BY DHAAR MEHAK AND SHAHID SALEEM
As an attempt in the direction of planned and speedy development, the government of India has been selecting destinations from across the country to convert them into smart-cities.
While the concept of smart cities is associated with the use of Information and Communication Technology, in India it is essentially related to the speedy development of the selected area destinations and to usher in urbanisation and allied development.
The concept of smart cities came into existence in 2008 when the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) conceptualised the idea and began testing the same in 2009.
The concept flourished in India during 2015 and was launched initially in a hundred cities and towns. The aim behind planning the initiation of the smart cities in India was to make the lives of people better and their living sustainable with a long-run perspective.
In a bid to hasten the process of urbanization with proper planning and execution, the smart city mission was launched in the region of Jammu and Kashmir as well. It was thought that a better and optimum resource use with appropriate space allocation and maximum utilization of the existing resources will be taken care of.
The region has been lagging behind for a long time in attaining the expected levels of development. As such, it was understood that the mission should be launched to make the lives of people better and promote speedy development. The mission encompasses the creation of smart shopping centres, smart residences and sustainable employment opportunities.
The concept of smart-cities is definitely a progressive bid. There are examples and instances from across the world that present positive and promising outcomes from interventions made in this direction. But the contexts have been different.
The simple rule of developmental economics is the fact that a successful model/outcome of one instance can’t be copied and pasted to another context. This is to say, just because a policy was successful in the USA it can’t be directly applied to India with the expectations of similar results.
On the same lines, the Smart Cities Mission hasn’t been going as expected across various pockets of J&K. What has been witnessed till now, the implementation has been of uninformed interventions. To manifest the same, we present evidence from the historic Awantipora town of J&K, which duly falls under the smart city mission.
The capital of Kashmir in the 09th Century under the Kingship of Awantiwarman, Awantipora has a historic lineage and background. The city has had a legacy of its own and has evolved over time on its own lines. The town of Awantipora is located across the bank of Jhelum River.
On the other side of the town is the most aesthetic Wasturwan Mountain. The town has been bustling with a life of its own. However, the plan of the state of making Awantipora a smart-city hasn’t been turning well for the town and its people.
The Islamic University of Science and Technology has been established in the town in early 2000s. Lately the Government Degree College Awantipora has also been set. One of the recent developments has been the establishment of the All India Institute of Medical Science over the Wasturwan Mountain.
Though these developments seem to be promising in making the district smart, modern and urbanised the implementations brought under the Smart City Mission are quite opposing.
On the old national highway there is a place in the district known as the ‘Khaar Moad’. It is exactly on the edge of the road leading to Tral. Khaar Moad has a legacy of being the hub of fabrication work and automobile sale and repair spot of the district. For decades at a stretch it has been a source of livelihood to a big chunk of the population belonging to the district.
In the December of 2020, the district administration issued an order demonstrating all the shops and workshops located in and around the Khaar Moad to be closed down, evacuated and eventually demolished. The excuse of this initiation was road widening.
An unplanned and definitely not needed widening especially at the cost it was coming. There was neither a substitute place offered to the stakeholders not any compensation provided. Tens of families, hundreds of members were put into an un-ending suffering!
Most of these stakeholders were left unemployed and clueless. The consumption of their households, the education of their kids and the health of their sick family members all suffered in silence. A few tried to set the business elsewhere. Neither was there any informational symmetry nor enough funds/savings to restart what was demolished. Some have been reduced to daily-wagers and others pushed into despair and depression!
In a business scenario that Kashmir has been a part of setting up of or establishment of new businesses is already a challenge and the most pessimistic thing a person can think of. In such a gloomy economic condition no excuse can be strong enough to demolish what has already been in existence and practice for a long long time.
A Clock-Tower is being made in a neat manner in the Awantipora chowk. Looking from a people’s perspective it utterly brings no good, no utility to the people of the district! Instead if the place was left on its own, if people who were practising various trades at the place were left on their own; the overall benefit of the town would surely have been much higher than the existing levels.
A person named Ghulam Qadir, one of the respected residents of the district owned ten shops at the Khaar Moad. All ten were rented out. Behind the shops Qadir had been running an automobile workshop for decades.
Qadir has lived a decent life making every penny from the hard-worked labor. Now all of a sudden towards his old age the smart city mission mandates some sort of road widening – some sort of clock tower making and an average person like Qadir is made to bear the brunt, pay the price! How un-smart is that?!
The monstrous outcomes of the Smart City across Srinagar are well known and now cases like these coming from other districts highlight the unplanned nature of the much hyped smart-city planning and implementations across Jammu and Kashmir.
As an immediate need of the hour, the Smart-City plan needs a re-evaluation and the people of the concerned area need to be taken on board before implementing any single thing!
(The authors are affiliated with the Department of Economics, Islamic University of Science and Technology.)
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.