Pink City blues: getting smart, but at a price

ADITI NIGAM | Updated on January 27, 2018

Pink city

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Rajasthan’s capital is in crying need of a revival. But not everyone has a place in its rosy future

Sedans, hatchbacks, radio cabs, auto-rickshaws, e-rickshaws, cycle-rickshaws, bicycles… and a lone camel on the road right across the iconic Hawa Mahal. That is a representative, even iconic, image of Jaipur’s Walled City, which is now making bold to morph into a ‘smart city’.

The Jaipur Smart City project, being implemented at a cost of ₹2,401 crore, will primarily focus on retrofitting and redeveloping an area of 706 acres on either side of the Walled City between the Badi Chopad and Chhoti Chopad.

Apart from the Hawa Mahal, the area houses a string of shops selling traditional handicraft and artefacts, footwear, camel leather goods, gemstone jewellery and snacks.

What adds colour of the area are the rows of flower sellers in front of the famous Laxmi Narayan Temple, alongside snake-charmers and hawkers. Taken together, they imbue the place with a heritage feel; they are a source of wide-eyed glee for the numerous foreign tourists.

Stretched beyond limits

The charm of the city, founded in 1726 by Sawai Jai Singh II, lies in its architecture, mainly painted or carved red sandstone, which gave it the Pink City tag (although that characterisation is wearing off). Built for a population of 50,000, the city is now home to over 66 lakh people. Consequently, the infrastructural limitations are showing up: the 50-year-old sewerage system is bursting at its seams.

“The Walled City is a challenge,” acknowledges Manjit Singh, Principal Secretary, Local Self Government, Rajasthan. The endeavour of the Smart City Project will be to make it ‘liveable’, he adds.

Read: Jaipur: The Makeover Mission

That mission has three key components. First, improve the core infrastructure, which includes ensuring 24x7 water and electricity supply, sewage management, improved roads and demarcated parking spaces. Second, make the area IT-enabled so that tax certificates and NOCs can be secured online. Third, develop a green cover. Under the proposal, 200 acres will be demarcated for developing a ‘green city’, including parks.

The vision behind the proposal is to make the Walled City area a global heritage hub, which is ICT-enabled, has 24x7 water and power supply, and efficient public transport. “We are running 1,500 private and public buses and 400 minivans. We plan to buy another 200 buses soon,” says Manjit Singh. One of the biggest challenges, he adds, is to change the mindset of the people, particularly their aversion to using public transport facilities.

“The Metro will take two more years to reach the Walled City, after which things will improve,” he says.

A Special Purpose Vehicle, set up as an autonomous body, will be the nodal agency for the project; funding will come from local bodies, convergence with Central and State-level schemes, as well as from public-private partnerships.

Revenue mobilisation from higher user charges for civic services may prove a major challenge, given the popular resistance to higher levies.

Also read: Mindsets need to change: Manjit Singh, Principal Secretary (Urban Development)

Click here to read about other Smart Cities

Pay to use

However, the well-off sections – primarily, owners of pucca shops and businessmen – said they would not mind paying more for improved amenities and services.

“I want Jaipur to become like Singapore,” says Pushpendra Bhargava, a hospitality industry player. To that end, he wouldn’t mind paying more, “but services should be assured.”

Asandas Lalwani, who runs a textile store across the Hawa Mahal, is also reconciled to paying more taxes. “Taxes are anyway going up,” he points out. But the project will mean more business for him since “it will get more tourists to Rajasthan,” he reckons.

Fear of displacement

Others on the lower rungs of the city’s social ladder, such as hawkers and flower sellers, knew nothing about the project. The few that had heard of it had no idea what it was was all about, but said they had heard they may get displaced.

“Governments come and go, but no one cares for the poor,” says Ram Agarwal, who has been selling tea under a tree in the area for 20 years. “I had a shack, but am now allowed to put up only a small table,” he says.

The fear of displacement of the poor and the expected higher user charges have led some to question the “vision” underlying the project.

‘It’s exclusionary’

“The focus on creating a wired city, with investments in ICT, installing electronic sensors, CCTVs, making everything online is undemocratic and exclusionary in a country where the digital divide is widening,” says Dinesh Abrol, Visiting Faculty in Transdisciplinary Research Cluster on Sustainability Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Citing the example of the recent floods in Chennai, Abrol says that key problems leading to urban decay, such as giving away commons to real estate developers, poor sewage management and traffic congestion were not being addressed. Higher user charges will also exclude those who cannot afford to pay, he adds.

Pitching for “sustainable” cities that accommodate the vulnerable sections of the population in the planning process, Abrol says, “a democratic city should provide its citizens equal access to all public services.”

Published on February 14, 2016

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