India File

Is it just about a few glitzy effects?

Our Bureaus | Updated on February 25, 2019 Published on February 25, 2019

The proposed outlay of nearly 50 per cent of the project cost for the Mumbai-Vadodara is significant as the distance to be covered is smaller than the Delhi-Mumbai section. (File photo)   -  The Hindu

Ahmedabad, a city with a population of over 70 lakh, is gradually seeing some order. Even when it is closer to midnight, commuters ‘honour’ the traffic signals on some of the main roads of the city. This is thanks to Smart Traffic Management being implemented with a massive ₹220-crore investment by the Smart City Ahmedabad Development Ltd — an SPV under Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC).

The project involves installing multiple cameras on each sides of the cross roads — including red light violation detection camera (RLVDC) and automatic number plate recognition cameras (ANPR) and the integration of vehicle data with that in the Vahan software of Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. “For the signal violators, e-challans are issued using the Ministry software and hand-delivered to their addresses. Because of this, we have seen compliance with red-light improving phenomenally,” says Vijay Nehra, Municipal Commissioner, Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC).

As an innovative initiative, AMC launched “Jan Mitra Card” — a universal pre-paid card for transport and also for utilities using ‘tap-in tap-out’ technology. Ahmedabad is using open-loop cards, which can be used for multiple applications other than transport. “Normally, transport sector uses closed loop cards, which have single application for the prescribed service provider. This card removes this limitation and can be used for any purchases at malls, cinema, restaurants or even for paying local civic taxes,” says Nehra.

So far, about 2,00,000 Jan Mitra cards have been issued. “Of this about 1,50,000 cards have been issued in the past six months,” he adds.

Stakeholders, however, believe that the technology adoption by the masses is still an uphill task. “Jan Mitra Card has not gained the desired popularity. There is concern about breakdown of the system. As a result, people don’t adopt it and we continue to see long queues at the BRTS bus stands. The authorities must take up confidence-building measures in such cases,” says Punit Vyas, an IT professional.

Apart from mass transport, there are concerns over impact on pedestrians. Kumar Manish from social platform Urban Voices, says, “Ahmedabad has not done anything on pedestrian accessibility. There is no sustained focus on bringing down private vehicle use. They spend huge amounts on building flyovers only to encourage cars, but the state of footpaths is disappointing, with encroachments on most of them. The smart city talk may be good but the reality is completely different.”

Different story in Kolkata

It is a different story in Kolkata. Discussions on New Town-Rajarhat often veer around the wide, well-planned streets, well demarcated lanes for fast and slow moving vehicles, perfectly spaced-out traffic signals, vast expanse of greenery, manicured roadside lawns, luxurious condominiums, green buildings, limited traffic snarls and most importantly, ample car parking spaces. Not to mention the swanky malls, premium hotels and global convention centre.

New Town made it to the list of proposed smart cities around May 2016. The Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress government came to power for its second term. But in August that year, the West Bengal government opted out. Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, during one of her public meetings, pointed out that the smart city “idea” and “theory” was “wrong”.

She had made the case that it would not be wise to spend ₹500 crore — the matching grant a State government is supposed to make against a similar grant by the Centre — on the Smart City project.

The Chief Minister has mooted the idea of “green cities” and claimed that New Town would be developed as “India’s first green city”. However, Mamata Banerjee seems to have opted out for political reasons. Naturally then, the processes that go with setting up a smart city have not begun here. Appointment of consultants, formation of special purpose vehicle (SPV), drawing up project plans and even tendering have not begun.

However, Subrata Gupta, Principal Secretary for Urban Development and Municipal Affairs, Government of West Bengal, points out that “the Central and State governments have both approved the smart city proposals”. According to him, funds worth ₹50 crore have already come into the kitty. “Some activity has started,” he adds.

In Kochi, officials steering Kochi’s smart city project (also called Cochin Smart Mission Ltd) are confident of meeting the mission period deadline of 2020. APM Mohammed Hanish, CEO of CSML — the SPV floated by Kerala Government and Kochi Municipal Corporation — attribute the delay in project implementation to the State assembly polls and administrative and technical delays. “Hence the project was almost dead up to November 2017, resulting in delays in appointing project management consultants (PMC) even after receiving the first instalment of ₹200 crore in May 2016”, adds Hanish.

A holistic vision of urban development, as opposed to reliance on technological fixes, is perhaps what India’s urban centres need.

Rutam Vora in Ahmedabad, Abhishek Law and Shobha Roy in Kolkata, V Sajeev Kumar

in Kochi

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Published on February 25, 2019
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