Smart City running late?

by Bashir Assad

Under the Smart City project, Srinagar is majorly dug up and in throes of overhauling right now. The question making loud noises right now is – will it
smarten up well in time for the G-20 summit in May?

We are hardly a month away from the grand show of G-20 diplomats’ summit scheduled to be held in Srinagar next month. The question is – are we really prepared to host the grand show slated for May 21 to 23? After all, Srinagar is presently in the midst of major
overhauling. Thanks to the Srinagar Smart City project, the City and its outskirts are undergoing major revamping. Roads, lanes, drains, crossings, footpaths – it’s all unwrapped and dug open. In fact, the city’s centre – Lal Chowk – makes for a sight of an excavated old civilisation. Nothing is in order. Everything lies exposed. The
situation is more or less the same along the Airport Road, Boulevard Road, the city interiors and exterior roads. The way things are right now, doubts are cropping up on whether the agencies concerned be able to complete the ongoing work well in time for the G20 summit. Though the Srinagar Municipal Corporation and other connected departments are working tirelessly to complete the ongoing projects aimed at the modernisation and smartening up of Srinagar city, time seems too short to complete the overhauling before May 20.
The redevelopment of the central business district of Srinagar is making significant progress; the problem, however, is that work on all sites is being carried out simultaneously, which makes the pace of progress slow because every respective department or organisation is in a hurry to show progress and there is much overlapping. It has also been observed that sometimes, some organisations desperately want to finish their work before the deadline and in the process, hinder other departments’ work.
Though the nodal agency – the Srinagar Municipal Corporation – is making all efforts to put things in order before the G-20 summit, there are occasions when the agencies involved in the revamping of the Srinagar City under Smart City Program go haywire. The areas of
Residency Road, MA Road, Jhelum Riverfront and the interconnections including Polo View, Regal Chowk, Jehangir Chowk and Chunthi Kul, Gupkar Crossing, Airport Road, Boulevard Road and interiors of Srinagar city are exposed and present a very depressing picture.
Every site is dug up. Everywhere, men and machines are at work. Officially, the Smart City is in the making. However, the timing for re-creating Srinagar is a topic of concern since the deadline is nearing fast. Earlier, the debate was about how, under the Smart City
project, Srinagar would look like and how it would impact the lives of its residents. The questions that were being asked were: Will the Srinagar Smart City Project create jobs and job opportunities? How will the key sectors of water, electricity, roads and drainage
improve? And how would the project meet the requirements of a common person in Srinagar city? Well, that debate got over the moment the project started showing progress on ground and people found their answers. The people gradually got educated about
the broader theme of the Smart City Project.

The Smart City Mission in India is aimed at promoting cities to provide core infrastructure, clean and sustainable environment and give a decent quality of life to their citizens through the application of ‘smart solutions’.
The Central Sponsored Scheme (CSS) “aims to drive economic growth and improve quality of life through comprehensive work on social, economic, physical and institutional pillars of the city” in which the focus is on sustainable and inclusive development. The project is
worth Rs 3000 crore, of which, 2000 crore is allotted to the line departments working in convergence with Smart City Limited. Smart City Limited, on its own, has a budget of around Rs 930 crore. Apart from the Area-Based Development programme, the Smart City
project is also working on a few pan-city projects like the interventions in the IT-related sectors, along with improving certain roads and urban mobility which includes the public transport facilities across the city. That said, the debate has now shifted to its culmination
and completion. There is not a single day when the Srinagar Municipal Corporation Commissioner Amir Athar does not face questions and complaints.
Understandably, he is highly strained right now. There is tremendous pressure from the LG administration on one side, and hundreds of complaints from the general public and the media daily. From politicians to media persons to general public and stakeholders, the noises keep growing louder. Some critics even go to the extent of suggesting that the City has been flattened and there are no signs of revamping it. National Conference
leader and Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has been particularly very critical of the project. To add to the unease of the situation, the tourist season has just begun. The number of tourists landing in Srinagar is picking up with each passing day. However, the exposed roads, drains and lanes aren’t exactly doing great things to the tourism industry. The tourists are witnessing experiences far from beautiful as they walk through the City. There is dust all around, roads are dug up, footpaths bulldozed, men and machinery everywhere. The City centre is particularly in a very bad shape. In fact tourists wonder if they are in Srinagar at all! The project is drawing criticism on whether it would make the City really a smart one or a lifeless one, as it presently looks. Notwithstanding the criticism the project has invited from various quarters, the Srinagar Smart City project envisions transforming Srinagar into an eco-friendly, resilient and socio-economically vibrant city that celebrates its natural and cultural heritage creating harmony and opportunities for all. There are three main action areas that have been identified to make the vision implementable: Promoting Srinagar’s identity; a resilient, sustainable and livable Srinagar; promoting inclusion vision statement which relates to the City’s profile and the unique challenges and the opportunities present.
Our hope is that Srinagar does smarten up in all senses of the term and yes, in time before the G-20 summit.




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