. Almost all the streets, lanes and bye-lanes are sub-standard without proper storm water drains and any available land for widening. It is gathered that greater Guwahati alone has some 8 lakh vehicles on road as on date and every year, some 50,000-odd vehicles are being added, making driving through a virtual night mare. Designated parking areas for vehicles are practically unheard of, making the narrow roads even narrower. A rainfall of just half-an-hour duration is good enough to flood most of the roads and streets. It’s a shame that with a huge perennial river flowing alongside, citizens in many parts of the city are forced to buy potable water through tankers at exorbitant price. There is hardly any public park with walking/jogging lanes for the citizens to relax and exercise. The state of affairs of public transport is abysmal.
A Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) in the name and style of Guwahati Smart City Limited was created in 2016 to handle projects of the smart city, but the outcome is tardy. Except the 310 feet tall flag pole atop Sarania hill, nothing else is visible as yet. Citizen participation, the basic spirit of the smart city concept, is zero. Of the total sanctioned amount of Rs 3012 crores, projects worth Rs 25 crore only have been partially completed till date. The spirit seems getting lost in bureaucratic rigmaroles. Development of a smart city will have to be customized with proper understanding of its inherent problems. A few suggestions:
- Install garbage bins throughout the city, arrange disposal regularly.
- Impose fine on litterers.
- Install a bio-fertilizer plants using garbage, use that in greening the city.
- Make rag-picking structured.
- Install many “pay & use” toilets.
- Enforce garbage bins in all commercial establishments.
- Complete the inordinately delayed water supply project in one year.
- No new official construction in existing locations. Develop satellite cities.
- Remove railway track between Maligaon and Narangi. Use the space for creating a new parallel road with parking lots.
- New railway stations at Narangi (Eastern) & Maligaon (Western).
- New rail bridge at Naragi, new tracks from Rangia for east-bound movements.
- Develop New Guwahati, new road bridge, smart river transport, river taxis.
- IT, Education and Health hubs at Sonapur, Palasbari, Amingaon.
- Develop eastern hills of Nabagraha range with smart planning.
- Develop Brahmaputra riverfront like Sabarmati riverfront, Ahmedadad.
- Ropeway to Gandhi Mandap; it should be developed as a smart tourist spot.
- Sky-bus and other smart public transport systems, etc.
Let Guwahati be made at least a decent livable city. We deserve a smart city and shall build one positively. To achieve this cherished goal small and shaky baby steps won’t suffice. A few giant and confident and pragmatic strides are necessary. But to live in a smart city, citizens must also become smart in the first place!
(The author of the column is a former Vice President of Reliance Defence & Engineering Ltd., Gujarat. Presently, he is a freelance writer, management consultant and professional trainer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)