It was a noisy morning in Bengaluru, when numerous senior citizens stormed into the office of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the administrative office responsible for civic and infrastructural assets of the Greater Bengaluru metropolitan area. Their grouse was the apathy of the municipal body towards the neglect of a local public park. Later, the citizens in association with the local schools, took up the job of cleaning and restoring the greenery in the park themselves.
“While there is a lot of talk around smart cities, I feel that Bengaluru is a ‘smarter city,” maintains JC Sharma, VC and MD of Sobha Limited. “The reason is that our citizens are mostly well-educated and take active part in building the efficient civic system. It is a city of concerned citizens. We do not just look at the government to do its job. If a smart city is about smart urban governance, it is also about its smart citizens,” says Sharma.
Not just about infrastructure
Urban planning experts agree that a smart city is not only about smart urban infrastructure and smart governance but also about smart citizens who can preserve the government’s initiatives and make optimum use of it. In the global context too, there is a growing debate about the socio-cultural and political environment and preconditions of smart cities, with analysts trying to assess the role and extent to which people and groups can be involved, in developing this ecosystem.
For example, Amsterdam has devised a ‘smart citizen kit’ for greater awareness and participation. One of the unique features of the project, is that the citizens are involved in the measurement of air quality. With the help of the kit, the citizens can also measure humidity, noise, pollution, temperature, Co and NO2 density. The kit measures and conveys the results through the Internet.
In the Indian context, the debate around smart cities, focuses more on infrastructure and technological solutions to urban management. One of the primary reasons why the urban governance in India has not been up to the desired level, is the absence of active participation of its citizens. An attempt for greater citizen participation was made, with the passage of the 74th Constitutional Amendment to urban policies such as JNNURM that emphasised the need to involve citizens. However, the centre and states have not been able to evolve mechanisms, to provide citizens with meaningful ways to participate in governance.
Need of the hour
“It is not just about the periodic meetings between the government agencies and the citizens. In a larger context, we, in urban India, need to have greater awareness about the urban problems and the judicious use of resources like water, electricity, sanitation, roads, education, healthcare, etc.,” says D Raghupathy in Bengaluru, who has been actively working on the Children’s Movement for Civic Awareness.
A small sample survey by Track2Realty, among 2,000 residents in ten cities (Delhi, Gurgaon, Noida, Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Chennai, Chanadigarh, Jaipur and Bhopal), finds that public engagement in urban governance is limited, beyond symbolic voting. Moreover, casting one’s vote was also confined to state and national elections, with only 20% of the respondents saying that they had voted in the municipal and ward council elections.
While India may have ambitious plans vis-à-vis smart urban governance, the failure to involve citizens, could render our smart cities with state-of-the-art infrastructure and continuing urban chaos.
(The writer is CEO, Track2Realty)