Intro: After PM Modi announced Indian cities will turn into smart cities, followed by the news of Delhi being the first among them, one wonders, how different will smart cities in India be from what it is today?
Delhi has more cars than any other two mega cities put together. Swanky cars look good and give their owners a sense of pride, but is it smart to own a car or smarter to hire one as and when needed? A one ton car carrying a payload of just one quintal jostling with others for space on overcrowded roads and so often idling on the crossings is not at all efficient. Perhaps the fuel efficiency may workout to 1 per cent. We may not feel the pinch as we park them on the road outside our flat or workplace as we use the costly space virtually for free, but together we as a nation are big losers. Cars not only take too much space, they also run on polluting petrol and diesel, making us to import 80 per cent of our crude oil requirements.
People in a smart city should be able to commute to their workplace and back home very comfortably in public or shared transport. For that we do not need cattle class but, comfortable and speedier metros, taxies and other forms of rapid mass transport system. To avoid office time rush, a smart city can opt for the ‘Work from Home’ strategy which is a much convenient way to get the work done. By this the employee will not only give his 100 per cent to his office, but can also spend time with family and friends.
In the era of technological advancement ‘Work from Anywhere’ is a more feasible option. You can use your laptop, tablet or smart phone wherever you are—resting at home or on the go. Recent advancements in remote information and communication technology require a different type of infrastructure but one that has the power to change the way we live and work, the smart way.
Work may require hands on machines or a face to face discussion with clients and colleagues. For that smart companies are also finding smart ways of cutting costs of space, time and employee fatigue by promoting work from anywhere culture. There are effective ways to keep track of what an employee does and when? So there would be no scope for cheating which will lead to a great balance in work and life. This will also act as a boon for the working women, but its greatest advantage is in converting every day into a Sunday and will help in decreasing the traffic of all kinds.
The ‘Work from Anywhere’ culture will also save minimum two hours of commuting time of an employee on the daily basis. It will not only save time but will help in saving so much costly office space, water, electricity, conservancy, public transport, communication and security as well. Once the concept is familiar we can extend it to all the areas of city life.
Oil imports are big drain on our resources. Recent fall in crude prices has enabled us to rope in inflation and find resources for more pressing needs. But with rapid advancements in the efficiency of photovoltaic or solar cells, it would be possible in near future to generate low-priced electricity from solar plants. We may also be able to save a lot of it by switching over to LED lights in homes, workplaces and streets all connected to a smart grid that can automatically adjust the supply as per the demand.
Education and Healthcare too can be turned smart. There are big issues with regard to enrollment, attendance, dropout and quality of teaching. All this can change if in schools instead of textbooks, we use laptops and tablets. Develop best audio- visual teaching material for various subjects. Broadcast the same or stream over internet as on demand. We can do this at much lesser cost than required by any education system. Same goes for skill development and training. Face to face with teacher or trainer is not always necessary.
Similarly consider leveraging ‘Telepresence’ for medicine. It would be possible to arrange “visit” of the best doctors by the bed side of the patients without either of them moving from their respective places except when it is necessary. If we can build a family-wise database in a city, a neighbourhood health worker with handheld diagnostic devices and a smart phone and arrange such “visits”. Such facilities can save those precious minutes to save lives during medical emergencies. E-Governance is already picking up. Not so long ago, we routinely witnessed long ques in banks; booking and bill pay counters. Soon we may find it is easy to access all the information we need to complete the formalities on line, without wasting time in commuting, queuing or waiting. Distance will disappear. It will also bring in transparency and
force the corrupt to get away. It will also greatly facilitate law enforcement and justice as devices track the crimes, evidence and criminals. Big data is making it possible to predict many baffling phenomenon.
Weather forecasting or water/oil/gas/ mineral divining may become easier. Cities have a life cycle of their own with four phases viz, formative, growth, maturity and decline.
Towns evolve into cities as rural people migrate to them in search of jobs and better life. This influx increases further with improvement in the infrastructure. As they get over crowded, they face problems of shortages of space, water, electricity, congestion, traffic jams, waste disposal, pollution, law and order and crime. It is futile to arrest urbanisation. Hence, the ways must be found to not only delay the decline but improve further the quality of life in cities.
By regularising the unauthorised colonies and giving the occupants title over that piece of land, we may encourage and also facilitate with long term loans, construction of proper houses and build the required infrastructure. Slum dwellers can be encouraged to form their resident welfare association and contribute labour for building and upkeep of the facilities.
We have 497 cities with population above one lakh people, 54 of them are the metros with more than a million including 8 cities of more than 5 million and 3 mega cities of more than 10 million each.
The World has already crossed the half- way mark in urbanisation, five years ago. We are lagging behind at only one third of our population living in cities. But development is synonymous with and accompanied by urbanisation and it is bound to pick up. That is why, we must facilitate it systematically so that the urban life is sustainable, convenient, secure and comfortable.
JP Dubey (The writer is a columnist having expertise in developmental issues)