The City Beautiful is undoubtedly a beautiful city. Wide roads, planned infrastructure, and green expanse spell the vision of famous architect Le Corbusier. Ironically, beautiful and smart have different connotations, which were explained by a colleague through an interesting incident, recently.
His unit was training at the deserts during summers, and the brigade commander was to come on an inspection.
The commanding officer (CO), a meticulous fellow, went into each detail to ensure the commander goes back happy. Sepoy Bhure Lal, a smart fellow, was selected to be his sahayak (a soldier buddy earmarked to assist the officer in adhering to the routine). Based on the feedback that the boss has a delicate stomach, mineral water was catered for, and the bottles were handed over to the sepoy for the needful. While the operational briefing was on, the brigadier looked over his shoulder for water. Bhure Lal proudly filled a borosil glass with cool water from an earthen pitcher, carefully buried in wet sand, and served it to the exasperated ‘VIP’.
Needless to narrate the outcome of the visit!
As it got unveiled, Bhure Lal, in his exuberance to serve cool water to the VIP from the good-old-earthen-pitcher, had innocently emptied the Bisleri bottles in it.
Almost everything that the Chandigarh’s founder architect envisioned is, no doubt, being adhered to. Increasing traffic needed the roads to get broadened, open spaces saw commercial places mushrooming, stretches earmarked to be developed as greenbelts are blossoming. Sadly, the mindset of beautification has failed to break the barriers of changing times.
Public transport system, e-governance, parking convenience, facilities for physically-challenged, smart education, and public health system have taken a back seat. To elaborate, information technology has entered a ripe stage in our life. Even after over two decades of exponential growth of internet, a simple thing like ‘online payment’ has still not been fully fructified. We still have a crippled public transport system. We embrace rotaries and roundabouts, but crib about traffic congestion and mishaps in the same breath. Emergency, evacuation of an ill person, is fraught with uncertainty. The city struggles to find a place on the world map despite an international airport having been commissioned. A flight even to Nepal eludes its itinerary. Disaster management procedures, in case of crisis, are rusty. A massive fire in a Sector-17 government building evinced dismal responses. Chandigarh is in high seismic zone, but I am unsure if there’s a viable disaster management system to tackle an earthquake or a Chennai flood-like situation. Elante mall — touted as a modern shopping destination — has is a hub of excitement, but lacks mandatory ramps and pathways for differently abled.
The administration has designed attractive websites, but they portray a vintage mindset of red tapism, and zero accountability. Complaints and advisories continue to hibernate without response by the concerned. Ethos of complimentary services continues to persist in public mind. We are wary of paying `5 for safe parking of our cars. Inadequate pay offs are discouraging potential businessmen to opt for parking contracts. There are no free lunches in life, we must pay to enjoy smart facilities.
Though selected to be a smart city, living in a halo of misplaced superiority is unlikely to take us on a smart path. You can either eulogise the good-old-earthen-pitcher, or lead Bhure Lal to a smart path of both — the mineral water and the earthen pitcher!
(The writer is a retired army officer based out of Chandigarh)