SRINAGAR: The release of smart city list by the Central government, which does not include Srinagar, has sparked a heated debate in the Kashmir Valley.
Government of India on Friday announced a list of 98 smart cities that would be developed in the country. The state of Jammu and Kashmir was conspicuous by its absence in the list.
The concept and idea of smart cities has been gaining ground across the world. It is premised and informed by demographic pressures and the attendant problems of urban development and space. The Information, Communication and Technology revolution underpins the concept of the smart city and the innovations thereof make it possible. In India, rolling out of the smart city concept was done by the BJP government soon after it came to power. A smart city uses digital technologies or information and communication technologies (ICT) to enhance quality and performance of urban services to make lives of citizens better. Smart cities benefit citizens in a number of ways:
a) Better city planning and development
b) E-government services delivered to citizens, faster, and at a lower operating expense
c) Local economic development
d) Improved productivity and service
e) Public information & grievance redressal
f) Electronic service delivery
g) Video crime monitoring
h) Smart meters
g) Green buildings
i) Renewable sources of energy
j) Waste to energy & fuel
k) Waste water to be treated
l) Recycling & reduction of waste
m) Smart meters
n) Leakage identification & prevention
o) Water quality monitoring
p) Smart parking
q) Intelligent traffic management
r) Integrated multi-modal transport
The benefits that smart cities confer on citizens are numerous and in the final analysis not only lead to better and improved urban spaces but also enhance the quality of life. Srinagar city is one city that is in crying need of a smart city paradigm.
Various stresses and strains- demographic pressures, people to land ratio, the nature of the city as a focal point and centre of gravity of trade, commerce, business in Kashmir, environmental and other related issues- and also the depredations wreaked upon it by years of strife have wrought immense pressure on Srinagar city.
According to Farooq Ahmed, a restaurant owner in Lal Chowk, Srinagar city is creaking and leaking under these strains. Srinagar city is also in the nature of a feeder system to other cities and towns in Kashmir. Improving Srinagar city by turning it into a smart city will have a spillover effect and enhance urban and even rural life in Kashmir.
The glaring omission is explained by the very limited menu of choice available to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. In this either /or choice, Jammu and Kashmir can only have one smart city. This evidently means a Hobsons choice where it will either be Jammu or Srinagar that will be developed as a smart city. While the choice is between Jammu and Srinagar, other cities like Ladakh dont even figure in the calculus of policy makers. Ladakh and Ladakhis are totally ignored and left out.
The issue essentially pertains to the artificial construct that is the state of Jammu and Kashmir- constructed out of an amalgam of different ethnicities and different cultural groups clubbed together by administrative diktat. Unless and until the state corresponds to its major and different ethnicities, problems like the ones induced by the choice of smart cities will arise, said Showket Ahmed, a manager. Politics and politicking over technocratic and other merit will determine who gets to benefit. Policies, politics and the attendant share of the pie will then always be misaligned and skewed, added Shakeel Khan, shopkeeper in Lal Chowk.
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