Imphal as a Smart City - Are we really prepared?

Samarjit Kambam *

Aerial view of Imphal City during Manipur Sangai Tourism Festival 2012 :: November 2012
Aerial view of Imphal City during Manipur Sangai Tourism Festival in November 2012 :: Pic - MMTA

The inclusion of Imphal city among the list of 100 smart cities to be developed in India does not happen by chance. As Imphal acts as doorway to East Asian countries as per Modi’s Act East Policy, it is of paramount importance that Imphal city climbs towards the next level i.e. from an ordinary city to a smart city which is indeed a welcome development for the denizens of Manipur.

When we say smart city, many people have diverse opinions. Many have the view that a smart city should be a clean concrete jungle with information and communications technology as its main character. However, a smart city isn’t as simple as it sounds. In fact, it is quite complex with many factors coming into play. The question is, “Can Imphal city be developed into a smart city at its very pathetic present scenario in almost every front? Will it end up like putting on make-up to an eighty-one year-old woman to look like an eighteen year old girl?”.

However, I believe that if there is a will there will always be a way. As per my opinion, the best solution for a smart city is to develop and construct the city newly with a thoroughly well-planned approach, adjacent to Imphal city just like the twin cities Hyderabad-Secunderabad where the development goes in tandem. But that’s not practical as so many homes and agricultural lands have to be sacrificed which will give birth to objections from many fronts.

The most challenging hurdle that comes in the way of making Imphal a smart city is the very way the city itself lives, like a prostrate tree or like a dormant volcano as Imphal city is an unplanned city or the worst planned city in the world. The sewerage project is testimony to that. For those who came in late or those who don’t frequent the roads, most of the roads in Imphal city are sources of accidents where the iron cover of sewerage tunnels pop up like small mountains right in the middle of the roads, a roadmare to the commuters, one of the main source of road accidents.

Development of a smart city is the integrated approach to improving the efficiency of city operations to improve the quality of life of its citizens and provide impetus in the growth of the local economy. Urbanisation is the main character of a smart city and urbanisation comprises development of infrastructure on many fronts be it roads, buildings, bridges, parks in a systematic manner.

But we the people of Manipur are known for being the harbinger of de-urbanisation. Say, the Inter State Bus Terminus at Khuman Lampak inaugurated by Sonia Gandhi is almost non-existent and has turned into a mammoth toilet which is our very doing, dumping of waste and garbage on public urinals as though they are dust bins are some of the many examples of de-urbanisation. As far as my dumb and dumber head can express, for developing Imphal into a smart city, the city needs a complete overhaul.

The Ring Road around Imphal city is one of the steps. As Manipur being situated in a severe seismic zone, a thorough introspection by the experts comprising of geologists, seismologists, engineers and architects is of paramount importance before executing construction of infrastructure in and around Imphal city. Reputed construction firms in India may be approached or quotations may be called from firms that have credentials and history of quality work constructions.

A smart city should be eco-friendly, self sustaining, clean, should have urban landscape with green architecture, great public initiatives for safety and security of its citizens, state of the art information and communication technology with a very high scientific temper and the efficiency of city operations should be very organised.

Cities around the globe are getting on the smart cities bandwagon, establishing some minimally acceptable standards for a city to claim they are on the smart journey. The citizens need to have knowledge on what a smart city is, for holistic approach of citizens is a much to materialise smart economy, smart environment, smart governance, smart living, smart mobility, and smart people.

We should embrace creativity, yearn for inclusive society, quality education, entrepreneurship, innovation and productivity. The government should strive for local and global interconnectedness by providing free internet access to the people. Besides, the government should realise the fact that green architecture, green energy, enabling demand and supply side policy, e-governance, paperless official works to save environment, great emphasis on public health and safety besides being culturally vibrant, people friendly alongwith mixed modal access are the mantras for a smart city.

The government need to encourage use of electric and hybrid vehicles by the public and making easy ownership of electric vehicles through “Zero Tax” scheme for light motor vehicles other than two wheelers with electric vehicle charging stations installed in many parts of the city. The citizens’ approach and mindset are heavy factors when it comes to a smart city and leading a smart way of life, otherwise the objectives of a smart city will become a damp squib.

First of all we need to do away with our litterbug habits such as disposing trash and polythene bags wherever we like, spitting of pan as graffiti on walls and the males of the species pissing on poles, trees and walls just like dogs which is usually known as “K-9 Piss”. We don’t even know the traffic rules properly. Civic sense need to prevail upon us if we are to be a part of a smart city for leading a smart way of life doesn’t simply mean being computer savvy and nicely dressed but carrying civic sense along with us at all times by being eco-friendly and environment conscious.

As citizen engagement at multiple levels with diverse groups i.e. free from ‘you’, ‘me’, ‘they’ attitude alongwith citizen driven solutions for basic services and area based developments, we need to wash away the scum out of our mindset so that the city has potential and capability. Simply high rise buildings, overbridges, goods roads does not maketh a smart city.

A smart city should be like an evolving organism. Frugal engineering, citizen innovations, yearwise milestone records and outcomes with a major commitment to supporting efficient, multi-modal transit are of paramount importance for a smart city. Course smart city has a lot to do with urbanization but urbanization alone cannot be the sole criteria to beget a smart city. The must-haves for a smart city should comprise of integrated planning and management approaches to promote an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable society.

A smart city, apart from human settlement should be safe, resilient and sustainable with urbanisation as a tool for development and prosperity. Smart city should be human centred by improving the quality of life of its citizens. By getting urban development right, the city will create jobs and improve social inclusion and also protect local ecosystem. Smart city should have a positive impact on the climate. It should contribute to decreasing the greenhouse gas emissions.

This is where sustainable energy comes as paramount importance. In a smart city, adequate legislation is needed to improve the lives of the people sharing common services. It should strive to have better spatial planning and design which are needed to ensure appropriate density and improve connectivity at multiple levels. Sincere financial planning, zero red-tapism, corruption-void good governance, transparency and good management is fundamental to sustain the functioning of the city in order to generate shared prosperity as a smart city.

In fact, before Imphal becomes a smart city, we need to get smart, the government needs to get smarter.

* Samarjit Kambam wrote this article for The Sangai Express as part of Roller Coaster Write
This article was posted on January 12, 2016.

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