TODAY -

Dreaming For Smart City; Are U Smart, I Am Not

S. Kunjabihari Singh *

Bird eye view of Imphal Valley as seen from top of Cheiraoching :: August 29 2014
Bird eye view of Imphal Valley as seen from top of Cheiraoching in August 2014 :: Pix - Deepak Oinam



The buzz word in and around Imphal these days, is undoubtedly, 'Smart City'. You mention any, be they the intellectuals, the educated, the not-so-educated, even those who flock around road-side tea stalls or any one with some update of the day-to-day affairs of the state, would voice some view, some comment that too, fervently.

If the level of enthusiasm demonstrated by most of the participants, in a discussion forum sponsored by Impact TV on the subject 'Smart City', earlier this month at Sangai Hall, Imphal Hotel, could be any indicator, well, the interest level is exceedingly high. Almost every one present, may be some 100 or so from all walks of life, took keen interest in the discussion.

While most participants were not exposed to the nitty gritty of the present activities, the various programmes undertaken by the MAHUD department and therefore the additionalities to be accorded priority by the government, let alone the Mission Statement and Guidelines of the Smart City, issued by the GOI, the level of participation was nothing short of 'superb'.

Obviously, such a heterogeneous composition of participants would rob of most of the time which could normally be devoted more fruitfully to the more crucial areas of making Imphal city correspond to the prescriptions of the Central Ministry.

There is however an advantage too in such a congregation. For one, many views were put forth with great enthusiasm on several issues faced intimately by the citizens. For the other, these could form a strong basis in shaping the vision intimately connected with the local aspirations, the levels of ambition in specific areas appropriate to the local context. This is precisely what the Ministry also prescribes. This local-specific clause boils down to the indispensability of appropriate ingredients of a smart city considering the local context, resources and levels of aspiration.

We may have ambitious vision like upgraded infrastructure or dream amenities, like never-had-before conveniences in the SCP but these have to be dovetailed with our capacity for mobilization of own internal resources and our capability and competence for delivering the goods. Given our track record in poor capacity for generating resource, if the SCP is at all to be tied with plan or for that matter, capacity for resource mobilization, the bubbling aspirations demonstrated by the citizens would face a jolt. Sadly, however, this eventuality is likely to become a certainty for sure, unless we change our mindset, unless we resolve to.

This apparent would-be- set back could be detrimental to our 'Smart City' in the offing, lacking its shine and glaze of which other bigger states would be proud of. What do we do then to overcome this projected grey area?

Are we, for one, smart enough to pay our due revenues and taxes, sincere in clearing power and water bills? Don't we indulge in fraudulent practices to avoid paying? For the other, would we only talk smart and continue doing little about these government dues? Mind you the SCP rests on an assured INR 100 crores a year as share of the state government corresponding to an equal amount from the Centre.

The issue is if the GOM would be able to generate its share of state resources agreed upon in the Annual Plan discussion while finalizing the state's total plan size? As we are all aware, the total plan outlay of a year has two components: - the Central Plan Assistance and the state's own generation of resources, which could be termed State's own share of resources. The sum total makes up the Total Plan Size of the year.

Any shortfall in the generation of resources by the state would correspondingly reduce the optimum size of the total outlay. If past records are any guide, there could be every possibility of the state incurring a shortfall in the generation of own resources.

This conjecture is not just based on whims or impulses; in fact, based on past records of several years. I believe in the mid-eighties Shri Rishang Keishing was the CM of Manipur. Dr. Man Mohan Singh the former PM during the 10 years of UPA rule in the country happened to be the Dy. Chairman of the then Planning Commission.

The annual pilgrimage of the state's senior officers to New Delhi for finalizing the annual plan outlays of the departments was just over and this official level discussion was to be considered in a meeting between the CM and the Dy. Chairman of the Planning Commission. In the meeting, inter-a-lea, the state's share of own resources generated in the past years was discussed to arrive at the following year's total plan projection.

As usual, there were invariably shortfalls in the state's generation of own resources. The CM tried to justify the shortfalls in the state's generation of own resources by cooking up issues like, insurgency, fragile law and order situation, state landlocked and situated at the easternmost border etc. all these resulting to poor mobilization of internal resources. These factors had been cited in the past several years and the Planning Commission were not prepared to take it on its face value.

I remember, Dr. Man Mohan Singh in his characteristic softness, looked gently at Rishang and observed, "Hon'ble Rishangjee, last year you attributed this failure in the generation of the state's resources to law and order problem besetting the state, that the state being situated in the far flung border facing difficulties etc. This time too you assign the same reason for this apparent shortcoming.

The only difference between this year and last year was perhaps, last year we assembled in this room facing north as against south this time around". A visibly embarrassed Rishang could manage only to force a wry smile as did Dr. Man Mohan and rest of those in the meeting hall. I happened to be one.

The issue attempted is, this state has consistently been a failure in either mobilization of resources or in achieving fixed targets, physical or financial agreed upon at the time of finalizing the Annual or Five Year Plans in the Planning Commission. Using the currently hot term, 'Smart', we can only reconcile to the fact that we are not as 'Smart' as we think, at least in this sector.

Does that imperatively mean that we could possibly be 'Smart' in other areas, other fields? Not necessarily, given the track record of the overall characteristics, our make-up, our constitution, practice and outlook of the natives of the state, particularly the Meiteis. We have our own standardized time level, invariably late by a few hours of the agreed time schedule, often nicknamed 'Meitei Pung'.

And yet, we don't complain, therefor it is accepted and rather universalized. This practice is certainly not 'Smart', in fact far from it. And yet, we all talk lustily about 'Smart City'. How then can we deliver a 'Smart City' where smart solutions are called for?

An important ingredient of the Smart City Mission can be that the GOI funds and matching contribution by the states will meet only a part of the project cost. Balance funds are expected to be mobilized from state's or URB's own resources from collection of user fees, beneficiary charges and impact fees, land monetization, debts, loans etc.

Other funds from current GOI schemes like AMRUT, SBM etc. apart, private sector sources like under PPP. These are crucial for the life of the Smart City and these sources of fund are not easily manageable at least for this state. These require high quality of 'Smartness' both in the governmental organizations as well as the public. We have to be smart in paying our taxes due from us. This itself is an impossible proposition in our case.

Let's talk about Waste Management, one of the more important Smart Solutions. It encompasses such areas like, converting waste to energy and fuel and compost. Do we ever dispose our household wastes properly? In other cities, the household wastes are segregated at source, bio-degradable ones separately and others separately as yet; and above all these are packed meticulously to avoid any loose ends.

In Singjamei area alone, just three kilometers from 'Zero Mile', and relatively well developed, I have noticed most of the road-side-dwellers disposing household waste in the loose form on the open on the roadside of the AH-I. And these contain watery components, not only harmful for the Municipal Collectors and not only very hazardous but also very distasteful.

Among these, at least two are Doctors themselves and a few other former government employees who have a name to reckon. And this practice is not an exclusive preserve of Singjamei alone. Almost every locality in and around Imphal, the market areas, practically every alternate house indulges in this practice. How do we explain these life styles; how do we implement a 'Smart City' with such a composition of 'Not-So-Smart' citizens?


* S. Kunjabihari Singh wrote this article for e-pao.net
The article was originally written on 28 Dec , 2015 and can be reached at kunjabiharis(aT)rediffmail(doT)com
This article was posted on February 01, 2016.


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