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Human rights ignored in Smart Cities Mission: civil society report

In 2017, forced evictions and demolitions of homes have been documented in 32 of the cities participating in the Smart Cities Mission, according to an analysis of the government’s flagship project by the Housing and Land Rights Network (HRLN).

Some of these evictions were directly linked to Smart City projects, while others were carried out for reasons ranging from “city beautification” to “slum clearance”, said HRLN executive director Shivani Chaudhry. “The question must be asked: who are these smart cities meant to benefit? Will marginalised communities find themselves in an even more vulnerable place due to these projects?” Ms Chaudhry said, while launching the report this week.

Skewed priorities

Even as the Smart Cities Mission entered its fourth year, and announced its 100th city — Shillong — civil society groups are analysing the government’s flagship urban scheme through a human rights lens.

The report, titled India’s Smart Cities Mission: Smart For Whom? Cities For Whom? argues that the Mission demonstrated a restrictive approach to urban development. Of the total proposed investment of ₹2.04 lakh crore, 80% will be spent on area-based development, which covers less than 5% of the area in at least half the cities of the Mission. “It’s a lot of money being spent on very few places,” said Ms. Chaudhry.

Speaking at the release event, activists raised issues of funding and exclusion under the mission.

“The choice of areas for development is often exclusionary. For example, where is investment desperately needed in Delhi? It is not in the NDMC area [which has been chosen as a Smart City]. It is areas on the margins...It is migrants who build our city, so why doesn’t the city focus on benefits and amenities for them,” asked Suneeta Dhar, director of women’s rights organisation Jagori.

Ms Dhar also raised concerns about measures like CCTV cameras. While they had not been proven to prevent violence against women in public spaces, they could instead lead to increased surveillance, she said.

The Special Purpose Vehicles being set up to implement the Smart City projects are not elected bodies, noted Partha Mukhopadhyay, a senior fellow researching urbanisation and infrastructure at the Centre for Policy Research. In many cities, they are being run by State bureaucrats, sidelining elected urban bodies, and local interests. “A city without the power to take its own decisions is not very smart,” Mr. Mukhopadhyay said.

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Printable version | Sep 27, 2020 8:04:15 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/human-rights-ignored-in-smart-cities-mission-civil-society-report/article24247440.ece

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