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October 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.         October 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:October' 2018


Need for grassroots planning

Anuradha Dutt

Cyber City, Gurgaon: MNCs hub In mid-2015, the Smart Cities Mission, a central plank of the BJP-led NDA government’s development agenda, was unveiled. It was meant to re-haul crumbling urban infrastructure and give India’s metropolises a new lease of life.
In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi even invoked it in July this year at a function, `Transforming Urban landscape’, organised in Lucknow to mark the third anniversary of Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban), Atal Mission for Rejuvenation of Urban Transfornation (AMRUT) and Smart City Mission. He had hit out at previous ruling regimes for administrative failures, in this case, for facilitating urban rot and “unplanned expansion”. By contrast the Smart City project was a “mission to transform the nation”.
But television footage of the wretched state of cities and towns across the country, especially when submerged under torrential rain and floods, serves as a reality check. The colossal failure of planners and civic agencies to cope with crisis situations such as the recent deluge stands exposed. It was not just the long-neglected mofussil towns, Kerala’s urban as much as rural hinterland, or the tier 2 and 3 cities but the national capital, its satellites, Maharashtra’s capital Mumbai and Bihar’s capital Patna that were inundated, paralysing lives and traffic.
Even in normal conditions, acute administrative apathy is evident in mounting garbage and over-flow from choked drains and sewers adding to urban filth; and as chaos mounts, pedestrians jostling with machines for space on potholed roads.
The frequency of collapse of highrise buildings, most erected in violation of safety norms, and overbridges highlights the grim reality of civic disarray. In the evening of September 4, a part of the arterial Majerhat bridge in south Kolkata collapsed, killing three persons and injuring at least 25. Its fragile nature had been noted by the concerned authorities but to no avail.
Two years before, 27 people were killed and over 60 were injured after a section of the 2.2 km-long Vivekananda flyover, which was under construction, collapsed in a crowded area in north Kolkata. In the wake of the Majerhat bridge disaster, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had deflected blame to the preceding Left Front government for clearing faulty flyover plans, and leaving these incomplete..

Another face of Cyber City Passing the buck is a typical kneejerk reaction to ward off blame for administrative and policy failures. However, it does not reduce liability.
The past year has been particularly eventful in terms of civic disasters. In July, two high rises in Greater Noida collapsed, one upon the other, resulting in numerous casualties and ruining families that had invested in these structures. A few days later, a road cave-in spurred emergency evacuation of a building in nearby Ghaziabad. The aftermath of Raksha Bandhan festivities was marred for many families residing in an Ahmedabad high rise when it collapsed on August 27. And so it goes on, with denizens of Mumbai enduring the worst travails, from coping with stampedes, monsoon flooding, to fire hazards in high rises. Some disasters in the maximum city over the past year are listed below.
• From Beaumonde to Crystal Towers, fires blazed through the city’s high rises. More than twothirds of such fires were triggered by short circuits in the past decade. The Kamala Mills fire in December 2017 killed 14 people, with more deaths resulting from other such incidents. About 4,600 buildings fail the fire safety test. The nexus between the Municipal Corporation, builders and politicos is blamed for safety hazards.
• In July last year, 17 people died when a building in Ghatkopar collapsed.

• In September 2017, 23 people died and many were injured in the Elphinstone over-bridge stampede, caused by panic amidst heavy rainfall. • Dr Deepak Amrapurkar fell into an open manhole and drowned on August 29, 2017 in a flooded road.
Clearly, negotiating the concrete sprawl in these trying times is a risky task, fraught with danger. To consider the example of the millennium city Gurgaon, it hosts an estiimated 250 Fortune 500 companies, posh condominiums and glittering shopping malls. But growing out of a cluster of villages, the rustic mind set is evident in the city’s unmonitored expansion, driven by landowners and local builders.
The parallel economy, sustained by black money, has engendered hazardous, illegal slum colonies which are inhabited by a vast floating population, in quest of livelihood. It highlights the clash between the urban aspiration for an ordered life and entrenched rural ad hocism, with meagre water and erratic power supplies being randomly diverted to unauthorised outcrops or stopped altogether in authorised built-up areas, where residents find themselves ignored in civic planners’ priorities.
At risk too is the huge migrant work force inhabiting illegal slum colonies and overgrown villages that have gained a windfall from land sale as much as land grab and illicit colonisation. Plots in areas reserved for the economically weaker section – a misnomer really as this section has sold such plots at huge profit – host fragile high rises, virtual death traps, with lethal open wires hanging overhead and crippling craters in the roads below. Of the 2,300 notices issued by civic agencies against illegal constructions, a DLF colony leads with maximum violations: 1,100 notices. Fly by night operators have exploited the area’s location behind Cyber City, the elite IT and MNCs hub, to erect unsafe housing for employees.
Despite the recent sealing drive, spurred by residents’ angry protests, it is unlikely that Gurgaon will be easily restored to safety, aesthetics and order. These developments mirror the chronic unplanned growth afflicting Delhi and other NCR towns. Worse, these cities are located in a seismically active zone. Even in less hazardous terrain and situations, India’s urban settlements are like ticking time bombs, given the vastly inadequate infrastructure, complete administrative apathy, willingness to bend rules and haphazard planning. Such failings typify Third World countries.

Rustic outcrop adjoining Cyber City As per government data, cities are the growth engine of the Indian economy, accounting for 65 per cent of GDP. The Smart Cities Mission is one among other flagship schemes: Swachh Bharat, National Urban Livelihood, AMRUT, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana and Heritage City Development & Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY). The Smart Cities Mission website provides precise date: Total Winning Proposals – 100; Total Urban Population Impacted – 99,630,069; Total Cost of Projects (Rs Cr ) 203172; Total Area Based Development Cost (Rs Cr) 164,204; Total Pan City Solution Cost (Rs Cr) 38,914

Bhul Bhulaiya: neglected Mehrauli monument The scheme to develop ‘100 Smart Cities’ is presumably meant to create urban spaces at par with First World cities in terms of aesthetics; sustainable power and water supply; optimum drainage and sanitation systems; mechanised cleaning and waste disposal facilities; streamlined transport facilities; free wi fi, digital transaction modes and other high tech features of modern living. This and other projects for rejuvenating cities and towns are geared to overhauling rapidly disintegrating urban infrastructure, under severe pressure from unplanned colonisation and population spillover from backward and remote regions. .
The urban population is projected at 600 million by 2031, a leap of nearly 40 per cent from 2011. By January this year, 99 cities had made it to the elite 100 list for the purpose of upgradation. Their respective states – with West Bengal being conspicuous for opting out - are expected to supplement the Centre’s effort by chipping in with funds. Projects are to be implemented via the old public-private partnership module, joint ventures, turnkey contracts and the like.

The past year has been particularly eventful in terms of civic disasters. In July, two high rises in Greater Noida collapsed, one upon the other, resulting in numerous casualties and ruining families that had invested in these structures. A few days later, a road cave-in spurred emergency evacuation of a building in nearby Ghaziabad.

But progress has been exceedingly slow on the ground. A mere 1.8 per cent of the funds released for Smart Cities Mission (SCM) has been utilised, as per the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Urban Development. That apart, it is unfeasible to expect westernstyle cities, with uninterrupted power and water supply, to absorb India’s huge migrant population. Rather, planning must begin from the grassroots, to promote viable education and livelihood options in remote and mofussil areas so as to curb migration to already over-stretched cities, teetering on the edge.