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Being city smart in Gujarat

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With the Union government’s push for urbanisation expressed in its plan to create ‘100 smart cities’, town planners have put on their thinking caps. In Gujarat, where the process of urbanisation has been historically linked with the State’s industrial and commercial activities, the concept of alpha cities was rolled out much earlier by the former Chief Minister Narendra Modi to bolster the State’s potential as an investment destination.

The Gujarat International Financial Tec-City (GIFT) — a planned financial Central Business District (CBD) between Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar — is being dubbed as the first ‘smart city’ of sorts. Moulded in a futuristic design, this under-construction city spread over 886 acres promises to create a specialised hub of high-quality infrastructure — water, power, information and communication technology, solid waste management, a cooling system and transport. Mr. Modi announced the launch of this three-phase project in 2007, estimated to cost around Rs. 70,000 crore and likely to be completely by 2022.

While many of the project’s aspects are likely to guide the yet-evolving concept of smart cities, urban planners are thinking more on the lines of mastering the art of service delivery.

“A smart city would be one where the service delivery is citizen-centric. Existing cities will have to be made smart or intelligent by putting systems in place. The access to services will have to be improved not just in terms of quality, but also in quality. Today, service delivery is manual. Concepts of e-governance and reformed taxation policies will have to be charted out,” GR Aloria, Additional Chief Secretary, Urban Development and Urban Housing Department, Gujarat, told The Hindu.

Compared with other States, Gujarat may have more prototypes to work with, but a clear plan is yet to emerge as officials await specific guidelines from the Central government. The State has conducted some cursory studies in the area of housing and other infrastructure facilities.

It has identified about 20 growth centres, which are potential locations for investments. These include some of the State’s 13 Special Investment Regions (SIRs) — Dholera, PCPIR (Petroleum Chemicals and Petrochemicals Investment Regions)-Dahej, Aliyabet, Halol-Savli, Santalpur, Changodar, Hazira, Anjar, Navlakhi, Okha, Pipava, Simar and Sanand-Viramgam.

About 35 per cent of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor falls in Gujarat, encompassing Palanpur, Mehsana, Savli, Bharuch-Ankleshwar stretch; areas between Surat and Navsari, Valsad and Vapi, Dholera and Bhavnagar; Rajkot and its surrounding areas and the Mundra port.

Satellite towns and the DMIC corridor are the key focus of the smart-city concept, given their growth potential. The Dholera SIR, in the Gulf of Khambat, is yet another three-phase enterprise aspiring to be a global manufacturing and trading hub, and a model port city. It promises premium civic amenities, an international airport, industrial parks and townships.

The government is also looking at developing the State’s coastline, which remains unexplored, government sources said.

Other aspects such as walkability, increased area of foliage, energy consumption regulations regarding the use of greywater (wastewater generated from washbasins) would be part of the new-age design of cities. The concept of greywater usage is already underway in two of Gujarat’s towns.

The dilemma before town planners is to work around the 42 per cent population that lives in urban areas in Gujarat. “New cities could be easily built from scratch, but planning on existing city landscapes and populations poses a dilemma. The smartness of GIFT, for instance, is an investment-oriented smartness resting on acquired land and a targeted population. In the case of smart cities we have to plan for citizens, who will do their own construction activity,” an official said.

Gujarat’s strength is the robust provisions of the Gujarat Town Planning and Urban Development Act, 1976, which has enabled the government to acquire and develop land “efficiently”.

“Compared to other States, our Act is more efficient. Its provisions can stand in the courts. Other States are looking at us in this regard, especially after [the difficulties posed by] the new Land Acquisition Act. About 80 to 90 per cent of the area is Ahmedabad is covered by the Town Planning Act,” a source said.

“The emergence of smart cities,” said Biswaroop Das, Professor at the Centre for Social Studies, Surat, “is likely to be marked by dispossession. “Cities are being groomed. The logic of smartness is about developing only those cities or areas of a city, which are capable of absorbing the capital logic to serve global financial capital. It has nothing to do with historical logic. Post-globalisation, the character of cities is changing. From being a textile town, Ahmedabad has become a service city.”

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2020 10:42:08 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sunday-anchor/being-city-smart-in-gujarat/article6229344.ece

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