India's 'smart' cities plan risks leaving millions behind

NEW DELHI - As he pulled his family's belongings from the rubble of his bulldozed home in the Indian capital, Rajesh Kumar was pessimistic about Prime Minister Narendra Modi's plans to revolutionise the country's stressed cities.

"All these years, I have seen our city grow with many new roads, flyovers and a metro," Kumar said of New Delhi.

"But I haven't seen anything change in our slum, only the population has grown," said Kumar whose two-room shack home along with hundreds of others was suddenly demolished recently for encroaching on state forest land.

"My oldest child is 11 and the youngest is one, tell me where will we go this winter?" asked the stonemason.

After storming to power at elections in May, Modi's right-wing government pledged to build 100 "smart" cities as part of an ambitious agenda of reform and economic development.

Tens of millions have flocked from the countryside in search of jobs during India's years of economic growth, stretching some cities to near breaking point and pushing the poor further into the outskirts.

With the urban influx showing few signs of slowing, experts are sceptical of Modi's plans for high-tech, environmentally friendly cities, saying he should focus on the basics.

"I think we need to revisit the definition of what is smart," said Rutul Joshi, a planning professor in Modi's home state of Gujarat.

"When we provide adequate shelter for everybody, a toilet in every home, a footpath on every street and a bus route on every major road, then that's a smart city," said Joshi from CEPT University, which specialises in environmental planning and technology.

India, the second most populated country on the planet, is projected to add another 404 million urban dwellers by 2050, the largest addition in the world, followed by China with 292 million, a UN report this year said.

Delhi, already the world's second largest city after Tokyo, where many live in slums or on streets and building sites where they labour, is expected to rise swiftly to 36 million by 2030.

Hopeless situation

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has told parliament the "smart" cities are needed to accommodate the rising numbers, pointing to a burgeoning middle class with "aspirations of better living standards".

Several days after Kumar's long-standing slum was demolished late last month, the government released preliminary ideas for the cities to be built as satellite towns of metropolises and by modernising existing mid-sized cities.

The cities would offer "decent living options to every resident" which would provide a "very high quality of life comparable with any developed European city", the urban ministry's "concept note" said this month.

Joshi said he feared the new cities would give rise to exclusive so-called gated communities, while the poor remained squeezed into ever-growing and sometimes illegally built slums with few services.

"There is a large number of people who want to move out of poverty, to move out of the slums, but they don't know how. We are not focusing on that. The focus is misplaced," he told AFP.

Urban development expert Jochen Mistelbacher said the government's proposal draws much-needed attention to India's chronic urbanisation problems including shoddy infrastructure, lack of services and scarcity of land for housing.

And Mistelbacher, a senior fellow with the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation think-tank, said he hoped the plan would lead to an influx of investment in cities through public-private partnerships.

"But my fear is that some other much-needed (already existing) urban development projects (such as boosting public housing) will be put in the bottom drawer while this takes priority."

Even if the cities were successful, 100 was not nearly enough, with some 4,000 major centres needing an overhaul, Mistelbacher said.

Both experts said the government should focus on strengthening local councils, by handing them additional powers and resources to reduce corruption and improve infrastructure and basic services in existing cities.

Kumar's slum was built near a fashionable, middle-class neighbourhood where many of his neighbours worked as maids, cooks and drivers.

The forest department has defended the demolition as routine, aimed at curbing increased encroachment on protected land.

But Kumar, who had lived in the slum for 17 years after arriving from his native Uttar Pradesh state, said he was given five minutes' notice to grab whatever he could before the bulldozers moved in.

One of his neighbours, Maya Devi, described the situation as hopeless. Two of her children have exams this month but their school books were lost in the rubble and the family now has nowhere to live.

"Why does the government do this to poor people like us?" she asked.

Purchase this article for republication.

VIDEOS YOU SHOULD WATCH

  • #Joeyjios: We try bubble tea mala hotpot and bubble tea toast

    Full story: http://www.asiaone.com/food/we-try-bubble-tea-mala-hotpot-and-bubble-tea-toast-guess-which-ones-got-us-hooked Mala and bubble milk tea within the same hotpot? What about bubble tea on toast? Who even comes up with these ideas?! This week on #Joeyjios, we give these dubious food creations a taste-test to see if they're worth your time, money and calories. #bubbletea #bbt #boba --- Read more: http://www.asiaone.com/ FOLLOW us on - Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/asiaonecom - Twitter: https://twitter.com/asiaonecom - Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/asiaonecom/ EMAIL: For story leads, business enquiries, contact asiaone@mm2entertainment.com
  • Thirstdays: Where we talk weird dates and wild fantasies

    Full story: https://www.asiaone.com/entertainment/thirstdays-where-we-talk-weird-dates-and-wild-fantasies Ooo, it's been a hot week and the thirst is real at AsiaOne. Join Le En and Bryan as they chat about weird dates, constant 'cravings', and Beyonce's thigh gap! And they are quenching that thirst with a cup of root beer float to celebrate the return of a certain fast food restaurant. Thirstdays is a fortnightly AsiaOne #entertainment series where our hosts Le En and Bryan give you a peek into their personal lives while they satisfy their thirst over a drink, have a no-holds-barred chat, and do fun things. #gossip #confessions #realness --- Read more: http://www.asiaone.com/ FOLLOW us on - Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/asiaonecom - Twitter: https://twitter.com/asiaonecom - Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/asiaonecom/ EMAIL: For story leads, business enquiries, contact asiaone@mm2entertainment.com
  • Don't Say Cannot Ep4: He beats people up, but for the country

    Full story: http://www.asiaone.com/singapore/dont-say-cannot-delinquent-national-wrestler He used to beat people up, simply because he had "too much energy" to expend. Now, he still beats people up - but for the country. Meet 24-year-old #Singapore national wrestler Toh Xin Ran. Seeing the number of medals that he has been awarded and the respectful manner in which he now interacts with his wrestling coach, it is hard to imagine that Xin Ran used to be a troubled kid in his younger days. #wrestling #sportsman --- Read more: http://www.asiaone.com/ FOLLOW us on - Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/asiaonecom - Twitter: https://twitter.com/asiaonecom - Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/asiaonecom/ EMAIL: For story leads, business enquiries, contact asiaone@mm2entertainment.com
  • #Joeyjios: Taste-testing The Alley Luxe and CHICHA San Chen

    Full story: https://www.asiaone.com/food/alley-luxe-and-chicha-san-chen-opens-week-heres-what-try A Michelin-standard bubble tea for $4.70? A drink that looks like the Northern Lights? This week, #Joeyjios her colleague Le En to check out two new bubble tea (BBT) stores that are opening along Orchard Road. Which will they prefer? Watch to find out. #Thedeerishere #TheAlley #Chichasanchen #Boba --- Read more: http://www.asiaone.com/ FOLLOW us on - Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/asiaonecom - Twitter: https://twitter.com/asiaonecom - Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/asiaonecom/ EMAIL: For story leads, business enquiries, contact asiaone@mm2entertainment.com
  • Office Tea Episode 5: Bosses and Things

    It’s been a few weeks - let’s find out if the higher-ups of AsiaOne have any regrets about hiring Le En. Efforts were made to make nice, charity is involved and work is never-ending still. Follow and subscribe so you won't miss a single episode of our new series, Office Tea! To catch more of her antics, follow her @goofy_feline! --- Read more: http://www.asiaone.com/ FOLLOW us on - Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/asiaonecom - Twitter: https://twitter.com/asiaonecom - Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/asiaonecom/ EMAIL: For story leads, business enquiries, contact asiaone@mm2entertainment.com
  • #Joeyjios: DIY your way into mum's heart this Mother's Day

    Full story: https://www.asiaone.com/women/joeyjios-diy-your-way-mums-heart-mothers-day Mother’s Day is this Sunday! Have you gotten mum a gift yet? This week on #Joeyjios, Joey tries her hand at DIY projects that’s thoughtful, useful and inexpensive. #Mothersday #DIY --- Read more: http://www.asiaone.com/ FOLLOW us on - Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/asiaonecom - Twitter: https://twitter.com/asiaonecom - Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/asiaonecom/ EMAIL: For story leads, business enquiries, contact asiaone@mm2entertainment.com
  • Don't Say Cannot Ep3: He 'sees' the world with the help of tech

    Full story: https://www.asiaone.com/singapore/dont-say-cannot-he-may-be-blind-he-can-text-faster-you Edwin Khoo, 43, surprises friends with the speed at which he types on his phone. The reason? He's been blind since birth. But #technology has been the game-changer for Edwin in navigating the world around him despite his #disability, allowing him to #travel and even host his own online #podcast. --- Read more: http://www.asiaone.com/ FOLLOW us on - Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/asiaonecom - Twitter: https://twitter.com/asiaonecom - Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/asiaonecom/ EMAIL: For story leads, business enquiries, contact asiaone@mm2entertainment.com
  • Office Tea Episode 4: The Dress Code

    It’s in the employee handbook - but does ANYONE actually read and follow the dress code? Are calves too scandalous? Le En puts on Athleisure and tries to get away with it! Follow and subscribe so you won't miss a single episode of our new series, Office Tea! To catch more of her antics, follow her @goofy_feline! --- Read more: http://www.asiaone.com/ FOLLOW us on - Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/asiaonecom - Twitter: https://twitter.com/asiaonecom - Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/asiaonecom/ EMAIL: For story leads, business enquiries, contact asiaone@mm2entertainment.com
  • Caryn Cheng finds the best deals at IMM's Greater Savings Home and Furnishing Sale

    Full story: https://www.asiaone.com/singapore/5-couples-share-most-expensive-items-they-have-ever-bought-their-home AsiaOne challenges Caryn Cheng to find the best deals at the upcoming #IMM Greater Savings Home and Furnishing #Sale. IMM's Greater Savings Home & Furnishing Sale will start May 13 to 19. With 20 per cent off storewide at Best Denki and discounts of up to 50 per cent at stores such as INKAGU Outlet by Picket & Rail, Linen Gallery Outlet and Red Apple from May 17 to 19, this epic sale is not to be missed. Address: 2 Jurong East Street 21, Singapore 609601 Opening hours: 10am to 10pm #brandedcontent --- Read more: http://www.asiaone.com/ FOLLOW us on - Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/asiaonecom - Twitter: https://twitter.com/asiaonecom - Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/asiaonecom/ EMAIL: For story leads, business enquiries, contact asiaone@mm2entertainment.com
  • #Joeyjios: I try a ballet-inspired workout despite my two left feet

    Full story: https://www.asiaone.com/singapore/joeyjios-i-try-ballet-inspired-workout-despite-my-two-left-feet Tendu, Arabesque and Grand Pliés? This week on #Joeyjios, I found out that these are in fact, not edible food dishes, but dance moves in ballet.  Watch as former professional ballerinas and co-founders of #BalletBody, Lisha Chin and Alison Carroll, take me through a snippet of their hour-long ballet-inspired workout while I try my best to keep up.  #Ballet #Barre #Fitness --- Read more: http://www.asiaone.com/ FOLLOW us on - Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/asiaonecom - Twitter: https://twitter.com/asiaonecom - Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/asiaonecom/ EMAIL: For story leads, business enquiries, contact asiaone@mm2entertainment.com

SERVICES