It may seem very simple and perhaps a bit silly too, but I believe that the two most important areas that can derail a Smart City Project are -
- Drainage System
- Waste Management
In recent times, these seem to have come as prominent issues in the smart city dreams of city like Chennai and Bhopal (Eight hours of overnight rain on 9th July 2016 washed away the hype of Bhopal Municipal Corporation's (BMC) claim of turning Bhopal into a Smart City). In fact in today's world too, the city of Chennai does not have drainage system on either side of the major roads for water to be drained away and so even a few showers of heavy rain can also cause major traffic jams on roads and water logging in low line areas of the city. The sewage system in the city was designed in 1910 and then modifications were made in 1958. Way back in 2005, a heavy deluge caused major flooding in the city of Mumbai too, mainly because the drainage system broke down due to choking and blockages in the drainage system. We continue to have water stagnation in Mumbai even in recent times - 2013, 2014, 2015 and even recently in 2016 we had water logging in Mumbai.
For instance take the example of Guwahati, selected as one of the 100 Smart Cities being developed, the fact is that only 25% of Guwahati’s residents get piped drinking water, while no organised sewerage system exists. The irony is that - Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority’s vision statement, describes the city as one of the most admired state capitals of India, envisages 24×7 drinking water, a proper stormwater drainage system, a modern and scientific sewerage system and improved public transport and traffic infrastructure.
Another cause of concerns are - illegal and unplanned urbanization and a lack of city master plan in most of our cities in India. In most cities in India, a construction boom over the last decade or so has not been able to develop a matching civic infrastructure. If we do not address this at the earliest or the situation would get worse. We have cases where water bodies and wetlands which suck rainwater have been encroached upon or reclaimed to build high-rises.
In recent times, most smart cities projects under the Government of India 100 Smart Cities Initiative, there seems to be a trend initiating competitions in design of area-based development such as streets, junctions and parks etc. (smart cities of the likes of Bhopal, Davanagere, Guwahati, Chennai, Vizag, Kaikinada, Surat, Kochi, Pune, Bhubaneshwar, Belagavi, Ahmedabad, Coimbatore, Solapur and Ludhiana) and pedestrianization (in Delhi). The questions are -
- Should we not concentrate on the more important core issues in our cities in efforts to make them "Smart"?
- What is the point of all the redevelopment of streets, junctions and parks etc. when you do not have proper drainage systems and waste management solutions in place in the Smart City? The city administrators would spend the tax-payer's money on such redevelopment but then in case of a deluge or few showers of heavy rains the same redeveloped streets would be water logged. So, would it be money well spend?
Well... one can argue - of course, when we redevelop the streets, junctions and parks, we will be taking into consideration drainage system too. But then, I hope that it does not remain an argument "ONLY on paper" and for discussions in conference rooms when evaluating the submissions to the above mentioned competitions. We will need to look at solutions like the Stormwater Management And Road Tunnel (SMART) deployed in Kuala Lumpur, Malyasia.
It is common practice in India and we will find it very easy to dispose our solid and liquid waste in our drainage systems, don't we? All of it ends up in our drains anyways. Hence, I believe, waste management and drainage should not be looked at separately. From city administrators perspective too, both waste management and drainage systems are important from the health and safety aspects of the citizens.
A Smart City needs to first be a CLEAN city in terms of disposal of waste and storm water through effective and efficient drainage systems before it can be anyway least be it anywhere in the World...
illegal and unplanned urbanization