Opinion

Who wants smart cities?

Vinay Kamath | Updated on November 25, 2017

Or bullet trains? The Government is better advised improving the lives of people everywhere

It’s been over two weeks since the Budget was presented. Reams have been written on what the Finance Minister should or should not have done; it’s been dissected threadbare. In the ultimate analysis, a budget is meant to better the lives of people, isn’t it?

At a macro level, in the fullness of time, things may well improve, as they have in many areas. In Chennai, a metro will eventually start running. Desalination plants that have come up have alleviated some of Chennai’s perennial water woes.

But, will the Budget resolve things that have immediacy in our lives? Will it ease the daily grind? There may be more money jingling in our pockets because of tax sops but when the prices of basic vegetables soar sky-high, it leaves a poor taste in your mouth.

The Rail Budget talked about bullet trains. But do we really need them? If you don’t reach your destination two hours early the heavens are not going to come down.

Passengers would rather have safe, secure trains that run on time, with hygienic toilets, palatable food, clean sheets and no bed bugs. With all its shortcomings, the Railways does a decent job of transporting an enormous number of people.

The General Budget talked about setting up 100 smart cities, and allocated ₹7,060 crore for it. How do you define a smart city, anyway? Smart software solutions are at best an enabler of what’s in the physical space. And how’s that going to be built — from roads to sewage systems, footpaths to vibrant public spaces? That’s the ‘unsexy’ part.

For now, how about running our good old existing cities better? Give us cities with garbage-free roads, bright street lights, pavements to walk on, errant, drivers pulled up and put in the slammer, cities safe and well policed, free of power and water problems.

Chennai city, for example, is so pedestrian-unfriendly. In fact, most major roads have no pavements to speak of; even where there are broad footpaths to walk on, pedestrians hit the road out of sheer force of habit! Who wants a ‘smart’ city with hi-tech connectivity in the virtual world when the physical one is falling apart?

Senior Deputy Editor

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Published on July 25, 2014
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