The discussion and debates on Kochi Smart City are very much in newspapers every day. Kochi is one among the 98 cities shortlisted in the Smart City development plans of Government of India. I had the chance to attend one of the stakeholders meet organised by Kochi Corporation. There was high participation at the meeting. Everyone was given 3 minutes to discuss their ideas and views that could be added to the proposal. All proposal are very interesting and noteworthy. I wish to share my views here;
The idea of Smart City is very ambiguous one. it is not about the projects like building malls or flyover alone. It is all about visualising Kochi as a smart city. In the meeting held, most of the proposals were projects like Housing, Tourism, Transport, etc. I would argue that they are the tools to reach a smart city concept and before finalising them, we should have clarity on what is Kochi Smart City? How are we going to evaluate the success of the Kochi smart city and what are the parameters used to measure the success?
The scale for measuring success of a smart city could be many;
1) how many have shifted to the public transport at the end of phase 1? 2) what is the reduction in carbon footprint at the end of phase 1? 3) what percentage of services under Kochi corporation could be accessed and availed on smartphones and in the digital world? 4) how much of the waste and garbage are treated in the city at the end of phase 1? etc. etc.
A visionary document for the smart city plan is crucial. By setting this framework, one can go back to the board room dissecting the various demands and gaps in the town at present. It could include projects like that one mentioned above. Otherwise, there will not be any difference between JnNURM projects that we had from 2005 onwards and the proposed one. Most of the times we are motivated by the grants and loans provided by the State government and Central government. We have the experience lack of visionary planning in waste management, transportation, etc. for the money that we had received under JnNURM in the past. The style of operations is not going to be different this time also if lack vision for the smart city. We will end up with thousands of projects as part of Smart City plans, but they will all act and perform in silos leaving the citizens lives in misery.
Along with the visionary plan for the city, we require a powerful city council and Mayor for the development of the city. The Mayor should not be a glorified clerk but a real-time executive authority. It demands the control over the parastatal agencies that services citizens. Mayor and council would handle the city development. They can't find an excuse in others anymore. I wish Kochi corporation demands more power from the state government and thus ushers a new era in the decentralised of power in Kerala.