Vidya Sagar joined the department of Urban Studies and Planning as a doctoral student in October 2014. His research interests include issues related to urban governance and poverty reduction within developing countries.
In a politically sensitive time, when local municipal elections are just round the corner, I walk into the streets of Kalyan-Dombivli (KD), a town with a population of 1.2 million, located 60 kilometers nort-east of Mumbai, India, to ask local residents about their expectations of the ‘Smart City’ programme. What I heard in response did not surprise me at all, especially after exploring the provision of basic services in the town. People, in general, express their concerns regarding the terrible state of the existing infrastructure, which includes transportation and roads, water supply and sanitation, solid waste, affordable housing, healthcare and education, and an absence of planned development in the twin cities.
The following images should give you some idea of what people in KD experience in their day-to-day life. Starting with roads and transportation, one notices that the major roads get jammed during the peak hours. KD has 576 kilometers of major roads and opertates a fleet of 175 municipal transport buses that cater for around 70,000-80,000 passengers daily. However, one can see a clear absence of traffic management in the town. I was, in fact, quite amazed to notice a horse driven cart (‘tonga’ as we call it in our local language) and automobiles of different types using the road at the same time. Traffic lights do not work anywhere in the twin cities, and this creates chaos at the major interesections.
The situation with regards to the disposal of solid waste is no better. The city generates 550 tonnes of waste per day. Although the corporation claims a collection efficiency rate of 90 percent, litter can be seen everywhere in the town. There is no scientific treatment and disposal of waste in KD, and plans regarding this issue have been sat with the Municipal Corporation of KD for the last 15 years. It is interesting to note that the mishandling of waste in KD has recently become a bone of contention between the local civic activists and the construction lobby.
Similarly, there are issues with sewerage and storm water drainage in KD. With 192 MLD of sewerage generated every day, only a fraction gets treated before disposal in the creek. The municipal corporation has not yet commissioned the 123 MLD treatment plant, which was constructed during the previous scheme (in the name of ‘JNNURM’). Further, as some parts of the city fall in the low lying areas, the city stands at a risk of floods during rainy and/ or high tide days.
Addressing all these issues is one of the core objectives of the Smart Cities programme. To borrow from the mission statement and guidelines, the programme “promotes cities that provide core infrastructure and give a decent quality of life to its citizens, a clean and sustainable environment and application of ‘Smart’ Solutions”. However, on the ground, the reality of the Smart City plan preparation reveals that it is mainly concerned with the issues of either the middle classes, or the planners. The latter have already found issues in the town regarding the priorities sought by the general public. In a series of recent consultations, key stakeholders, as identified by the municipal corporation, gave their views. These stakeholders included the media, representatives of medical associations, bar associations, housing associations (mainly builders), architects, and students from one of the town’s colleges. Notably absent from this consultation were the urban poor, a group that constitutes more than 40 percent of the population of KD, yet has been resolutely ignored in the Smart City planning exercise.
Through consultation over the Internet and social media, which are themselves exclusionary fora, it appears that the Corporation has already identified key priority areas for the development of the town, and is seeking the consent from the general public over such key areas.
For instance, the Google form (see above) that has been linked to the Facebook page of the Smart City Kalyan Dombivli, mentions about certain priorities such as water front development, creation of recreational spaces/ open spaces, increase in number of fuel pumps, and marketplace redevelopment, priorities which seem to have emerged from nowhere. In my interactions with the general public, I never came across such priorities. Further, this list does not include anything about affordable housing, or housing for the poor. It leads me to wonder what views emerged during the consultations held between the Municipal Corporation and the associations of builders and architects. That the outcomes of such conversations have not been made public in itself tells us much about the extent of exclusionary process of the consultations.
The concern that I raise through this blog is that the urban poor in KD must be recognised and accepted as legitimate citzens when it comes to making plans for development. If those living in slums can pay property taxes and for other basic services, costs which are disproportionaly higher for this group than others, either in terms of the percentage of earnings spent and/ or the time spent in accessing these services, then they should be represented as a key stakeholder in the development planning process. In addition, although the use of the Internet and social media could be a valuable tool in the consultation and planning process, one needs to consider that access to these modes of communication is still very low in India, inevitably excluding those who are not able to use these services and facilities.