There is ample evidence in world history to show that under-prepared urbanisation can hurt economies badly.
Currently 30% of India’s population lives in cities and towns. This will go up to 60% in the next 10-15 years. History has shown that in every country it takes years for the proportion of urban population to reach 30% of the total, but the jump from 30% to 60% is quite rapid.
The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, Smart Cities Mission and the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation urban renewal initiative, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched on Thursday, need to be seen in this context.
Homes in a truly smart city will be powered by fully ‘intelligent’ and ‘networked’ systems, implying that these will be linked with the electronic gadgets such as TVs and refrigerators.
The solar-based electrical system will ‘know’ when to put the TV on standby mode as it maintains a log of your timings at home. Setting up a business, in a smart city, should not require going through the rigmarole of multiple procedures.
In a smart city the multiple modes of transport complement each other. The likelihood of a traffic jam is remote. Plausible and well-meaning objectives all, but India’s policy-makers should also not lose sight of the not-so-tangible but equally important softer objectives.
Stable law and order, social and religious harmony and a society that does not discriminate between genders need to be made absolutely non-negotiable parameters.
Ample care should be taken to ensure that artificial barriers of narrow parochialism on the basis of religion, caste, language and region are not erected in these modern urban constructs.
A well-functioning city should offer sustainable and growth-oriented job and career openings backed by appropriate educational opportunities. Other social infrastructure such as hospitals, sports and recreation facilities are also equally important.
After all, building a city is not just about building residential blocks and roads.
It is about combining an array strict of rules and technological marvels to make urban life simpler and more rewarding in the 21st century.