The government’s flagship Smart Cities Mission has been too “project-focused" instead of evolving an integrated urban development paradigm and also lacks a strong gender equality or non-discrimination approach to city development, according to a report released on the eve of the third anniversary of the launch of the scheme.
The report also critiques the model for creating small area-based ‘smart enclaves’ resulting in undue focus on a part of the cities. These area-based development zones cover less than 5% of the geographic domain of many of the proposed smart cities, says the report prepared by the New Delhi-based Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN).
The scheme could perpetuate existing biases and discrimination in national planning processes by aiming to impact the lives of only 8% of India’s population, the report says.
“The Smart Cities Mission should reinvent itself as the Sustainable Cities Mission," said Shivani Chaudhry, executive director, HLRN.
“A shift is required to bring about substantial and sustained improvement in the lives and livelihoods of not only the 8% of India’s population covered by the mission’s proposed ‘area-based development’—but for every inhabitant of this country," she said.
The report also highlights the lack of any specific directions with the mission to make Indian cities more gender friendly or non-discriminatory.
The ministry of housing and urban affairs had earlier proposed to set up several smart city sub-committees, including one on gender, but these are yet to take off.
More importantly, the report says the mission has just descended into a series of projects without a holistic plan. The lack of a city development model, for example, and adequate standards to guide project implementation, including for housing, water, sanitation, health, and environmental sustainability, raise questions about whether the mission will really be able to deliver on its aims and ensure the fulfillment of rights and entitlements of all city residents, the report says.
The SCM guidelines, also, do not include any human rights-based indicators to monitor implementation of the Mission or to ensure that projects will also benefit low-income and other disadvantaged groups, the report adds.
“Unless the mission seeks to address structural inequalities and inadequacies in Indian cities, its piecemeal, project-based interventions will not work," Chaudhry said.
Beyond the vision and framework, actual implementation of even the projects that have been proposed has been slow, the report says, citing a recent parliamentary standing committee report. In its March 2018 report, the standing committee had noted that of all urban schemes, spending on Smart Cities Mission had been the lowest. Only 8% of the total identified projects under the mission have been completed in three years.