The Bold Voice of J&K

Jammu as a Smart City -A distant dream!

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Ravinder Jalali

J and K State Govt. has hailed the decision of the Union Minister Vankaiah Naidu to declare the twin cities of J and K as Smart Cities. As per the smart city proposal and programme, it will have automatic traffic signals, better public transport, quick accident relief, smart traffic system, data centre, face identification system to catch the criminals, control room for crime, health, services and traffic for better coordination to provide quick help to the people . To provide for these thing crores of rupees will be spent to ensure the fulfilment of these requirements. The two cities i.e. Jammu and Srinagar are actually old cities without any significant trace of modernity.
It is a welcome sign and a matter of pride for the people of J and K in general and people of these twin cities in particular ,that two cities from J and K have been selected as smart cities but the million dollar question, which is coming to my mind, is how the city will look after it gets modernised ? Is it really going to be modernised? How much time or how many decades will take it to do it or is it really going to take off or will be just a slogan which appears nice to ears only. The recent rains have exposed the plight of the Jammu administration how much they are ready to face it. It was not unexpected. There was a complete chaos and almost everything comes to standstill and not to talk of power failure. It looks as if they are getting an excuse to snatch the power.
I am trying to visualise the picture of the Jammu city as a Smart City but I fails to visualise that what type of city it will look; rather will it be really a Smart City? Though the master plan is already for Jammu and Srinagar but I am afraid, whether they are functioning as per the plan. The purpose of declaring city as Smart City is to make city wear modern look and have more facilities. How the government will go ahead with modernisation is a real challenge. In Andhra Pradesh a new state capital is coming up in Amravati. It can be under stood as there is nothing on the ground and the city planners can plan the way they want to and get it executed. Even in our neighbouring states in Punjab and Haryana we have Chandigarh which has been made a modern city but the fact is that there was nothing on the ground and the city was built a fresh by a French architect.
Now let us see the possibilities of Jammu city as a Smart City. First possibility, we will explore, is planning city as a new city, somewhere near outskirts of Jammu. If it is the proposal then it seems workable. The planning and execution part of the project is a different matter. Another possibility is to convert the present Jammu city as a Smart city for which the govt has to demolish all the present illegal structures and built new city. Again it is theoretical and may not be feasible and practical. Another possibility is going for massive changes just to make it a Smart City. What are the changes we need to carry to the city, let us explore?
The proposal of the Smart City is to have traffic lights. Is it possible? We have already tried it a few years back but every body knows it how efficient it is working. Traffic lights installed at crossings a few years back has become barrier to the smooth functioning of the traffic, not because of its non-implementation but for the reason it is not serving the purpose. Just by putting lights on the crossings will not ensure smooth traffic unless there is a proper infrastructure like sufficient width of the roads more particularly at crossings. The roads should be sufficient wide to allow the vehicles going straight and at the same time have enough roads to keep the left open to enable the left going traffic to go without obstruction. No thought has been given at the time of its installation perhaps. It seems that the lights were installed just for installation only with economic reasons and not for traffic management. Now the present position is that the lights have become redundant mostly in older part of Jammu.
Another important parameter is the availability of power. Will the power be available at all times for all the gadgets to function? For any nation to grow or to become Smart, the electricity is first and foremost requirement. In the absence of adequate power supply in the Smart City nothing can move. In the present days when the temperature ranges in Jammu between 40 to 45 degrees Celsius, there is a frequent power failures and I fail to understand how the government proposes Smart City. They are not able to provide adequate power during the peak summer. If the government will be able to provide the electricity @24*7*220V to the people of city, it will be a dream coming true. This power supply is key to other issues like better public transport, quick accident relief, smart traffic system, data centre, face identification system to catch the criminals, control room for crime, health etc. It will be e real Smart City.
How the government will provide better public transport, is another mystery. I am not pessimist but going by the realities, it not only seems difficult but impossible. Will the present transport will be replaced by new and pollution free. Public transport and particularly matadors have become menace. There is no place for public transport parking. Will there be fixed bus stops for the commuters as it happens in developed countries. What about the differently abled people?
Another issue is the illegal encroachments on the roads, streets, lanes and bye-lanes. The either side of the roads and the sewer and drainages have been encroached by the shopkeepers or even by householders also where they reside. They have extended their shops and other structures beyond the pavements. The pavements, which are for pedestrians, are not available rather invisible. Are the authorities going to remove all these illegal encroachments for widening the roads and making Smart city possible?
Quick accident relief is also a far cry in the absence of congestion free traffic. Will the government demolish all illegal structures which have come up on the government land? No, then how come the smart city will be there? The tragedy in our country is the people who are supposed to protect the land are the same people who encroach themselves or encroach in the name of some other persons. There are three types of land in our country. One is in the physical possession of Govt. There is no encroachment. Second is the land in the name of private people held legally and is in their physical possession. Thirdly the land, which belongs to Govt. but is not in its physical possession, is being encroached upon or taken away by land mafia (which includes Politicians and bureaucrats) in connivance with the concerned authorities. Unlike in western country, the land other than that held legally by private persons automatically belongs to Govt. But in our country any land that is not demarcated belongs to land mafia.
Another thing is the identification system for catching of criminals is a nice idea but how it will be accomplished is also to be seen? The instrument for catching is not as important as the person behind the scene who handles the instrument. Unless they are interested nothing can be done. If some of these things are taken care of, others things will follow. At the end let us wish and hope “Jammu” a Smart City against depths of despair.
(The writer is a Social Activist and Convenor, Democratic Pannun Kashmir.)

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