New Delhi: What’s so smart about making an already smart place smarter? That’s what many residents of Bhopal are asking after the capital of Madhya Pradesh emerged as one of the winners in the ambitious Smart City project.
According to a report of the Ministry of Urban Development, which had conducted a Smart City Mission Challenge competition before selecting the first 20 cities to be developed in the first phase as Smart Cities, 333- acre area of Shivaji Nagar in Bhopal will be redeveloped into an all new smart city. It’ll be area-specific redevelopment where old buildings will be demolished to give way to ultra-modern apartments and business centres. However, school and college buildings, hospitals, parks, private structures won’t be touched.
Critics question the logic behind developing a zone in the city which is already well-developed and well-maintained.
Amit Sharma, corporator of Shivaji Nagar, remarks, “The Shivaji Nagar area in new Bhopal is already smart. It’s one of Bhopal’s most eco-friendly areas and has wide roads, a proper drainage system, green cover and almost all kinds of amenities needed for citizens.”
Under the proposal, Shivaji Nagar would be re-developed by unlocking the value of underutilised government land admeasuring 333 acre. The exercise would be called ‘area-based development’ (ABD) and it would involve demolishing old buildings for construction of multi-storeyed flats and complexes. Another component of the proposal is Pan City development for both old and new Bhopal. It aims at smart unified governance to streamline city operations with focus on ease of governance and ease of doing business.
According to the report, the focus is on radically transforming the under-utilised government land and creating an eco-friendly and financially sustainable model of development based on the principles of Transit Oriented Development. The objective of the proposal is to increase footfall in the area and boost business activities, including capturing public transportation investments. It’ll attract tourists to heritage areas in and around Bhopal, which will boost economy. There will be incubation centres for entrepreneurs and skill development.
Bhopalites have taken the proposal with a pinch of salt though. They feel there are several under-developed areas in the city which should have been given attention. Spending so much in an already developed area does not make much sense.
“It has been identified because Shivaji Nagar has government quarters and land. Over the last 20 years there have been plans to demolish these old quarters; now, it’ll be easy for the government to do it,” a state government official says.
Kamal Rathi, Bhopal-based activist working in the field of urban planning says: “There are some issues which may pose hurdles in the implementation of the smart city plan, the most important being handing over of government land to private developers. It’s a sensitive issue and often invites legal problems. There is uncertainty in the PPP model of funding too, because against the target, funds are not available on the ground. Moreover, why were other parts of the city such as Jahangirabad, Shahjahnabad, Bal Vihar and Nehru Nagar not picked up for the purpose? Why select an already smart zone? Is Pan City plan sufficient to give Bhopal a turn-around to be a Smart City?” questions Rathi.
Some citizens have questioned the selection process, alleging that people’s participation was not adequate.
Arun Gurtoo, ex-convener and member of Bhopal Citizens’ Forum, says, “Prior to drafting of the proposal, public consultation was necessary. But, like many other bodies, we too were not even invited. Only a few were called for the feedback. As Shivaji Nagar is already a well-developed area inhabited mostly by government employees, the state government found it convenient to make it a smart zone rather than developing a zone that really requires it. Why there’s no plan to stop pollution of Bhopal’s upper lake that supplies 40% of drinking water to the city? The sewage system of the city is in a shambles. It’s doubtful whether Bhopal and its people will actually benefit out of this. It’s a sham.”
As per the plan, construction will take place on 30% of the area and rest 70% will be kept open. Besides slums, there are about 5000 families of government employees residing within the identified zone.
Arun Dwivedi, president, Madhya Pradesh Class III Employees Federation, says, “Families of government employees and officials living in Shivaji Nagar are yet to understand the idea. If you demolish our houses for new buildings where do you accommodate us in the interim period and for how long? There could be protests. According to the proposal, slum-dwellers will be shifted to other accommodations. But how? This involves a lot of legal questions.”